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Avijit Banerjee

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Avijit Banerjee : Tagore’s Visit to China

Image Courtesy - A Japanese Catalogue of Tagore's Paintings, 1985

A Turning Point in the Modern Day India-China Cultural Exchange

World civilizations are replete with cultural synthesis but Sino-Indian synthesis does not have many parallels. The cultural relations between India and China can be traced back to very early times. The cultural intercourse between India and China is more than two thousand years old. During these long centuries of contact, these two civilizations contributed to each other’s fund of goodwill and knowledge in various fields. Cultural interactions between these two great countries form a fascinating study. India and China are two great civilizations with long history. A number of Indian monks like Dharmarakshsha, Kasyapa Matanga and others frequently visited China. Similarly, Chinese monks like Xuan Zang, Fa Xian, Yi Jing and others travelled to India to collect Buddhist texts.

A key representative of this cultural interaction in the Modern period of India China cultural exchange was Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore had a long admiration for China. One can find numerous references in the writings of Tagore, and all these observations indicate his curiosity for China. His articles China Maraner Byabasay (“The Death Trade in China”) published in the Bengali magazine, Bharati in 1881; Samajbhed (“Social Differences”) written in 1901; and the famous Chinemaner Chithi (“Letters of a Chinaman”) based on Dickinson’s “Letters of John Chinaman” published in 1898 are powerful evidence of his knowledge and interest in Chinese affairs.

Spurred on by this kind of strong interest, Tagore left for China in 1924 on the invitation of Liang Qichao, the President of Jiangxueshe (Beijing Lecture Association). Before sailing for China, Tagore told the press that when he received the Chinese invitation, he felt that it was an invitation to India herself and as her humble son he should accept it. He hoped that his visit would re-establish the cultural and spiritual links between the two civilizations: “We shall invite scholars and try to arrange an exchange of scholars. If I can accomplish this, I shall feel happy." These words were natural for the man who had always nourished great love for China and who visualized a centre of learning where the whole world would meet as if in a nest.

On 12th April 1924, Tagore set his foot on the Chinese soil in Shanghai. During his visit to China, both India and China were going through a different phase and the Chinese society was in a state of rapid change. In the fifty days sojourn in China, Tagore visited various cities of China from South to North. He visited Hang Zhou, Jinan, Tianjin and finally on 23rd April Tagore reached Beijing by train. At Qianmen he was welcomed by hundreds of people including renowned figures of China’s cultural circle like Liang Qichao, Zeng Yuanpei etc. The intellectual circle held a spectacular unprecedented ceremony to welcome the Great Poet from the East. At Beijing, Tagore visited Bei Hai, Fa Yuan Temple, Imperial Palace and also met with the members of the Literary Mass Organizations of Beijing like Lecture Society, Crescent Moon Society. Tagore described his visit to China in terms of returning to his native place. On 8th May, 1924, the Literature and Art Organization of Beijing organized a grand ceremony on the occasion of 64th Birth Anniversary of Tagore. On this occasion, Liang Qichao gave Tagore a Chinese name ‘Zhu Zhen Dan’. ‘Zhu’ is the Chinese term for India derived from Sindhu or Hindu. ‘Zhen-Dan’ is a translation of ‘Rabindra’-Sun and Thunder. This name symbolizes India- China friendship and the Unity of India and China in the great personality of the poet and consequently Tagore joined the ranks of the Ancient Indian Monks who came to China. Tagore could never forget this special Birthday that the Chinese intellectuals celebrated in China. In 1941 during the last phase of his life, he composed a poem recollecting his beautiful time in China:

In the vessel of my birthdays
Sacred waters from many pilgrimages
Have I gathered this I remember.
Once I went to the Land of China,
Those whom I had not met
Put the mark of friendship on my forehead
Calling me their own.
The grab of a stranger slipped from me
The inner man appeared who is eternal
Revealing a joyous relationship
A Chinese name I took, dressed in Chinese
This I knew in my mind
Wherever I find my friend there I am born
Life’s wonder he brings.

Tagore’s great friendship and deep love for the people of China gushed out during his 1924 visit to China. Wherever he went, he eulogized the long standing friendly relationship between India and China. He extremely cherished India-China friendship and paid respect to the great contribution made by the predecessors for the cultural exchanges between the two countries.

