If we compare China’s research and translation of Indian classics, medieval, modern and contemporary works, India’s performance is abysmal.


In the wake of government dropping Chinese as one of the foreign languages to be offered at the secondary level in the final document of the New Education Policy 2020, many questions have been raised about the utility of studying the language of an enemy country; and whether or not the Chinese are learning Hindi or offering courses in Indology in Chinese universities. Since I have been trying to render some of the Chinese classics and work done in China on Indology into Hindi and English in my pastime, I deem it important to let readers know about the kind of work Chinese scholarship has done on India so far.

In one of the chapters of The Art of War, Sun Tse [Ze] says, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” Now the question arises, how much we know about China and how much China knows about us? It would be wrong to say that China is not well informed about India, however, the same may not be true for India, for the simple reason that transmission of the objectified Indian cultural capital to China has been going on since the dissemination of Buddhism during the first century AD. Buddhism acted as a catalyst and we see India’s spiritual and literary capital making huge inroads in China in the form of transmission of Ramayana and Mahabharata stories, influence of Buddhist literature on Chinese language, literary genres, art and music, the birth of China’s translation studies and much more.

The fine tradition of sutra translation in China has continued; the translation and publication of Bhagvad-Gita in the 1940s, Upanishads in the 1950s, Kalidasa’s Abhijnanashakuntala and Meghaduta in the 1950s and 1960s, the Rãmãyana from Sanskrit in the 1980s, Ramcharitmans in 1988, Rabindranath Tagore’s works in 24 volumes in 2000, the complete Mahãbhãrata from Sanskrit in 2005, various editions of Manusmriti; Sursagar and Kabir Granthavali in 2018-19 testifies this. Apart from the scattered translation of the Vedas, it could be said that China has translated the almost entire repository of mainstream Indian literature and philosophy including the Panchtantra, Kathasagar, Six philosophical Schools of India, and Shankaracharya.

Besides, Chinese scholarship on India has rendered the works of Indian writers such as Bharatendu Harishchandra, Premchand, Yashpal, Mirza Ghalib, Mohamed Iqbal, Krishan Chander, Jai Shankar Prasad, Jainendra Kumar, Phanishwar Nath Renu, Bankimchandra Chatterjee, Aurobindo, Osho, Chinnaswami Subramania Bharathi, and it may not be possible to list them all here. What is interesting is that Chinese scholars have also studied and rendered in Chinese the Indian writings in English. The works of Mulk Raj Anand, R.K. Narayan, Raja Rao, Bhabani Bhattacharya, Manohar Malgonkar, Arun Joshi, Khushwant Singh, Vikram Seth and Anita Desai have been extensively translated and studied. Even though the import of Indian films in China is limited, but the translation and dubbing right from Raj Kapoor’s Awaara to Amir Khan’s Dangal has gone unstopped.

It could be discerned that Chinese scholarship has picked up works written not only in Sanskrit and Hindi, but also in Bengali, Tamil, Urdu and English. No wonder many universities across China are offering Hindi, Tamil, Bengali and Punjabi, etc., languages at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. The fine tradition laid down by stalwarts like Ji Xianlin, Xu Fancheng, Jin Kemu, Huang Baosheng and Liu Anwu has been kept alive by their students such as Wang Shuying, Jin Dinghan, Xue Keqiao, Yu Longyu and Jiang Jingkui, who, in turn, have trained a formidable team of young Indologists spread across China. Obviously, such capacity building is not possible without policy formulation, funding and support from the top.

Conversely, it is very bewildering that despite having an equally enormous and unrivalled timeline, a minuscule of Chinese cultural capital was translated and transmitted into India. The Chinese Classic of Odes is at least 2,700 years old; even Tang poems and Song lyrics are as old as 1400-1000 years. However, in India, we don’t find a trace of any renditions. Only thing we gather is that eminent scholar monk, Xuanzang did translate the Taoist classic, Daodejing into Sanskrit, but alas the translation has been lost. Four Books and Five Classics encompassing the essence of Confucian philosophy were produced before Qin Shihuang unified China in 221 BC, but none were translated by Indian scholars.

The West, which had no contacts unlike India had with China, also translated and transmitted Four Books and Five Classics into western languages mostly during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing dynasties (1644-1911), with the arrival of the missionaries. In 1594, Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), the Italian missionary, translated extensive parts of the Four Books into Latin, but didn’t publish it. He also developed the first system for Romanizing Chinese. Almost a century later, (1687) Prosper Intorcetta, Christian Herdtrich, Franqois Rougemont, and Philippe Couplet published the first Latin version. The first English translation of the Analects was by Randal Taylor in 1691 from a French edition titled Confucius’ Virtue and Chinese Philosophy, translated from Chinese by Philippe Couplet and Pierre Savouet. The Russian edition by Yakov Volkov of the Four Books appeared in 1729. Following this, during the 19th century there has been various editions in English and other European languages. The most notable is James Legge’s translation of Four Books (1861) titled as The Chinese Classics, and translation of The Analects by L. Giles (1875-1958) and Arthur Waley (1889-1966) into English (1938). As far as the Indian scene is concerned, it took us over 2,000 years to produce the first translation of the Four Books (The Analects, Mencius, The Great Learning, and The Mean), none other than by this author, into Hindi. The Confucian classics is just a fraction in the huge repository of Chinese classics and contemporary works.

Now, if we compare China’s research and translation of Indian classics, medieval, modern and contemporary works, India’s performance is abysmal. This also mirrors the state of China studies in India. India, as such, initiated serious China studies after the 1962 conflict with China. However, the approach has been somewhat ad-hoc, cosmetic and the element of Chinese language in it has been neglected throughout. Take for example the then Human Resources Minister, Kapil Sibal’s statement in 2010 that India will introduce Chinese as a foreign language in secondary education. He also promised to develop a pool of Indian expertise for the task. As usual, it remained a non-starter, therefore, the present government not mentioning the same in the New Education Policy 2020 has no real value. Government looking into the MoUs the Indian universities have signed with their Chinese counterparts perhaps, besides the agreements with Hanban or Confucius Headquarter, are equally irrelevant as no exchange is happening owing to hard and soft infrastructure constraints in government universities.

China has opened up degree courses in Hindi at 16 Chinese universities across China. Most of the programmes are run by the so-called foreign studies universities, except for Peking University and the PLA Institute of International Relations. Besides, many think tanks and research institutes across China are engaged in various facets of India studies; all the scholars may not be versed in Hindi, but are well versed in English. Since China produces only an iota of research work in English, therefore, the knowledge of Chinese must be a prerequisite for any serious research on China.

Finally, I believe, irrespective of India’s benevolent or malevolent relationship with China, we must enhance our understanding of China. Without building capacities in Chinese language, our understanding is bound to be shallow. India must lay emphasis on integrating discipline with area studies. Open up borderland studies with strong Chinese language capabilities in union territories and provinces such as Ladakh, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam on the one hand, and strengthen existing Chinese studies programmes across India on the other. In view of this, we must chalk out a long-term strategy for the development and growth of China studies in India.

B.R. Deepak is Professor, Center of Chinese and Southeast Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.