On China By India: From Civilization to Nation-State

by Chih-yu Shih, Swaran Singh, and Reena Marwah


India and China are two rising key players in the global political economy. The obvious contrast between Indian democracy and Chinese one-party rule results in very different national images. Both countries are also proud of their long history of civilization. Their views of each other––informed by their civilizational trajectories––are far richer than their institutional differences. This book studies specifically how civilizational knowledge about China among Indian academics has continued to impact contemporary Indian scholarship on China as nation state. To the extent that contemporary scholarship on China elsewhere lacks such civilizational sensibilities, and given the need for epistemological reflexivity in a multicultural world, this is a particularly urgent inquiry.

The immediate question is how China can be studied when the space inside is not socially or culturally distinguishable from the outside. In the decades after World War II, China studies have been shifting between social science and area studies, with the traditional Sinological concerns over humanity. Some religious underpinnings, which are based on the Huntingtonian prediction that China’s civilization is bound to clash with Christianity, remain powerful. As globalized China loses the clarity of its boundaries, a practice and strategy of self-identity emerges for those who carry the Chinese identity and those who do not. The objectivist social science assumption about knowledge on China can no longer hold. Moreover, China as “other,” staying outside of the range of scholarly and subjective self, is regarded as doubtful. Neither teleology toward a liberal end of history (as political science literature desires) nor a world government (as globalized literature hopes for) is promising.

The book is a report of the first stage of findings on how views on China and the intellectual history of China studies have been embedded in India’s modern history and its evolving self-knowledge as a nation-state. The rise of India and China has caused intellectuals of both countries to become increasingly conscious of each other. Their contemporary relationship still carries the legacy of the border clash of 1962. The views that Indian intellectuals take of China is of great concern to all schools of international relations and to policy and business practitioners around the world. The changing Indian perspectives that reflect the rise of India and the changing object of China studies together complicate and shift the images of China.

If China is a civilization––as Indian scholarship on Chinese Buddhism, art, literature, and language suggests––China’s social, cultural and political conditions and behavior should not change easily. This implies that India has to cope with Chinese phenomena when encountering them, instead of trying to transform China to fit into an Indian agenda. The seeming Indian passivity stemming from this civilizational longevity is in sharp contrast to the active engagement of a Christian world determined to spread a liberal democratic gospel to the Chinese people. Western academics seek to study how to make Chinese conditions right for such a liberal democratic result and how to measure the success of such an endeavor.

Once one delves into the premodern, or even looks for wisdom from the past, however, mundane present-day conflicts appear less significant. This is how Rabindranath Tagore was able to overcome his aborted appeal to Chinese tradition during his disappointing trip to China and still launch the first institute of China studies in India. It was this imagined civilizational affinity and mutuality that has undergirded a string of cultural appreciation toward, and intellectual interest in, China. This has allowed Indian China studies to transcend both the Sino-Indian border and Tibet issues, both of which have plagued bilateral relations between the two governments for over half a century.

While Chinese civilization modernizes and grows more powerful, the only way to engage with civilizational China is through the Chinese government. In the 21st century, with the spread of globalization and the Sinicization and Indianization that are accompanying China’s rise as well as India’s, it is increasingly important that the Indian government finds ways to engage the Chinese government. If Sinicization means adaptation that makes things easier for those acting in the name of China, Indianization pushes for adaptation that makes things easier for those acting in the name of India. When Indianization encounters Sinicization, both Indian intellectuals and practitioners have to make sense of the encounter and decide how to adapt, including teaching, learning, and resisting. Nevertheless, the Indian religion and history provide an extremely long-term view of the world that does not demand immediate answers as the way a typical market-oriented capitalist society usually would.

This groundbreaking collection is the first of its kind to examine China studies from a perspective that is not Western. It will be essential for scholars in international relations, comparative politics, Asian studies, Buddhist studies, and strategic studies.


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