The education of the people of Tianzhu

Someone on Twitter mentioned that there were references to Shakespeare in the recent ruling to decriminalize homosexuality in India. This is reflective of the fact that some of the ambition to create “a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect” did succeed. The English-speaking South Asian elite is not Western, but they are part of a broader conversation, a republic of letters, which is focused on the West. A public intellectual like Arundhati Roy is integrated and influential in the broader community of international, Western, intellectuals.

And yet looking at the trade numbers for India, you see that China has surpassed the United Kingdom. I have stated on this weblog that India has to deal with the fact that China is already the Asian hegemon. And this hegemony will only wax over the coming decades.

The Westernization of aspects of Indian culture is probably not going to be reversed in the 21st century. Indian English is now a native language. Cricket is the national sport. But Indians also have to look to Chinese culture and civilization, and not just economic statistics, because the maturation of the two states and societies over the next few decades is going to entail some level of interaction and exchange.

Too often conversations about comparative history that I have on this weblog entail comparisons between the West and India (Islam). There is an unfortunate lack of knowledge on Chinese history and civilization.

Fix this forthwith!

61 thoughts on “The education of the people of Tianzhu”

  1. yes.I see people justify this ignorance by saying china has no cultural power in the world. So, strong as they might be, their influence on world will be constrained. In short, they have no shakespeare. Also, it isnt entirely the case that the said ambition succeeded, its also because the west created incredible culture over past many centuries and if one only speaks english, they will be enthralled by all that and more. JK Rowling for instance more recently has created a world I have had the pleasure to visit . I am just shocked and stunned that not only has west done better than us Indians in science and governance where we were poor and needed to learn, they also created a more creative artistic world and we cant blame anyone but ourselves to be left behind even there because its one arena where India had not been lacking to begin with.

    1. .I see people justify this ignorance by saying china has no cultural power in the world. So, strong as they might be, their influence on world will be constrained.

      this is a stupid and shortsighted take.

      JK Rowling for instance more recently has created a world I have had the pleasure to visit .

      this is like saying japanese cultural influence is through manga.

      perhaps, but that’s empty calories.

  2. yes it is stupid, but consider the leftwing in India. They failed big time in popularizing and understanding of china, Including Hindus, a polytheistic society that has ignored japan – The only major asian state that developed during the heyday of european colonialism, somehow it never is brought up by anyone in trying to learn or emulate, china is another case, here too neither the left nor hindus wish to learn. My point is that we havent shown interest in learning even when it was most prudent and useful to do so. I can only point to perhaps a deeper colonisation of the mind that believes that one need to learn from the white man but not from anyone else, or perhaps there was never any real intellectual community(true for hindus) in India in last many centuries and last 100 yrs. Or perhaps this is deliberate on part of western educated lot to cut down ideas they deemed would go against their interest. In all cases, Hindus come out as stupid though.

    this is like saying japanese cultural influence is through manga.

    perhaps, but that’s empty calories. ”

    Just look how many are even bothered by anything beyond their day to day life. Shallow is good enough to enthrall most, as to why top intellectuals are not bothered by china, i think they are all tied to western university, their authority and value comes from being tied to that community the most.

  3. I can only point to perhaps a deeper colonisation of the mind that believes that one need to learn from the white man but not from anyone else

    i hope this isn’t true. but i wonder if it is.

    that being said, the chinese are going to be the new white man in a way. so perhaps they will bend to power, if not cultivation 😉

    1. The quicker the better. And I do hope India bends. And hope Hindus put civilizational interests above the “national” ones.

    2. i hope this isn’t true. but i wonder if it is.

      Speaking from personal experience, such a mentality does exist in the Indian corporate world. They tend to be a very conservative bunch, with a disinclination to try something new or invest in new ideas. Until the point when something gets built and demonstrated in, say, America; they’ll then try to borrow (or steal) those ideas. This mentality ends up retarding the Indian market economy: there is no incentive to do something radical because the powers-that-be want to be assured first that the “white man” believes in and has adopted that technology.

      1. Don’t know about the corporate world but the start-up eco-system in India is *hugely* fascinated with China.

        Every founder/VC I meet keeps gushing about what they are doing there.

        Maybe this is the route Chinese influence will take.