Tagore’s China tour- A mixed response among the Chinese Intellectuals
Tagore’s visit to China created a storm and evoked a heated debate among the Chinese men of letters. During Tagore’s visit to China in 1924, a number of Tagore’s articles and related articles were published in Oriental Magazine, Short Story Monthly, Morning News Supplement. Among this some of the intellectuals with Chen Du Xiu as the representative welcomed Tagore and showed respect from the bottom of their heart. Xu Zhimo’s article “Tagore’s Visit to China” showed their sincere tribute to Tagore. The other intellectuals like Liang Qichao, Hu Shi, Mei Lanfeng and other men of letters welcomed Tagore in various form. In order to welcome Tagore during his visit to China, Liang Qichao, in the beginning of May, 1924, delivered speeches at Beijing Normal University successively for two days and he expressed his hope that the people of China would cordially welcome Tagore. Among the Chinese intellectuals attracted by Tagore, Xu Zhimo admired Tagore the most. He accompanied Tagore to all the places where he visited and translated his speeches. Tagore gave him an Indian name “Susima”. During his visit to China Xu Zhimo and Tagore became genuine good friends despite great difference in age.

Contrary to this, the Communists in China led by Chen Du Xiu, Qu Qiubai opposed and criticized Tagore’s visit to China. After Tagore’s arrival in China these group of people published articles opposing Tagore and specially criticized his speeches. In the magazine China Youth, Chen Duxiu published articles lashing out at Tagore. The Chinese authors Lu Xun, Guo Moruo all along exhibited extremely cold and even hostile attitudes towards Tagore. These people, who were trying to save the country scientifically and believed in Marxism, felt that Tagore’s philosophy was of non-resistance and of a conquered people. However, Tagore in his address reiterated the point: “I am not a philosopher, therefore keep for me room in your heart, not a seat on the public platform. I want to win your heart, now that I am close to you, with the faith that is in me of a great future for you, and for Asia, when your country rises and gives expression to its own spirit - a future in the joy of which we shall all share.”

Tagore’s speeches in China and the theme of Friendship
In the various lectures that Tagore delivered throughout China, the keynote of his speech was to recollect with deep love the several thousand years of India- China traditional friendship, seeking to resume and strengthen the friendly relations between the people of the two countries. At the same time he called the people of the two countries to develop the spiritual civilization of the East and oppose the material civilization of the West. In 1954, when Zhou Enlai visited India, he said with deep feelings “We never will forget Tagore’s love towards China and also cannot forget Tagore’s support towards China’s Liberation Movement.” During his speeches in China, Tagore explained his poems and novels, his various feelings and experience towards China, praised the splendid civilization of the Chinese nationality and hope that China will awaken and become strong and prosperous as quickly as possible.

Tagore had a strong belief that his visit to China symbolizes the ancient religious relationship between the two ancient nations India and China. His visit to China was aimed towards strengthening the mental unity among the people of the two countries. He urged the people of the two countries to develop the spiritual civilization of the East and oppose the material civilization of the West. Tagore extremely attached importance to the long standing and well established cultural exchange between India and China. Tagore had specific understanding and deep realization towards India-China friendship. He felt that one of the most precious cultural heritages that India and China share jointly is Buddhism. Through his speeches, Tagore made efforts to reconstruct the Sino-Indian friendly thoroughfare, inspire and encourage the people of China to discover, excavate and develop the quintessence of their own civilization and present it before the world with all respect.

Cheena-Bhavana-The bridge for India- China cultural exchange
Tagore’s visit to China in 1924 resulted in the fulfillment of his dream of uniting the Oriental civilization of the East with the establishment of Cheena Bhavana in Visva-Bharati University in 1937. During this visit, he discussed at large with China’s academic circle on exchange of scholars and professors. Tagore made a deep impression upon the Chinese mind. Prof Tan Yunshan, the Founder Director of Cheena Bhavana came to Santiniketan in the year 1928 and made tireless efforts in setting up a Research Department of Chinese Studies in Visva-Bharati. Tan Yunshan went back to China and discussed the ideals and objectives of Gurudev Tagore with the then Vice chancellor of Peking University Dr. Cai Yuanpei and Dr. Tai Jitao, Minister of culture in Kuomintang Government. All these Chinese personalities enthusiastically responded to the ideas and in the year 1933, the Sino-Indian cultural society was formally established in Nanjing with Cai Yuan-Pei as its first President and Tan Yun-Shan as its first secretary. The society was aimed at arousing the people’s attention to the noble ideals of spiritual culture of the two nations, i.e. peace, universal love, freedom and equality; also to promote culture exchanges and friendship between the people of the two countries. The society also planned to donate books and manage funds for building Cheena Bhavana. In 1934, the Sino-Indian Cultural society was set up in Santiniketan with important personalities like Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Dr. Radhakrishnan, Dr. Zakir Hussain and many others from cultural and educational circle as members. The programme of the society was to organize Indian Cultural delegations to go to China and the reciprocal visits of the Chinese delegation to India for conducting research work and delivering lectures on Indian and Chinese culture; recommending Indian students to study in China and Chinese students to study in India; establishing an Indian institute in China and a Chinese Hall in India; publishing books and journals etc. The work of the Sino-Indian cultural society during this time was concentrated on the establishment of a China Study Centre and finally on April, 14th 1937, Cheena Bhavana came into existence with the following aims and objectives:-
To conduct research studies in Indian and Chinese learning
To promote interchange of Indian and Chinese Culture
To cultivate friendship and fraternity between the two nations of India and China.
To join and unite the two peoples of India and China
To promote jointly, universal peace and harmony of Humanity
To help- in building up “The Great Unity” of the World.
Tagore’s visit to China not only brought home to the Chinese the high attainments of Indian civilization but also awakened in the Chinese minds the grandeur of the Eastern Civilization. The educated circle in China still take a lot of interest in Cheena Bhavana as for several years it has been a centre of collaboration of Indian and Chinese cultures. The establishment of Cheena-Bhavan after Tagore’s visit to China in 1924 is the testimony to Sino-Indian cultural exchange.

