Sharing a continent

25% of humans live in the Indian subcontinent. 18.5% live in China. Together that’s 43.5% of the world’s population in the two great Asian civilizations. Not a trivial number in the 21st century, especially in a nascent multipolar world.

And yet the two societies often lack a deep awareness of each other, as opposed to an almost pathological fixation on the West, and in India’s case the world of Islam.

Indians are clearly geopolitically aware of China. Obsessed even. But aside from cultural exotica (e.g., the Chinese “eat everything”), there seems to be profound ignorance.

This is illustrated most clearly when I hear Indian intellectuals aver the proud continuous paganness of their civilization. Setting aside what “pagan” means, and its applicability to the Hindu religious tradition, the key here is a contrast with the world to the west, which was impacted by a great rupture. The people of Iraq have a written history that goes back 5,000 years, but the continuity between ancient and modern people of the region is culturally minimal. Modern inhabitants of Bagdhad know on some level that their ancestors were Sumerian, but for most of them their identity is wrapped up in their religion and the lives of the Prophet and his family, or for Christians that of Jesus.

This is not the case with the majority of Indian subcontinental people, whose religious traditions and cultural memory go back further, literally to the Bronze Age at the latest. The foundational mythological cycles which define Indian culture probably date to 1000 to 1500 BC. During this time Kassites ruled Babylonia, and the Assyrians were coming into their own. Until modern archaeology, these people were only names in the Bible or in Greek historians.

But this is not only true of India. These Chinese also look to the Bronze Age Shang dynasty, and in particular, the liminal Zhou, to set the terms of their modern culture. The ancient sage kings, who likely predate the Shang, are also held in cultural esteem.

Does any of this matter? I don’t honestly know. I’m American, not India or Chinese. But perhaps it might help on some level if these two civilization-states could understand and accept that they share in common having extremely deep cultural roots apart from the revelation of the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.

58 thoughts on “Sharing a continent”

  1. An anecdote about “eating everything”. Charkha samhita reccomends wild game meet to cure certain illnesses. Not very different from China

  2. I agree Indians should be aware of other peoples history. Hopefully this will make them appreciate their own history better and possibly guide them about present challenges. But written history does not seem to appeal to ordinary people. Some how it has to be packaged as pop history.
    Btw I was curious about your thoughts on Glubb’s ‘Age of empires’.

  3. The Himalayas have a major role to play in this vision block. Until the last 30 years or so, it was simply not possible to traverse them. Going via Burma, one has to cross the Mighty Brahmaputra and a host of other smaller (still big enough) rivers.

    And of course, in case people have forgotten, we do not have a border with China but only Tibet. Only the last 70 years have materialised a common border.

    Indian historical, social and cultural foundations go to 3000 BC. And Razib, I am puzzled by the lack of reference to Buddhism. This export has caused multiple political convulsions in China. The Chinese have historically been influenced by Indians, only not the other way around.

  4. A big and invisible unknown in the picture is the existence of Aryans and their historical and cultural role. Aryan dynasty in China? Who gave the name to Chinese? Who lived in Xinjiang for thousands of years before Chinese and Uyghurs? Who fought Mongolians? Who founded Babylon and gave the name? Who gave the name to Baghdad (can be found in its name)? To whom is dedicated the city of Nineveh? Aryanism, Hinduism, Buddhism? For now, only thousands of toponyms are silently talking the stories from the past (will revisit when we discuss this topic).

      1. You are really one thinking, pundit sitting, WaPo a la Bezos reading guy, unlike some fulmo-ing (full moronic) over there guys. First, let’s see if above questions make sense. Have a look and tell us if there is any which does not make sense. After that, we can make a list of usual suspects and jointly find the answers, one by one.

        1. PS. Huge space btw Ural and Kamchatka and btw Chinese wall and Arctic Ocean is also Asia. Btw what we were saying that is the meaning of the word Asia?

  5. My ideas of Indian-China co-operation are
    1. Have a Xuanzang Insitute of Cultural Co-operation between the 2 countries. The name reverberates in both countries
    2. Chinese can also open a Confuscious Institute in India
    3. Have other institues for Urbanization, Innovation and Industrlization since both coutbries face the same problems

    Of course thsi won’t solve border problems, or any other issues of rivalry . OTOH it can bring mutual understanding

  6. There is a low level of knowledge of China in general, and the Chinese themselves are extraordinarily poor at ‘soft power’ promotion (unlike India). But not all of this were their own faults. Remember ‘confucious institutes’? Most of them got shut down by paranoid Western intelligence services. Did India get any?