  4. so, this is one incident. but i was looking up reviews of sichuan restaurants in shangai. one review was from an indian expat who complained “there is no food in china.” obviously indians who are vegetarians are going to have limited options (buddhist vegetarian cuisine), but it seemed totally ignorant to just state “there is no food in china.” the kind of statement that an imperialist would make tbh.

    1. To many Indians, only Indian food is food. I knew Indians in the US who refused to try anything else, or would complain incessantly about the lack of quality of XYZ cuisine vis-a-vis Indian cuisine.

    2. Somehow not many Indians know that there are tonnes of vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Shanghai. Meaning those that don’t serve non-vegan/non-vegetarian food.

      BTW regarding learning from China and Japan, I might have quoted this before, but I will never tire of quoting. Swami Vivekananda wrote in a letter to one Alasingha way back in 1893 making several interesting observations about the Chinese and the Japanese, adding “Only I want that numbers of our young men should pay a visit to Japan and China every year.”

      Another comment from that letter that I found curious, ” The Chinese child is quite a philosopher and calmly goes to work at an age when your Indian boy can hardly crawl on all fours.”

    3. indian expat who complained “there is no food in china.”

      Isnt that true of some US/Europeans (or whatever country). Most who only want food they are familiar with stick to star class hotels and occasional forays to see the local sights.

      I run into the odd one (about 5%) who wants budget prices (USD 19/night) of and expect say filtered coffee and Italian style spaghetti with bacon. We can serve pork, but not at the last minute (its a Muslim town) and for sure not bacon.

      I knew some Sri Lankans (students then in 1990’s) who would travel to Conferences with a small Rice Cooker. They would cook rice and dhal (lentils) in the hotel room.
      Apparently they would feel weak if they did not eat one meal of rice (huge) per day.

      My late wife had the same issue, one meal of rice per day but she was happy with some Chinese fried rice.

      Cheese: Most Sri Lankans refuse to eat expensive smelly cheese, the ideal being Kraft cheese in can/package. If you think about cheese, its really spoiled milk, and spoiled for a long time.

      Back to my late wife: When she first got into the US and we used to go for barbecues with lots of salad, she used to comment; “do these people think we are goats”. Five to Seven years later she was the one who loved Blue cheese dressing with salad.

      One can change if you have an open mind. Chandra my late wife was 49 when she arrived in the US in 1991. She was not one the English speaking upper class divorcees . Chandra was from a village, married off at 17 and widow by 25. Chandra loved Wheel of Fortune (and other junk soap operas). For a woman who barely knew English when she arrived in the US, she would know/guess the words in Wheel of Fortune even before me. Ability and not having the chance to bloom. “Many a desert rose” comes to mind.

      So back to food. There was and whole issue of Chinese wanting instant noodles in Maldives. They had been using the hot water kettles (for tea) to make noodles and destroying the kettles.

      The Chinese in Maldives wanting Instant Noodles

      Back in Sri Lanka 2003, Chandra is the one with light green top

  5. Prof.Subramaniam Swamy has been the ‘China expert’ for BJP , he has visited China few times and is in favour of closer India-China relationships. Modi, when he was Chief Minister , has been to China on study tours.
    India and China has to learn from each other as well jointly Urban management . With cities in both countries touching 10-15 million , and Modi’s stated intention (is it a policy) of 100 smart cities , they can concentrate on how to make urban life better

    1. is in favour of closer India-China relationships

      I didn’t know that. I’m not a fan of Prof. Swamy, but I believe in attempting a full political rapproachement with China (in contrast to acting as a counterweight with the help of the fickle US.)

  6. China India friendship is closer than they have ever been. Especially promising is China’s increasing leadership in helping Afghanistan (including the Afghan National Army in a major way) and Iraq. I suspect that China and India will closely collaborate in Afghanistan, Iraq, Africa, and in dealing with global Islamist Jihadism. Eventually this might lead to a close global alliance alongside the US, Japan and Europeans to provide the global commons.

    Chinese thought leadership is very promising.

    1. Uhh, promising ???

      China is about to destroy an ancient Buddhist city of Mes Aynak to get the copper beneath it . Any day , China puts it’s economic interests above culture or heritage especially other’s
      China plans to destroy an ancient Buddhist city to get the copper buried there

      Between Taliban and China’s “thought leadership” Afghanistan’s heritage will be rubble soon.

