Indian influence in China, similarities, and differences between the two countries

In Mumbai, the former Chinese Consul, Yuan Nansheng 袁南生, at a conference in July, presents his reflections on India by addressing various topics, cultural, religious, economic, and political. He recalls several aspects, such as India’s influence on China throughout history, the similarities and differences between countries, and the long cooperation despite difficult times.

Summary/translation of several parts of the conference :

Influence of India on China

India is the world power that had the most significant influence on ancient China, including Buddhism, philosophy, agriculture, music, dance, sculpture, and medicine. The Han and Tang Dynasties are the most powerful dynasties in the history of China. India has been crucial. Three great waves of study abroad have emerged in Chinese history. The first for India began during the Han Dynasty and lasted for six hundred years until the Tang Dynasty. At the end of the Qing Dynasty and the beginning of the Republic of China, the second moved to Japan. With the third wave, the main directions were England and America.
Two figures stand out from this movement towards India: Fa Xian under the Eastern Jin Dynasty and the other the monk Xuanzang 玄奘 of the Tang. Fa Xian is the first international student of Chinese history in 399 AD. After that, the USSR exerted a significant influence on China and now the United States.
Xuanzang 玄奘 :

bouddhisme inde chine

India, foreign influence

India is a country where foreign civilizations have left a deep imprint. Some of the Central Asian Aryans moved westward, occupying Germany; others moved southward to India. These Aryans brought Brahmanism and the caste system to India. The languages of India and Europe have common roots, Indo-European. The Mongols then occupied India and established the Mughal dynasty. At that time, the Mongols believed in Islam, so they brought Islam. Later, the British came to India with Christianity, making India the largest English-speaking country and the largest democracy. India is the country with the broadest and most profound foreign footprint.

The Indian is more successful abroad

India is the country with the most successful nationals abroad. Unlike the Chinese, who always talk about returning, the Indian adapts easily – wherever they go, it is their homeland. When I was ambassador to Suriname, 36% of the population were Indians, they were the largest ethnic group, and the second largest were Indonesians. In fact, in countries like Trinidad and Tobago and Mauritius, Indians are the number one ethnic group. In South Africa, Zimbabwe, and many other countries, Indians have a strong local presence. In these places where I have worked, Indians earn money without effort, the opposite, and a lot of action without making money. Why? Indians are good at language. They are educated, speculate on stocks, open securities companies, become judges, bank owners. Money comes quickly. The Chinese generally do “forced labor.” Today, also in the United States, the CEOs of many large American companies are Indians. When I was Consul General of San Francisco in the United States, the United States’ highest income group was American Indians, $165,000 a year per family; the Chinese come second with $145,000, whites $85,000, Mexicans $23,000 a year. The Indian diaspora is the most successful abroad.

Strategic position

India attracts major powers for strategic reasons. The annual economic growth rate is generally above 7%. It is one of the most dynamic economies in the world. India imports 80% of its oil. The price of oil has dropped a lot. This is a unique opportunity for India. India’s economy is now larger than that of Russia. With the oil price war, Russia loses two billion dollars a year for every one dollar drop. Think of the money Russia has to lose. But India is delighted, and of course, China benefits a lot from the drop in oil prices.

Similarities between China and India

There are four similarities.
1. First of all, China and India belong to the four ancient civilizations.
2. China and India generated the world’s largest economies in antiquity. According to the findings of historian Angus Maddison, during the first 1500 years of the Christian era, India had the world’s largest GDP. But ancient India was more extensive. It included Pakistan, Kashmir, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, southern Afghanistan, Nepal. Under the Ming, in the 16th century, China took India’s place.
3. Two developing countries.
4. Rapidly growing economies that are part of the BRICs.

