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Perspectives on India-China relationship

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The spectacular Guangzhou ballet performance co-hosted by the Chinese Embassy (Indian Council for Cultural Relations) and China Federation of Literary and Art Circles has for the first time reached India. The envoy advocates cultural exchanges to improve people’s understanding of each other countries.

Today in the 21 st century as we see a re-emergence of Asia and move closer towards the term ‘Asian Century’ and a world order termed ‘Easternization ‘ (as propounded by Gideon Rachman). If we trace  the journey of the ‘Asian Century’ by focussing on the historical odysseys of the two oldest world civilizations, India and China we reach the conclusion that China and India have been civilizational neighbours until cartographies changed and new Asian geo-politics took over. Today whether China is a stakeholder or a challenger, in the world order is a matter of much debate. However it was always not so.

Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) who spent his entire life to the rebirth of China and was also known as the father of Modern China (guofu). Sun Yat-Sen did not never expressed his world view in the form of an autobiography , but every time he spoke of the Chinese revolution and refers to the international situation and often in his public statements spoke of India.

In the use of ‘Europe’ and ‘Asia’ in World Historical Studies, the terminology has an Eurocentric Western bias, which is largely distortive of reality. Marshall G.S.Hodgson writes that these categorizations have made “among Westerners” the illusion that the “mainstream’ of world history ran through Europe”. The other discourses of ‘West ‘ and ‘East’ (or Orient) form another part of the picture still maintaining Western Euro-centric ‘illusions’. The Chinese political leaders have been seen as weak in their ‘Asian perspective’. This is because the concept of ‘Asia’ is a European invention, this has not been so popular in China and in many other Asian countries as well.

Confucius’s refers to a three- tier formulation of jia (family), guo (state) and tianxia (world). This has as we can see no place for ‘Asia’ in between China and the World. However, Sun Yat-sen is an exception, having been exposed to Western ideas and education at an early age. He felt strongly about the domination of white Europeans over non-white Asians, and was also aware of the desire of the Asian nations to be liberated from European repression.

Professor Chen Xiqi of the Sun Yat-sen University of Guangzhou had remarked at a seminar on ‘Sun Yat-sen and Asia’ that took place in 1990, his religious culture was India’s forte, while Chinese religious culture (Buddhism) was imported from India. In the course of several thousand years China and India not only had cultural interactions, but also an economic relationship. As Sun Yat-sen was paying attention to India, he even regarded the Indian national movement as linked to his own career.

As we now live in a moment where the issue of Indians and Chinese understanding each other be placed as an important agenda in India-China relations, we need  to look  back, at a time in history when it was so.

(Dr Etee Bahadur is a faculty at Jamia Millia Islamia)

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