How far is Tagore popular in China?
Tagore had been a popular figure among the men of letters in China since the beginning of this century. Translation of Tagore’s stories began to appear in Chinese magazines from 1917, Funu Zazhi (Women’s magazine) published two stories of Tagore- Chuti (Home Coming) and Dristidan (Vision) in 1917. Chuti was translated three times before Tagore visited China and Kabuliwala was translated six times. Early in January 1921, Zheng Zhenyi, Xu Dishan and other people from the field of Art and Literature set up the ‘Tagore Research Society’ within the framework of Literary Society. A large number of people in China related to the field of art and literature gained interest about Tagore after his visit to China in 1924. In 1961, China celebrated Tagore’s 100th Birth Anniversary and published ten volumes of hardcover edition of the Selected Works of Tagore. In 1981, people from various walks of life celebrated the 120th Birth Anniversary of Tagore. In 1982, the Sino - Indian Literary Society was established. In all its conclaves, Tagore remains the main focal point of the scholars. Till now, the society has published more than one hundred and thirty articles on Indian literature. Among these, about twenty five articles are on Tagore. In the year 2000, China published twenty four volumes of Compiled Collection of Tagore in memory of his One Hundred forty birth anniversary. Tagore’s Gitanjali is a very popular book in China and a bi-lingual edition is available in almost all the major book shops throughout China. In the various internet search engines in China like Bai Du, Tian Wang; there are thousands of information on Tagore. One can find one hundred and eighty two booklists related to Tagore in the Beijing University Library and in the National Library at Beijing, one can find four hundred and five book lists on Tagore. A total of about one thousand two hundred and forty one articles on Tagore had been published in China from 1999 till 2007.

Tagore is the most widely translated foreign author in China after Shakespeare. Now in 2010, young people are quoting from Tagore in Valentine’s Day messages. Young media professional Xi Qin read Tagore to help with research for a documentary and realized “I was missing out on a part of my nation’s history that we were not taught in school”. She found herself inscrutably drawn to Tagore’s “expressive” and “imaginative” language. Zhang Xiaoyu, a student at the Communications University of China in Beijing, loves singing Tagore’s inspirational song championing the values of freedom and democracy “In this land of kings, we are kings all”. In 2006, China’s leading newspaper The People's Daily elected Tagore as one of the 50 foreign personalities who have influenced modern Chinese thinking. This year is the 150th birth anniversary of Tagore, and the Chinese government is honouring the great Indian poet by establishing his statue in the former French Concession area of Shanghai, and displaying a documentary on Tagore to visitors at the World Expo.

The above mentioned facts prove that Tagore is not only popular among the Chinese scholars engaged in Indian literature but also widely accepted among China’s younger generation.

Tagore’s visit to China is a turning point in the modern history of India - China cultural exchange. In the opinion of the Chinese scholars, Tagore’s visit to China “successfully pu shes forward the friendly relationship between the two countries into the platform for establishing formal contact and cooperation between the people of the two countries.” The Indian President K. R. Narayanan during his visit to China in 2000 had said, “ Tagore’s visit to China in 1924 positively made efforts to reconstruct the historical friendship between India and China.” He further mentioned “Tagore sowed the seeds for the friendship and understanding between the people of two countries. Through the establishment of Cheena-Bhavana - India’s first academic centre for systematic study of China’s culture and society - Tagore laid the foundation for dialogue and exchange of ideas between the two ancient civilizations.”

His visit to the ‘Middle Kingdom’ unfolded a new era of dialogue between the two great civilizations, injected a new vigour in mutual exchanges between these two countries and initiated a new chapter in the history of contact between these two civilization, reproduce the friendly emotions and aspirations for contact between the two countries. Tagore’s mission was to repair the bridge between India and China suspended for more than one thousand years. Tagore is truly the architect of India-China modern cultural exchange.