The differences

But China and India are different in many ways.
1. China has a socialist system while India has a capitalist system with separation of powers.
2. Cultural traditions are different. I think that’s a very fundamental difference. In a sense, Chinese culture is a culture of this world, a secular culture. This culture doesn’t believe in an afterlife, doesn’t value karma, and focuses on this existence and the need to realize oneself in this life. The history in China for thousands of years is essential. The Chinese like to leave a name in history. On the other hand, the Indian culture, on the contrary, is a religious culture. Indian theology is very developed. Religion focuses on the happiness in the afterlife, not in this life. One can understand Marx’s remark, “India has no history” the ancient court of India has no Sima Qian, no Sima Guang, no historians to record history. They don’t value that. They value the afterlife. On the whole, Indian culture is a culture that believes that the more people suffer, the closer they are to God, the happier they will be in their next life. Gandhiism (the idea of Gandhi, the founding father of India) is the embodiment of the culture of suffering in modern times. Chinese culture is the opposite, a culture of joy. Why? The Chinese do not believe in an afterlife. Live every day, every day, to be happy. The West is a culture of guilt, which assumes that we are born in sin and have to go to church on weekends to atone for our sins.
We can recall that in pre-Christian times, more than two thousand years ago, the wise men, the saints, the thinkers of humanity reflected on the fundamental questions of human destiny. In Europe, Aristotle and Archimedes, for example, they were reflecting on what question? The relationship between man and nature. So there is a tradition of natural sciences in Europe, which is very well developed so far. What do the Indians think? Indians think about the relationship between man and God, so Indian theology is mainly formed. All ancient books in India are theological and agricultural. There are no history books. What were China’s sages thinking about more than two thousand years ago, Confucius, Mencius, Guiguzi, Laozi, Zhuangzi, Sun Tzu? They were thinking about human relations. Westerners first talk about what is right or wrong. Indians talk about reincarnation. China and India’s distinct cultures allowed the two countries to communicate, learn, and complement each other for thousands of years.
3. The pressures in life are different. India has free medical care for all, even for foreigners in the hospital. Studies are almost free. India invests a lot in education, about 4% of the total GDP. Except for films, all cultural performances are free. Tickets are paid by the Tata group or the Indian government. Besides, many museums, world heritage sites, and galleries have no paid admission.
4. Accommodation. The system is on the side of the tenant. He can rent to others, even if he cannot pay the rent. Indian law states that the landlord cannot evict the tenant; the tenant must be “certified.”
5. Economic strength is different. China is now the second largest economy in the world. Our GDP is over fourteen trillion dollars, about 60% of the United States’ total GDP. India is the fifth largest economy, with three trillion dollars, China is more than five times larger than India. India must be about 20 years behind China as a whole.

Relations between China and India

For China and India, the Sino-Indian relationship is one of the most important in foreign relations. India is at the center of our diplomacy in South Asia. Who was the first Chinese to discover India? According to our history books, Zhang Qian, born in 164 B.C., made three trips to the West; in the first, he made transactions with Indian merchants. Zheng He, under the Ming, made seven trips to a place called Guri.
After India’s independence, Sino-Indian relations entered a new prosperous period. When India became independent, who was the first ambassador to present India’s credentials and the first to arrive in India? It was the ambassador from China. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the first non-socialist country to recognize the People’s Republic of China was India. The first socialist country was the Soviet Union. During his lifetime, Chairman Mao Zedong visited only one foreign embassy in Beijing after founding the People’s Republic of China. Which embassy? The Embassy of India. In April 1954, India’s founding Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, visited China. It was the first visit of a great foreign leader since the founding of the People’s Republic. During Nehru’s visit to China, a banquet was held at the Beijing Hotel with eight hundred Chinese officials. He made an exception to the rule that forbade drinking alcohol while tasting Maotai.
Thanks to the cooperation, efforts, and collaboration of Indian Prime Minister Nehru, China, together with Zhou Enlai, participated in the Bandung conference – the first and most significant international conference. War broke out between China and India in the 1960s. But that’s in the past. Friendship and cooperation between China and India are essential for seizing joint development opportunities. President Xi said: When China and India speak with one voice, the whole world will listen to them. If China and India work together, the entire world will pay attention. Now, Prime Minister Modi said that China and India are “two bodies, one mind.”
There are now three forces in the world that doubt China. Which is the first force? What does the United States think of China? Are you a friend or an enemy? There are questions about this. The second force is Africa. Dozens of African countries look at China and wonder what it means. Is China a developed country or a developing country? Is it a superpower? In China, we have always said that we are the largest developing country. When President Hu Jintao visited Nigeria and gave a speech in the Nigerian parliament, he meant that Nigeria is the largest developing country in Africa. China is the largest developing country in the world. When he said that, hundreds of Nigerian M.P.s said “No, no, no” in unison. What they mean is that China is not a developing country but a superpower. In the eyes of Africans, China is a superpower with endless wealth and money. The third force is India. What makes India suspicious of China? Is China’s development, China’s rise, a blessing, or a curse for India? China is highly developed, in the end, is it better to work with China, to bet on China’s rapid development in win-win cooperation in the field of wind turbines? Or should we each work on our own? Will it win or lose by following? She has doubts about the Silk Road.  
India is not welcoming for Chinese companies operating in India. I encountered these problems when I was Consul General in Mumbai. At that time, Huawei built the largest foreign research institute in Bangalore, called Huawei India Research Institute. At that time, it hired more than seven hundred top Indian engineers. What problem could not be solved? Dozens of Huawei China’s staff members cannot get work visas, only tourist visas, but the tourist visas will soon expire. This does not give a work visa. Huawei has an extensive research institute there. How can the company manage without its staff?  
Chinese companies have difficulties in opening the local market. Recently, Indians have boycotted Chinese products; dozens of Chinese software have also been banned.
To respond to domestic nationalism and populism, India has been playing the border card for years. Therefore, it is not uncommon for something to happen on the Indian border, and this problem is inseparable from the historical issues inherited from the British colonial legacy. The British government has left this situation behind. But I don’t think that China and India are heading towards a large-scale war. 

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27 October 2020

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