The Con­nec­tions Are What Count

Global Asia - - CONTENTS - Re­viewed by Nayan Chanda

tansen sen’s In­dia, China and the World: A Con­nected His­tory high­lights lesser-known links be­tween the two coun­tries.

One OF the ear­li­est recorded ac­counts of tech­nol­ogy trans­fer be­tween In­dia and China is a sweet story from the mid-sev­enth cen­tury. an em­bassy from the tang em­peror to the court of the In­dian King Harsa re­turned home with knowl­edge of a spe­cial prod­uct the Chi­nese craved: sugar. ac­com­pa­nied by eight monks, two “tech­ni­cians” who knew how to turn sug­ar­cane juice into crys­tal sugar trav­eled to China. Chi­nese Bud­dhist monks who made pil­grim­ages to In­dia had car­ried home sto­ries about this de­li­cious prod­uct, prompt­ing a re­quest for the tech­nol­ogy. Whether or not it was due to this spe­cific tech­nol­ogy trans­fer, in sub­se­quent pe­ri­ods sugar be­came an im­por­tant in­gre­di­ent in Chi­nese cook­ing. tansen sen’s highly orig­i­nal book is not only packed with many such fas­ci­nat­ing anec­dotes, it opens up a new win­dow into the mil­len­nia-old con­nec­tions be­tween the geo­graphic area where mod­ern China and In­dia emerged.

sen had bro­ken new ground with his 2003 book, Bud­dhism, Diplo­macy, and Trade: The Realign­ment of Sino-in­dian Relations, 600-1400. With this cur­rent vol­ume, a prod­uct of prodi­gious re­search into both ob­jects of ma­te­rial cul­ture and ar­chives in mul­ti­ple lan­guages, he has in­tro­duced read­ers to a bor­der­less world where traders, monks, diplo­mats and sol­diers trav­eled long dis­tances on camels, horses and sail­ing ships car­ry­ing goods, manuscripts, icons and ideas. But they did not carry a na­tional iden­tity. sen points out that de­spite the ti­tle of the book re­fer­ring to In­dia and China, for most of the pe­riod be­fore the emer­gence of these mod­ern states, the con­nec­tions were be­tween peo­ple. By delv­ing into the multi-hued tex­ture of their relations span­ning cen­turies, of­ten with in­ter­me­di­aries of other eth­nic and lin­guis­tic groups and lo­ca­tions, sen has lib­er­ated the rich in­ter­ac­tion in asia from the na­tional strait­jacket. Very of­ten in­ter­ac­tions be­tween In­di­ans and Chi­nese (to sim­plify their iden­ti­ties) hap­pened out­side of their home re­gions and with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of other peo­ples. a Parsi opium trader, Jam­set­jee Je­jeb­hoy; a painter from madras, Ge­orge Chin­nery and his Chi­nese stu­dent lam Qua, who did por­traits of opium mer­chants; and monk Kang sen­ghui, the son of a sog­dian (cen­tral asian) mer­chant who lived in the area of to­day’s Viet­nam are some of the char­ac­ters sen presents in his book.

sen’s ac­count ranges from 138 BCE, when Han China’s first en­voy, Zhang Qian, came to the western edge of cen­tral asia and re­ported about a coun­try called shendu (from the In­dus or sindhu rivers), to the less heroic 20th cen­tury. By re­mov­ing past relations from the shack­les of na­tional bor­ders, he has widened his en­quiry into how knowl­edge — from ge­og­ra­phy to astron­omy and medicine, not to men­tion Bud­dhist doc­trine — tra­versed bor­ders freely. Cul­tural ob­jects too were ex­changed be­tween these two ar­eas. the first two chap­ters of his book deal with the cir­cu­la­tion of knowl­edge, routes, net­works and ob­jects. sen shows that geo­graphic or re­li­gious knowl­edge trans­ferred be­tween the two peo­ple were also en­riched by imag­i­na­tion. For Chi­nese devo­tees, Bud­dha’s birth­place was for­bid­dingly far away, but they imag­ined an in­car­na­tion of Bod­hisattva — man­jusri — who lived in the Wu­tai moun­tains in shanxi. adorned with Bud­dhist ob­jects and para­pher­na­lia, it be­came a sa­cred place of pil­grim­age, even for south asian monks.