  7. yes I know prof swamy is china expert, he knows mandarin, when he was young, he wrote what was then the best paper on chinese economy. And having trade with china means nothing, where is the learning? from them or for that matter from japan?. If anything we have lot more in common with east civilizationally than the west, bjp can call for learn from east to mitigate the ill effects of western learning. we can learn a lot from confucian world view, especially Hindus can and should learn from them in terms of scaling,unity,firmness and clear eyed view of the world. But we dont, Y?. Because we are brain dead.

  8. Between BJP and Congress-Left, BJP are willing to learn more from China. The Left keeps praising China – of the 1960s vintage – and they are unable to understand the sea changes that have taken place there. Between 1978 and 1982 vast decisions were taken in china which fundamentally altered the economic and social landscape. All the decisions were carried out single mindedly and without looking back. That single mindedness is missing in all political parties in India , including BJP.

  9. VijayVan, the world is unlikely to abandon Afghanistan. Several Taliban groups believe in global caliphate.

    What is likely to happen is that China, India, Europe, North America, Australia and muslim countries will collaborate better to help Afghans.

    Turkey, Jordan, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Indonesia, Malaysia, Albania, Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia all have close relationships with the ANSF.

    China is currently helping build a brigade in the 209th ANA Corps. The Afghans probably want China to assume responsibility for a division (which has two or three brigades) subordinate to 209th ANA Corps. China recently agreed to help the ANSF on a nationwide basis.

    India can also do a lot more to help the ANSF.

    This is Afghanistan’s war. About 60,000 martyrs in the ANSF have died. This war will likely last as long as the Pakistani Army supports the Taliban. The Taliban cannot defeat the ANSF with the amount of support the Pakistani Army can afford to provide them. The ANSF cannot defeat the Taliban either with its current planned TO/E and Order of Battle.

    1. @AnAn ‘VijayVan, the world is unlikely to abandon Afghanistan’

      Ideally a ‘benevolent abandonment’ by all countries for 30 years would be the ideal thing for Afghanistan. They should be left to their own devices without external interference.

      1. VijayVan, why should the Pakistani Army be allowed to rule Afghanistan via their proxies? Several Taliban groups seek to conquer and rule the world. Giving them territory to rule creates the rump of a global caliphate. This incentives them to invade and conquer other countries. And they can claim that Allah is on their side.

        ANA and NDS estimates suggest that one third of Taliban are not Afghan. However they represent a majority of the skilled fighters, senior cadre, command and control, combat enablers and advisors. The foreign fighters and Pakistani Army have sabotaged every negotiation between Afghan Taliban and the Afghan government since 2002.

        The only way the 14 century Islamic civil war ends is if there is freedom of art and thought for muslims and if this results in dialogue. This cannot happen if Islamist Jihadis control territory from which they can plan targeted assassinations of any muslims who engage in dialogue or believe in love and light.

        There is a moral problem. If globalist Taliban factions slaughter hundreds of thousands or millions of Afghans; Afghans may not forgive the world for betraying and abandoning them.

        Why do you think India should abandon Afghanistan. India has no better friend than Afghanistan, the Afghan National Army (ANA), NDS and Afghanistan Air Force (AAF). If India betrays Afghanistan then why would any country trust India again? If Afghanistan falls then the full might of the Pakistani Army and Taliban would fall on India. Do you think India could politically adsorb tens of thousands of dead Indian security personal?

        Fortunately this is unlikely to happen. Both India and China are increasing their help to the ANA (and in India’s case to the AAF).

        My hope is that India, China and Russia collaborate to donate several thousand D30 artillery to Afghanistan; and extensively train Afghan artillery crews on D30s. This alone would change the balance of power with the Pakistani Army and Taliban. India, China and Russia have huge stockpiles of D30 artillery–which is the only artillery piece the ANA is trained to use and maintain.

        1. AnAn, I said abandonment of Afghanistan by all parties would be good for Afg and the rest . But it is not going happen as Pakistan thinks it has the right to interfere in it’s ‘backyard’ mostly for the presumed detriment of India. So, the abandonment will be a nonstarter.

