Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

India, China, and the World: A Connected History

Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

India, China, and the World: A Connected History

Article excerpt

Tansen Sen, India, China, and the World: A Connected History, (New Delhi, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2018), Pages: 540 + xviii, Price: Rs 995.00

Tansen Sen brings us an extraordinarily well researched and documented narrative of the interaction between the two great Asian civilisations from early times until today. The author has so deep a grounding in all Asian affairs that no bias is evident anywhere. The first two chapters encompass the circulation of knowledge and the routes, networks and objects used, and stays largely within Asia up to the 15th century. From then to the 20th century, external players, mainly European, play an incremental and imperial role all covered in the third chapter. The fourth chapter shows how increasing political awareness encouraged renewed connections, and Pan-Asianism found temporary favour with the new rising Asian elites. As colonialism is ousted and nation states are established, any post-colonial euphoria soon dissipated, and Asia also entered into an era of bitter territorial disputes exacerbated by cold war linkages. The current geopolitical disconnect between India and China surfaced very soon. Their inability to agree on a common border escalated into a brief war. A continuing confrontation lingers as both compete for a major role in Asia and in the world.

The Himalayas presented a massive barrier and, for centuries, no king or emperor from either side was interested in breaching it. When newly independent India established relations first with Kuomintang China and, a few years later, with the People's Republic, both sides were able to claim millennia of peace and friendship.

Considerable interaction did take place, with missionaries and traders taking the lead. Once Buddhism established itself in India, its followers were anxious to take it further. Fervent teachers fanned out in all directions. In the new abodes, some indigenous characteristics were assimilated from local societies. Religion even intruded into politics. Nevertheless, the desire to remain in touch with original sources in India continued. Notable Chinese travellers visited India for long periods. Their reports are remarkable for their detailed and extensive coverage. The most prominent were Zhang Qian (2nd century BC), Fa Xian, (4th century AD), and XuanZang (7th century AD). Indian monks and scholars such as Bodhi dharma also taught in China and East Asia. Records of their work are limited probably because, unlike their Chinese colleagues, they saw no need to make or preserve them.

Alongside went traders who earned rich returns, exchanging local commodities despite formidable obstacles. The land routes were dubbed the Silk Route once China became a source of this prized commodity. Precious metals and gems, household goods, and foodstuffs and much more were on the merchant's inventory. Horses from Arabia were prized by courts and armies, and special slaves could be valuable gifts. Infrastructure in the shape of ports and caravan towns and oases were developed. The pioneers must be commended for overcoming the many hazards, including primitive transportation. Apart from religion and philosophy, there was interest in medicine and science, arts and crafts, architecture and town planning, and so on. The author carefully examines the areas of knowledge that circulated between South Asia and China, the routes and networks utilised, the objects exchanged, etc.

The routes and their development present a fascinating study. The Central Asian and maritime routes have, perhaps, acquired greater salience in historical narratives since Western scholars and historians have focused on them; but the land route from eastern India through Burma, Tibet, and Eastern China was also important. The BCIM Forum is a current attempt to resuscitate it. If China's Belt and Road Initiative were to evolve into a participatory multilateral enterprise, it could bring development and prosperity once more to neglected areas in Asia. …

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