In his chap­ter on im­pe­rial ac­tiv­i­ties, sen ex­plores the many dif­fer­ent ways im­pe­rial pow­ers — from ming China to the Bri­tish em­pire — deep­ened the con­nec­tions. Colo­nial rule in­flicted pain on asians, but its geo­graphic reach en­abled the in­ter­ac­tion of un­likely groups of peo­ple from far cor­ners of the world, from the Caribbean and south amer­ica to africa and asia. Un­like the cur­rent Chi­nese govern­ment, sen also does not take the ro­man­tic view that the seven mar­itime

ex­pe­di­tions un­der­taken by the eu­nuch ad­mi­ral Zheng He were peace­ful trade mis­sions. these ex­pe­di­tions, he says, were “man­i­fes­ta­tions of ming im­pe­ri­al­ism across the In­dian Ocean that led to the cre­ation of new ports and choke points, mil­i­ta­rized the mar­itime realm, con­trib­uted to the for­ma­tion of a dual sys­tem of court-con­trolled and pri­vate com­mer­cial con­nec­tions, and dic­tated court-to-court in­ter­ac­tions in the en­tire In­dian Ocean realm.”

With an ar­mada of more than 250 ships in­clud­ing 60 large “trea­sure ships” and 27,000 per­son­nel in his first voy­age, Zheng He es­tab­lished Chi­nese hege­mony over the coun­tries he vis­ited, per­suad­ing them to send trib­ute to the ming em­peror — and ben­e­fit from the re­sul­tant trad­ing op­por­tu­nity. In be­tween vis­it­ing lo­cal rulers and col­lect­ing trib­ute, Zheng He also en­gaged in “paci­fi­ca­tion” of trou­ble­mak­ers. In­formed that the ruler of Palem­bang in su­ma­tra (iden­ti­fied as a pi­rate) was plan­ning to at­tack the Chi­nese ar­mada, Zheng He launched a counter-of­fen­sive, killing 5,000 of the ruler’s men and cap­tur­ing him, where­upon he was taken to the ming court and be­headed. Per­suaded by Zheng He’s dis­play of power, many south asian mon­archs sent tributes to the ming em­peror. the King of Ben­gal even sent a gi­raffe from his menagerie.

sen’s ac­count of­fers in­sights into the var­i­ous ways the Chi­nese and In­di­ans came to bond in third coun­tries, such as in the plan­ta­tions of Guiana and mau­ri­tius, un­der colo­nial masters and of­ten in the most painful and hu­mil­i­at­ing cir­cum­stances. He says while racial and cul­tural preju- dices be­tween in­den­tured la­bor­ers from In­dia and China re­mained, prac­ti­cal so­cial re­al­i­ties — for in­stance, the paucity of women and eco­nomic ne­ces­si­ties — helped blur these di­vides. the colo­nial pe­riod and Ja­panese im­pe­ri­al­ism also in­spired the likes of ra­bindranath tagore and liang Qichao to pro­mote “one asia” sol­i­dar­ity, a theme that car­ried into the post-war era and the early years of In­dian in­de­pen­dence. the in­sti­tu­tion of Cheena Bha­vana (China house) at Visva Bharati Uni­ver­sity, es­tab­lished by tagore in san­tinike­tan, West Ben­gal, proved to be a re­mark­ably fer­tile ground for re­search on In­dia-china relations. But the po­lit­i­cal re­al­ity of sovereign states and their con­flict­ing am­bi­tions trumped the deep ties de­vel­oped by peo­ple over the mil­len­nia. the bon­homie of the 1955 Ban­dung con­fer­ence be­tween Jawa­har­lal nehru and Zhou en­lai and the slo­gan Hindi-chini bhai-bhai (In­dian and Chi­nese brothers) pop­u­lar­ized by nehru col­lapsed in the snows of the Hi­malayas in 1962.

With his deeply re­searched and well-writ­ten book, tansen sen has es­tab­lished him­self as a con­tem­po­rary author­ity on the con­nected his­to­ries of In­dia, China and the world around them.

Sen’s ac­count of­fers in­sights into the var­i­ous ways the Chi­nese and In­di­ans came to bond in third coun­tries, such as in the plan­ta­tions of Guiana and Mau­ri­tius, un­der colo­nial masters and of­ten in the most painful and hu­mil­i­at­ing cir­cum­stances.

In­dia, China and the World: A Con­nected His­tory By Tansen SenOx­ford Uni­ver­sity Press, 2018, 560 pages, $39.00 (Pa­per­back)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Cambodia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.