          1. The Taliban are Afghans. The war has gone on for 17 years now and finally the US has realized that it will not end unless the Taliban are brought to the table as stakeholders and they negotiate with the Kabul government. This is why the US is now proceeding with direct talks with the Taliban and asking Pakistan to help with this. It is not clear to me whether the Taliban even take orders from Pakistan, so I don’t know how effective this is going to be. I think Anan severely overestimates how much control Pakistan has over the situation.

            Regional countries should not use Afghanistan as a staging ground for their own proxy wars. Pakistan has some legitimate concerns about India’s involvement there.

          2. India should stop wasting taxpayers money by interfering in Afghanistan.

            Leopard fixed your comment

            US and India should stop wasting taxpayers money by interfering in Afghanistan (or any other country).

          3. Zack,

            Why should Afghanistan “consolidate into Pakistan”? Both countries have enough issues without changing national borders.

            Pakistan is a Punjabi-majority country and we really don’t need to add in a whole bunch of Pashtuns, Tajiks etc. Afghanistan’s ethnic mix is volatile as it is .

            The best thing would be for both countries to live as good neighbors within the current borders. Pakistan is trying to fence the Durand Line for our own national security reasons. The Afghans don’t accept the Durand Line, but frankly they need to get over it.

          4. The vast majority of Afghans from accross the political spectrum have asked China and India for help. As true friends and allies of Afghanistan, they should try to help.

            The enemies of Afghanistan are the enemies of all humanity. The Afghans are protecting the entire world by taking the brunt of the global caliphate. As long as afghans are glad to sacrifice like this the world should be greatful and help Afghanistan.

            Recently, some Afghan Taliban leaders have through back channels expressed their desire to negotiate with Afghanistan to free themselves from the Pakistani army boot. This is good. But very hard since global jihadis and the deep state are trying to sabotage.

            The recent battle of ghazni demonstrated a more overt Pakistani army and global jihadi role.

            America, Russia and any other country have no right to negotiate with the Taliban without the permission and blessings of Afghanistan. Currently the US role is to provide a face saving way for direct Afghan government and Taliban talks.

            Kabir the current war started over 40 years ago as a Pakistani army aggression against Afghanistan.

          5. Anan,

            The “current war” started in 2001. The US wants it to end and it will not end unless the Taliban become stakeholders and are given some political role. The government of Kabul cannot win militarily as the last 17 years have shown.

            Your insistence on blaming everything on Pakistan is not attractive. You are entitled to your anti-Pakistan attitude but I’m not going to “debate” it further.

  10. To learn from China, I hope India makes 3 institutes in India with Chinese cooperation – one for Chinese culture ,ancient and modern; one for economy and one for Urbanization. The institute for Culture should be named after Hiuen Tsang , economy after Deng hsio Ping , and Urbanization after Chou Enlai.
    Chinese fondly remember Dr.Kotnis , a doctor who accompanied Mao Tse Tung during civil war as part of medical mission and even played chess with him. Chinese diplomats and officials make sure they pay a courtesy call on Dr.Kotnis family.

  11. Chinkis are killing Muslims. The sword of Ummah, Jaggu, will nevver tolerate that!

    Multipronged strategy to confound and contain Chinkies:

    – Feed them pigs and throw ham into their houses to defile them. Pigs are dirtttyy ack thoo! Chinks will run a mile…

    – Throw rats, snakes and cockroaches into their food. If this doesn’t piss them off not sure what will.

    – organize mass burnings of the posters of Mao and Psy. Esp psy as he is alive. A real kick up the Chinki nuts, haha!

    – Ban the eating of sushi and sashimi and duck feet and other vile and smelly chinese food.

    – Reclaim Alibaba for the Arabs by starting a whatsapp campaign and lawsuit against Chink government.

    – Move Pakistani courts to deport all chinkis and threaten to wrap up CPEC and similar colonial projects of the yellow man. Imran bhai can take the lead here and show to the world what lengths Pakistani awam are prepared to go to protect Prophet’s (SWT) and Muslims’ honour. Ya Ali Madad. Labbaik ya Rasool Allah!


