History of Cultural Exchanges
Both India and China, are not mere societies; they are civilizations. We do not know exactly when and how they started exchanging their cultural elements, but what we do know is that they grew in parallel and shared their cultural traits since the beginning of human history and this tradition of sharing has been continuing ever since.
Even before the transmission of Buddhism, the Shang-Zhou civilization and the ancient Vedic civilization in 1500-1000 B.C. showed some evidence of conceptual and linguistic exchanges. For instance,”wumingzhi” (nameless finger) in Chinese is called “anamika” (nameless) in Sanskrit and in Pali. Similarly, some ancient Indian literature mentions “chinas” referring to the Chinese people. The Mahabharata of the fifth century B.C. contains reference to China. Chanakya of the Maurya dynasty (350-283 B.C.) refers to Chinese silk as “chinamsuka” (Chinese silk dress) and “chinapatta” (Chinese silk bundle) in his Arthashastra. Likewise, the Record of the Grand Historian of Zhang Qian and Sima Qian has references to “Shendu”, may be referring to “Sindhu” in Sanskrit.
In sixth century B.C., the birth of Confucius and Sakyamuni opened a new period of exchanges between the two civilizations. Emperor Ashoka’s propagation of Buddhism after his conversion in 256 B.C. brought both civilizations even closer. Ashoka’s bilingual (Kharoshti and Greek) edict points at extension of Buddhism in the direction of China and Central Asia. The trend continued in first century A.D. during emperor Kanishka’s period. His empire, with its capital at Purushpura (now Peshawar inPakistan), enabled Buddhist pilgrims and scholars to travel on the historic “silk route”. Kashyapa Matanga and Dharmaratna made the White Horse monastery at Luoyang their abode. Along the silk route, Khotan Turpan and Kucha became prominent centers of Buddhism and India-China exchanges. The great scholar Kumarajiva initiated efforts to collect and translate important Buddhist texts at a great Buddhist conclave in Chang’an (present Xi’an) where he stayed until his death in 413 A.D. and managed to have 98 major Buddhist canonical works translated into Chinese. He is widely believed to be responsible for bringing in Mahayana Buddhism and Madhyamika doctrine into Chinese philosophy. In the beginning of the fifth century A.D., Dharmakshema, an Indian Buddhist scholar came to China bringing with him the “Mahaparinirvana Sutra” which was translated into Chinese about the year 415 A.D. Meanwhile, the Chinese Pilgrim Fa Hein had left for India along the Silk Route and arrived there in 405 A.D. Batuo (464-495 A.D.) and Bodhidharma visited China; Xuan Zhang (604A.D.) and I Ching were students at the prestigious Nalanda University. All along, the Silk Road played a significant role in facilitating India-China cultural, commercial and technological exchanges. It also connected both of us with the people of ancient Persia and the Mediterranean.
Both civilizations also shared scientific knowledge. In eighth century, Indian astronomer Aryabhata’s astronomical signs were translated into Chinese in the book “Kaiyuan Zhanjing” compiled by Gautama Siddha, an astronomer in Chang’an of Indian descent. It is also believed that he translated the Nabagraha calendar into Chinese. During the Ming Dynasty, navigator General Zheng. His arrival at Calicut in early 15th century is also a testimony of China’s ancient maritime linkage with India.
Modern Phase of Cultural Exchanges
Our exchanges continued during the days of our struggle for self-governance. In early 20th century, Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore visited China twice, in 1924 and in 1929. Since 1911, Chinese scholars and intellectuals have been visiting and revisiting Tagore’s life, works and philosophy.
Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis, whose mortal remains rest in the North China Martyrs’ Memorial Cemetery in Hebei Province, sacrificed his life in the service of the Chinese people during the Sino-Japanese war. A part of the 1938 medical team of five Indian doctors, he stayed on in China working in mobile clinics to treat wounded soldiers. He was eventually appointed as Director of the Dr. Bethune International Peace Hospital built by the Eighth Route Army.
Both India and China began their journey of independent governance almost at the same time, India in 1947 and the People’s Republic of China in 1949. In 1955, the first Indian cultural delegation headed by then Deputy Minister of External Affairs Mr. A. K. Chanda visited China which was warmly received by the Chinese leaders and people during their tour. In the 1960s and 1970s Bollywood movies such as Do Bigha Zameen, Awara and Sree 420 of Raj Kapoor and Noorie struck an emotional chord in the hearts and minds of the Chinese people. Even today, people on the street hum the tunes of the songs of these films. Movies like 3 Idiots and The Life of Pi have been well received in recent times.
Since 1988 both countries are bringing their people together through structured Cultural Exchange Programmes. The latest CEP signed in October 2013 during the visit of then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s to China, provides for cooperation in a gamut of cultural fields including exchanges of visits of performing artists, officials, writers, archivists and archaeologists, organizing cultural festivals, film festivals and exchanges in the field of mass media, youth affairs and sports.
In March 2012, during President Hu Jintao’s visit to India for the BRICS Summit, leaders of both sides decided to celebrate 2012 as the “The Year of Friendship and Co-operation” and both countries resolved to further strengthen cultural exchanges between our peoples.
Both India and China have vibrant cultures and vibrant people. Buddhism, Xuan Zhang, Tagore, Dr. Kotnis, Nalanda, Yoga and Cinema are only symbols of our long tradition of exchanges. They are testimonies of our shared heritage. The momentum has been set and the pace can only increase in the 21st century.