    What’s more puzzling to me is that the Pakistanis, who are supposedly China’s best friend with Russia and NK, are just as ignorant as Indians are. Whenever I read Pakistani media it is entirely directed towards the West. This may be an artifact due to the English medium, but still. You get the sense that educated middle-class Pakistanis have a much greater sense of the US or the UK than they do of China. Part of that may be due to diaspora reasons, but not only.

    China remains extremely unknown in much of the world.

    1. It’s because educated middle class Pakistanis treat books like they are kryptonite and get all their information from TV and WhatsApp.

      1. Bro that’s the whole world. Reading is for squares and most people are circles 😉

        One thing though is Pakistani American accent is better than Indian American one. It is more subtle, at least among Aga Khan grads.

        1. //One thing though is Pakistani American accent is better than Indian American one. It is more subtle, at least among Aga Khan grads.//

          Its because of difference in Urdu vs Hindi.. Urdu has less reliance on retroflex T’s and D’s compared to Hindi or other Indic languages, because Persian vocab does not contain these sounds. English does not have retroflex T or D.

          1. marathi and Dravidian language accent is by far thicker – due to retroflection i guess;
            Our elite Pakistani friend had a lot of problem with my thick marathi accent.

          2. Retroflex sounds are common in other Aryan languages as well.. I just think Indic languages have a lot of vocabulary in common use which contains heavy aspirates and retroflex, so their speakers carry that to English which doesn’t have these sounds, thus the heavy accent.

          3. Lol @ Hindi-Urdu retroflexion nonsense.

            This is a pretty stupid comment. Retroflexion reduces the further East one goes in the IA zone. Bangla has far lower retroflex frequencies than Urdu. Axomiya has no retroflexion at all. Gujarati on the other hand has strong retroflexion and so does Sindhi and Punjabi.

          4. PS. I would be interested, in which SA language is present the voice Ṣ (like soft Š=sh) in the above song. In standard Serbian language is more present Š (i.e. sh) as the voice Ṥ in the song, but exactly as the previous one is present in northern Serbia as a regional dialect.

          5. Which is why Bengali English accent is much more subtle than Central/South Indian English accent. Also, it does not matter whether a language contains a particular sound, it matters whether those sounds are commonly used in day to day conversation. The issue is demonstrably the retroflex T’s and D’s being used in English by Indian speakers when these sounds don’t exist in English. Retroflex Ts and Ds are one of the least used letters in written and spoken Urdu. Unless you have a better theory, this makes sense to me why the difference. As others have noted, southern languages have this even more pronounced.

          6. What’s the Peter Sellers accent based on? The closest real-life person I’ve known to have it was from Lahore.

          7. What’s the Peter Sellers accent based on? The closest real-life person I’ve known to have it was from Lahore.

        2. Linguistic topics are just keep coming. We are almost getting close to the linguistic ‘dna’. A good introduction is the term ‘Aryan languages’ instead of meaningless ‘Indo-European’. In so-called ‘IE’ is now included even Greek, since they learnt from indigenous people to speak using only their mouths, not stomach and throat. The previously mentioned meaninglessness would be obvious if someone tried to explain the difference btw Aryan and IE languages. We will give some examples soon. For example, we could check who can trill the voice R. Serbian language is one of rare languages where R can be both, consonant and vowel. We spoke about consonant groups RB and RG which meanings we (it is a shame) still don’t know. I would like to hear one ‘Indo-European Englishman’ to pronounce – RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRG.

          Just to say, we will add as a topic the language of Hittite which came as a ruling substrate from Tripolje (Trypillia) on the hurites/semitic foundation. As a preview, we will see many common words with Serbian language, plus Pirwa=Perun(=Indra) as a main deity.

          Let’s listen the pronunciation of R in the Priyam Bharatam song (although it comes from a native English speaker (-: )

  7. The south of India does have cultural contact with China. Chinese style fishing nets have been used in Kerala for some time. The wok is used in Keralite and Tamilian cooking and is called cheen chetti (the chinese vessel). The whole Bodhi dharma connection also..