Kalidas Nag , ed. ‘Tagore and China’, Calcutta, 1945, p.34
Rabindranath Tagore: Poems, 1942, Calcutta: Visva-Bharati, Poem No.123

‘First Talk at Shanghai,’, Talks in China (hereafter Talks in China),1924,p.19; Talks in China,1925,p.59
China Daily-14.5.2010
China Daily-14.5.2010,30.04.2010


Sun Yixue ed. Taiger Yu Zhongguo (Tagore and China),Guangxi Normal University Publishing House, Guilin, China,2005.pp.-124-128

Tan Zhong ed., Liu Chaohua, Huang Rong, Deuty ed. Chindia-Idealism and Realization, Ningxia People’s Publishing House, Ningxia, China, 2007.pp.190-212

Hua Ningqing ed. Rabindranath Tagore - The Complete Prose Poems, Zhejiang Literature and Art Publishing House, Hangzhou, China, 1990,pp.1-13

Lang Fang, Han Ren ed. Tagore, LiaoHai Publishing House, Shenyang, China, 1998, pp1-3

Tan Yunshan “ Twenty Years of The Visva-Bharati Cheena Bhavana:1937-1957”, The Sino-Indian Cultural Society of India, 1957.

Tan Zhong ed. Across the Himalayan Gap- An Indian Quest for Understanding China , Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi, 1998.

Sisir Kumar Das, “The Controversial Guest: Tagore in China”, included in Tan Zhong ed. Across the Himalayan Gap- An Indian Quest for Understanding China” , Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi, 1998.

Tan Chung, Kapila Vatsayan, Ji Xianlin ed. In The Footsteps of Xuanzang: Tan Yunshan And India, Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi, 1998.

“Talks in China”, Visva-Bharati, Kolkata, 1925,20.04.2006

“ Global Times”, 17.3.2006, 4.4.2006

China Daily- -14.05.2010


Focus – "Reading Across Time": Tagore Today

  Amrit Sen : Editorial

Lead Article
  Udaya Narayana Singh : Redrawing the Boundaries

Critical Essays

  Nation, History, Cultural Exchange
    Avijit Banerjee : Tagore’s Visit to China
    Bijoy Mukherjee : Rabindranath and Indian History
    Biswanath Banerjee : Tagore and Acharya PC Ray
    Sagarika Chakraborty : Tagore the Diplomat
    Soumitra Roy : Tagore’s Ghare Baire

  Responses to Caste and Gender
    Dhriti Ray Dalai/ Panchanan Dalai : Tagore’s ‘Chandalika’
    Dipankar Roy : Women in Tagore’s ‘Domestic Novels’
    Sanjukta Dasgupta : “Streer Patra” - A Feminist Text?
    Swati Ganguly : Gender, Sexuality and Conjugality in Samapti

  Translation and Reception
    Anindya Sen : Tagore’s Self-Translations
    Jayati Gupta : Whose Gitanjali is it Anyway?
    Sushobhan Adhikary : Cartoons on Tagore
    Usha Kishore : The Auto-translations of Rabindranath

  Rural Reconstruction and Ecopoetic
    Bipasha Raha : Experiments with Village Welfare
    Debotosh Sinha : Tagore and Rural Reconstruction
    Falguni Piyush Desai : Floriography in Tagore’s Poetry
    Marie Josephine Aruna : ‘Letters’ and Ecopoetics

  Aesthetics, Paintings and Dance Dramas
    Aju Mukhopadhyay : The Poet of Sublime Love
    Raghupathi K V : Aesthetics of Tagore and Sri Aurobindo
    Sudeshna Majumdar : Paintings of Tagore
    Sutapa Chaudhuri : Dance Dramas of Tagore

  Tagore and the Short Story
    Dominic K V : Tagore’s Short Stories
    Mausumi Sen Bhattacharjee : ‘The Hunger of Stones’

  Tagore and Visva-Bharati
    Anindita Chongdar : Anecdotes of Santiniketan
    Debmalya Das : The Visva-Bharati Quarterly
    Subodh Gopal Nandi : The Visva-Bharati Library

Creative Responses

    Sanjukta Dasgupta : Remembering Rabindranath

    Frank Joussen : Tagore and Walt Whitman
    Nuggehalli Pankaja : The Voice of Tagore
    Sanjukta Dasgupta : To Rabindranath
    Shambhobi Ghosh : Yet

  Ahmed A H S : Birthday and other poems
  Anup Maharatna : From ‘The Last Writings’
  Ashoka Sen : Africa
  Barnali Saha : The Vacation (Fiction)
  Naina Dey : Chance Meeting
  Parantap Chakraborty : The Son of Man
  Suranjima Saha : Preamble to a Journey
  Swapna Dutta : The Editor

  Amrit Sen:Behind the Veil & Tagore and Modernity
  Kumaran S : Pathos in the Short Stories of Tagore

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