    1. Wise Jaggu; much from you I have learned oh lion of the Stans. But I have difficulty with following your teachings on Chinese. I love Chinkies and want to be best friends with them. Please advise how I can be true to Islam and Turan?

      Thank you wise One;

  12. @bharat:

    Including Hindus, a polytheistic society that has ignored japan – The only major asian state that developed during the heyday of european colonialism, somehow it never is brought up by anyone in trying to learn or emulate

    I don’t know if you are referring specifically to religious exchanges, but if you were talking more generally, you could not be more wrong. Indians have been looking up to Japan as a kindred Asian country and a role model for over a century, at least dating back to the Japanese defeat of Russia in 1905. That the Japanese have been able to modernize without Westernizing culturally (at least not to a very large extent) gives our nationalists hope that Indians can do the same. Our manufacturing companies have loved to tie up with Japanese companies (Suzuki, for example) and learn and adopt their business practices. Modi made lots of trips to Japan when he was CM IIRC.

    Not to mention the events of WW2: remember the INA, and the fact that the sole Indian judge in the Asian wing of the Allied war crimes tribunals decided in favor of leniency towards the Japanese ringleaders?

    1. Justice Radhabinod Pal , the only dissenting judge in the Japanese War crimes Tribunal is a hero among Japanese who pay respects to him. If I am correct, he has a place in Yasukuni shrine.

      Chinese remember Kotnis and Japanese Pal . Their memories are long.

    2. this is surface level analysis. Important to know of attitudes and how they did it, their culture,history , in depth appreciation and analysis. There is a person on twitter, many know him, suggest you to begin there.

      1. I wasn’t trying to analyze anything, just countering your assertion, with examples, that Indians don’t know or care about Japan.

        How Japan came to develop and modernize is a totally different question, and of course deserves deep analysis. (I’m aware of some of the history, though not enough.)

        I’m not on Twitter and have no intention of signing on, thanks! 🙂

        1. I think given the context, I made sense . Dont like this vikramesque attitude of being uncharitable to the fullest just so to find faults.

        2. You didn’t counter anything. Bharat’s point was about learning from and emulating Japan, not about shallow idolization, existence of specific company-level interactions and so on.

          You don’t need to sign on twitter (I’m not on twitter either); if you really care to learn, you can start by taking a look at threads like the following:

          (probably this is the person on twitter Bharat had in mind, but I’m not sure).

          Notice how they imported architectures of institutions, principles for policy formulations etc. after comparing their western and Japanese equivalents, and explicitly deciding in favor of the latter. OTOH smug Indian elite on their Nehruvian high horse, refusing to learn, blindly parroting western lines and considering themselves intellectuals by focusing on (unlucky and hence) even more stupid compatriots…

          1. You didn’t counter anything.

            My, you got really upset about what I thought was a pretty inoffensive comment.

            I thought his assertion was that Indians haven’t cared about Japan or ever looked up the Japanese. If that wasn’t the case, then I stand corrected.

            Whether or not I succeeded in countering his assertion is up to you. I don’t know where the “shallow idolization” comes from, but if you think companies emulating companies is trivial, then that’s your opinion; we’ll have to agree to disagree.

            Beyond that, I am quite well-versed in doing research on topics I care about, so I don’t need your smug attitude or your lessons. I know Twitter handles can be public; my comment was meant to be an offhand comment reflecting my distaste for social media, not a cry for help.

  13. I have mentioned this in comments before, the English/Indian-English comfortable and fluent crowd in India is perhaps 10% of the total population. That’s a big ass number of people. They might know an Indian language but are uncomfortable reading and writing in it and even speaking in it except when they have up with older generations or servant class. When they/we link up with friends at the sheesha bar we keep it in English.

    I think the percentage that it is at is more than optimum for India. There is no JK Rowling out of India in the 90s. There was a Rushdie, probably when said percentage was closer to 5.

    Indians need to start plugging in to Mandarin world, in similar percentage like 5-10%. Same with Japanese. I recall Modi was having some program with Japanese to send a good amount of blue collar youth to go work-study in Japan for two years. I hope prior to sending these folks got some crash course to fluency in Japanese. Same with Farsi and Arabic. Urdu is a low hanging fruit here for Hindi speakers as it would just require learning a script.