  8. on a related note, it is a common notion in the chinese nationalist circles, as well as among their detractors, that china’s rightful place is at the top of global order. in fact the US director of national intelligence recently made the statement that “china believes that a global order without it at the top is a historical aberration.”

    and i am scratching my head like, when exactly was china a global power in the world history? china has at best been just an east asian power. its influence remain confined to east asia, and to a limited extent in central asia and SE asia. to the vast tracts of south asia, west asia and europe it was just a very remote obscure country.

    contrast that to persian/arabic influence in south asia. india has been ruled for centuries by persianate dynasties. persian idioms are still prevalent in N Indian languages. or take the case of arabic which is an official language of over 2 dozen countries.

    in fact the only chinse empires that dominated their neighborhood were mostly of foreign origins, like yuan or qing. so why is there so much fixation in chinese for occupying a top dog position in the comity of nations?

    so china can believe whatever it wants. for the rest of the world its delusions of past grandeur are just a fantasy.

  9. The rest of world cannot ignore Chinese ambitions and great power fantasies. Chinese economic and military power makes it impossible to ignore China. Australia is paying the price for standing up to Chinese authoritarianism. 2021 is the hundredth anniversary of the Chinese communist party. China’s aim is to dismantle the American alliance in East Asia and replace it with Chinese dominated regional security order.

    1. kinutlmee da kikestwa tu faartiyeat pedingta strit hegwere roadd? 🙂

      My own accent has been undergoing subtle and permanent changes in the last few years. I can now quickly spot Dutch, Belgian, German and then some hyperlocal variations in spoken English.

  10. S Qureishi’s view on retroflex sounds implies that native Urdu speakers of UP speak English more clearly than Punjabis and Sindhis. Urdu is after all an adopted language in Pakistan except for the Muhajir community; Pakistani Punjabis do not seem to speak Urdu well at all. Pakistani Punjabis speak English the way Indian Punjabis do.
    There is not one Indian accent for English. There are distinct Punjabi, Kashmiri, Bengali, Malayali and Tamil accents, which are easily detected by other Indians. Bangalore English is probably audibly distinct from Andhra English. As for Bengalis speaking good English, I am reminded of that old joke of a distinguished Englishman on a tour of India who was given an elaborate welcoming speech in English at Calcutta University by an eminent University Professor. The Englishman in his reply said how honoured he was that for the first time on his visit to India, a welcome address had been given in a native language.

  11. Minor gripe: Urban Punjabis in Pakistanis speak just as good Urdu.. for many of them its their first langauge.. but since they have to learn 3 languages, the depth of the vocabulary might suffer. The rural Punjabis may not.. but they hardly learn English and rarely speak it fluently so there are few points of comparison.

    1. (I’m replying to your old comment as i can’t reply to your reply to my comment, which is stupid)

      I don’t hate Hindi, i was just pointing out how Hindi&North Indian culture is greatly influenced by Mughals, which Saurav was denying(and still is). Yes “Hindu” is Persian word, it used to be a geographical marker like “India”, it never referred to any religion. The word “Hindu” means nothing to me, i only use it because typing “India’s native culture&beliefs” is a mouthful.

      Hinduism isn’t a “religion” its an amalgamation of multiple cultures&beliefs, it has no central dogma. People self-identity as Hindus to differentiate themselves from the much more rigidly defined religions, all Hindus aren’t necessarily the same. Like i said earlier, North Indian Hindus have much more culturally in common with Pakistanis than they do with South Indian Hindus..

      This is why we have geniuses like saurav claiming that South Indians are “less Hindu”. All Native Indian Cultures&Beliefs are “Hindu”, if we try to define Hinduism using rigid definitions it’ll just end up splintering Hinduism into like 50 different “Religions”.

      1. Seems like a reasonable explanation. We dont see South Indians the same as North Indians either..

  12. Indian culture probably date to 1000 to 1500 BC.
    1500BC- Mitanni Aryans/Indo-European came from Caspian route/Iran
    1000BC-Indo-Iranian tribes
    Numerals for Mitanni Aryans/gandhari

      1. Hittites – have identical names of cities and tribes as in Istria (former Yugoslavia, close to Italy), identical customs, for example, carnival customs, identical words.

        Here are few Hittite and Istrian (Serbian, phonetic) names – Vilusa (Lusa), Truvisa (Triviz), Radusa (Radosi), Hepa (Huba), Pabon (Pamici), Kukuni, (Kukurini (Lukon) and, Nesi (Nezici) , Prija Muva (Premusi), Labarna (Liburni), Muskhoi (Muskovci)…

    1. As usual, the ball of lies, misinformation, and ignorance, i.e., @Milan Todorovic, does not know the earliest recorded appearance of Mitannis: These Indo-Aryans were present in Syria at least from the 18th century BC, according to North Syrian texts. By 16th century BC, they had formed a powerful kingdom in Syria.

  13. “And yet the two societies often lack a deep awareness of each other”

    To be fair, India also lacks a cohesive awareness of itself as a cultural entity. The Chinese don’t have to deal with a schizophrenia demographic like Indians do.

    “and in India’s case the world of Islam”

    Hey, South India exists too you know? We don’t care about Islam or cry about Pakistan like North Indians. We find it funny&baffling how the same North Indian Hindus who have inherited so much of Mughal Culture secretly also hate Islam so much.

    1. Enigma, further to your point, one can have a life-long career in national affairs and know not 3 phrases of most major indian languages Far less than what a random heartland american would know of spanish or french.

    2. Well everyone apart from North Indians think that we have inherited Mughal culture.

      It’s ok though. Lot of non North Indians imbibe our religion( Hinduism) thinking of it as their own. Everyone has their own share of mistakes.

      1. Bro, i don’t “think” your culture is influenced by Mughal Culture, i know it with absolute certainty. Hindustani music is influenced by Sufi Saints, kathak was fused with Persian Sensibilities by Mughals, turning it into a Harem Dance. There’s a good reason why India’s National dance is not Kathak, because its thoroughly Persianised. Purdah/Ghoongat tradition is a Hindu version of Burkha/Hijab, and the tradition of marrying at night isn’t found anywhere in ancient Hindu Texts. Also, let’s not forget the Farsi minefield that is informal Hindi, Asli, NaQli, Gareebi, Gulami, Ezzath, etc etc North Indian languages have Persian influenced Schwa deletion For ex: “Rama” to “Ram” and “Deepawali” to “Diwali”. You guys are culturally closer to Muslims than South&North East Hindus are. Any Muslim or North Indian will understand what a “Zindabad” means, a Hindu South Indian will scratch his head as to what on earth that Persian word means..
        Also, what do you mean by “Our”? Indus Valley was non-Aryan, the
        humble Nomadic Aryans from Caucasus integrated with the Greater&Richer Indus Culture. Just because South Indians don’t speak a language that is descended from Prakrit doesn’t mean Hinduism isn’t THEIR Religion. Non-Aryans were here in India since day 1, their beliefs&culture are now part of what is considered as “Hinduism”, most Indians also have Aryan DNA.
        If you want your “Aryan only” Hinduism, join Arya Samaj and reject Nature Worship, Idol Worship, Puranas and embrace your inner Mu–…i mean, “100% Pure Vedic Aryan” Hindu 😉

        1. ” Just because South Indians don’t speak a language that is descended from Prakrit doesn’t mean Hinduism isn’t THEIR Religion”

          LOL. Non Arabs too think the same way vis-v Islam. Its alright, everyone can live in their fantasy.

          Less-Hindu regions and their issues.

          1. You always take a jibe at the south (calling them “less Hindu” and stuff). How long have you lived in the south?

            LOL. Non Arabs too think the same way vis-v Islam. Its alright, everyone can live in their fantasy.

            Not even close. Even Indonesian muslims will consider the quran to be the ultimate authority and muhammad to be the most important person.

            South has its many of its own practices, texts and even gods.

          2. Cope harder, Mughal ki Najayaz Paidayish 😉 South Indians are more Hindu than you will EVER be, Saurav Mawlana..

          3. As i have said there is real world’s impression of Hinduism. And then there is a make belief world of some folks.

          4. Except, Indus Valley was Hindu without any Sanskrit or Aryans in it. Hinduism as an exclusively Sanskritic “Invention” is historical revisionism of Aryan Supremacists.
            We are the descendants of IVC people, we don’t need certification from you Mughal people, we were always Hindu.

          5. Who are Aryan supremacists? Aryans were Slavics. Are they supremacists? Germans and Anglo-Celtics were not Aryans, but they sometimes pretend that they were. Are they supremacists? Aryans came from Caucasus? Others say that they came from ‘steppe’. They brought Sanskrit from Caucasus? And IVC Hindu used the language of newly arrived to produce Vedas? This is really difficult to explain but theoretically not impossible. What was their mythology? Whatever it was, it seems that they accepted local IVC Hinduism. But, brahmins mostly had the genetics of newly arrived? How to explain this? It seems, a lot of confusion around. Real enigma.

        2. @Milan Todorovic: But, brahmins mostly had the genetics of newly arrived?