    1. the English/Indian-English comfortable and fluent crowd in India is perhaps 10% of the total population.

      Thats about 100 million people. Impressive for a country that is only some number 60% literate.

      They might know an Indian language but are uncomfortable reading and writing in it and even speaking in it except when they have up with older generations or servant class.

      So what are your servant class, the Shudras.
      So the Shudras are the only ones who speak native languages.

      1. That post was an exercise in exaggeration. There is a north-south and north-west gradient in English intelligibility.

        The southern states have used English as a de facto language of communication and as an official language. In addition, practically all of business, higher education and government action being handled in English. Last, but not the least, what if your spouse is not from the same state or language, and your history is interspersed in two or three states.

        The servant class is basically disappearing in the southern states.

      2. Sbarrkumji

        Literacy in India is one of those things the government defines like poverty. Last I remember it was defined as ability to sign one’s name in any language (as opposed to thumb print). 60% or 10% these are numbers that we are all pulling doused in fecal aroma, but the context either way is that it is a small percentage but still a big number. Also it is expanding per decade because the kids of servant class if upwardly mobile will latch on to the Indian-English culture as an aspirational move. Hence my position is to somehow put an end to this and see if possible for India to diversify upward mobility/modernization with say an India-Mandarin culture or Indian-Japanese as well. Indian-English has reached beyond its optimum and now produces Chetan Bhagat half girlfriend.

        As for whether servants are Shudras by jaati I’m not so sure. My Brahmin family historically only employed Brahmins in servant roles as well, possibly some subconscious element of who is touching one’s food/kids etc. There is probably some hierarchy in this as well, like the chefs or butler type that runs errands to the post office or bank is a rural Brahmin of poor background, the sweepers or bathroom cleaners are Namashudra refugees from Bangladesh. The Brahmin servant that we have is actually a tremendous repository of Bengali language; man composes Bengali poetry that gets published, accesses Swami Vivekananda and Hindu religion in general in Bengali, etc. His vocabulary catches my family off guard and only my grandparents generation can keep up with his pure sophisticated Bangla. Unfortunately by my standards, we influence him and his family more with our Indian-English culture and he is now familiar with more English nouns and adjectives to the point that he’d rather use Benglish than Bangla so we are comfortable/understand than vice versa.

  14. The current lack of awareness of the Chinese civilization is a bug in, not a feature of, the Indic elite. The Islamic rule in the subcontinent changed the elite dynamics and strongly coupled the fortunes of India proper with those of W Asia – much like how Norman conquest plugged England into the Latinate world (as opposed to the Nordic).

    The arrival of the English and the subsequent Partition are initial steps in a long phase transition of India to re-align with E Asia. Our ancestors named China for the rest of the world (Qin > Skt mahA cIna, i.e. Great China, attested in MBh) and Skt usage of mantriNa (lit. minister, counsellor, diplomat) for Chinese diplomats in SE Asia was picked up by the Portuguese and used for their language Mandarin. (Use of Mandarin for diplomats/officials also survives in English).

    Obviously China (and Japan) changed a lot over this period as well, partly as a result of direct European colonization (Portuguese, Dutch, English etc) but also being affected by European political ideologies, e.g. Communism mediated through erstwhile USSR. These Europeanisms are destined to fall out of fashion in the long run. (NB: not all European ideas are Europeanisms and some are truly universal. Newtonian mechanics for example or Modern Physics or similar analogues in other Sciences or Epistemologies)

    I think the general advice to Indians to update their knowledge of China, a world many of their own ancestors were fairly well aware of, is a timely one.

  15. Japan was actually the first country I wanted to (and did) visit for leisure. We did meet some batch mates who took the route East out of India instead of West. What we realized is that language is a massive problem, and that a lot of the Indian inclination towards the Anglo world is structurally rooted in English medium education. Most folks wanted out of Japan, a move to the Anglo world, not necessarily because of any life issues, but just simple day to day convenience of communication.

    I do feel like a lot of posts about the continuing Anglo influence on modernizing India does not appreciate the role of English medium education. There is a big difference in learning a foreign language as a standalone subject, versus it being the medium of instruction.

  16. @numinous, fine. It however pays to look through the sources. One loses nothing by being a bit more charitable and try to understand what others are bringing attention to.

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