          First I would like to congratulate @Milan Todorovic for the decrease in lying; strangely, he seems to not know how to count, i.e., lack any sense of numbers. In no Brahmin group, Steppe ancestry% > 50%; it generally varies between 23% – 34%, depending on the region. The breakdown is as follows:

          Indus Periphery (UP – Gujarat): 43% – 67%
          Steppe: 23% – 34%
          Onge: 10% – 23%

          Here is another googly for @MIlan Todorovic: There are scheduled castes (lowest) to upper castes — Dharkars (scheduled caste – 35%), Ror (47%), Jatt (40%), Kurmi (38%) — that have substantial higher Steppe ancestry than any group of Brahmins. Moreover, Meena another scheduled caste has ~ 31% Steppe ancestry, quite close to the Steppe ancestry of UP Brahmins.

          My recommendation to @Milan Todorovic is to stop considering fiction as reality.

      2. North Indian Hindus faced the Islamic invasion and survived (unlike Pakistanis who converted or south Indians who never faced the brunt of it).

        What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Ergo north Indian Hindus are stronger and therefore better.

        North Indian Hindus Zindabad!

    3. \ India also lacks a cohesive awareness of itself as a cultural entity\

      I don’t think so . Notwithstanding regioanl passions, loyalties and chauvinisms, most Indians have some sense of cultural unity. Most Indian films in any language would not foreign to any Indian , whether looks, themes, plots, charcters . If you add in religion, there is much more unity than on teh surface

  14. @Saurav

    I asked a simple question, how long have you lived in the south? ?

    Now would actually be a good time to visit tbh, you’ll get to see many Sabarimala (also, Ayyappa was born in Kerala, let me know where the north shows up in this) devotees. Maybe this’ll give you a chance to evaluate your stance. Or are you scared to find out who’s “less Hindu”? Lol

    1. I did my undergrad and have worked in the south

      Look man, if South Indians feel they are hindu , good for them. Though the politics suggest otherwise.

      Also I mean the best u can come up with sabrimala , really ? Even Karnataka would have been ok. If the signifier of “ Hindu “ south is Kerala then god save Hinduism

      But then perhaps that’s how south “Hinduism” is were commies can also LARP as Hindus. Perhaps next time I would listen to yechury recite bhagvat Gita or something.

      1. Who made you the gatekeeper of Hindu Identity? I see that you have no retort to my comment about Indus Valley being Hindu, you just ignore it.

        “Perhaps next time I would listen to yechury recite bhagvat Gita or something”

        At least, yechury is honest about where his loyalties lie, you are disingenuous, you designate South&NE Hindus as Second Class Hindus while pretending to be Pro-Hindu. You’re NOT Pro-Hindu, you are Pro-North India Supremacy.

      2. @Saurav: So South/East Indian states not electing Hindutva forces /BJP is evidence that they are “less Hindu”? As if you can’t have piety and religiosity without politicizing religion. In fact Razib has pointed out rightly in the past that the more traditional/culturally conservative Hindus/Muslims are less likely to be Hindutva /islamist types. It’s deracinated, insecure people from these religions that cling to reactionary politics based on religion, which makes sense when you think about North Indian history.

        Wow, you’re much dumber than I thought.

      3. ” I see that you have no retort to my comment about Indus Valley being Hindu, you just ignore it.”

        I didnt reply, because what u say as IVC being Hindu doesn’t really make any sense. So u can keep on living in that imaginary world. Or the fact that everyone was Hindu in the subcontinent from day1 , none of it makes sense. But carry on.

        1. You’re the one living in an imaginary world of Aryanistan. There is no universally accepted criteria for what a “Hindu” is, other than the fact that they’re all native cultures&beliefs of India.

          You wanna narrow the criteria for being a Hindu down to language? OK fine, but don’t act like your opinions are facts when you can’t even get anyone to agree with your deluded B.S lol

  15. Saurav is right in the sense that a lot of identity formation is oppositional, and the Indo-Gangetic plain has been the site of Hindu-Muslim opposition (and temporary accommodation) for a very long time. In a political sense, North Indian Hindus are far more alert to the impact of Muslim demographic expansion for the continuing growth and evolution of Indian traditions, regardless of whether they actually practice those traditions in the way (or with the fidelity/passion) that South Indians do.

    Indo-Gangetic Hindus actually faced expulsion from every North Indian region where Muslims were a majority, South Indian Hindus did not. I dont think IVC, Mughals etc is all that important here. That stuff is many centuries old. This should be clear from the events surrounding the partition, Hindus and Muslims were killing each other, nobody else.

    Containing the political Muslim is an all important project for the North Indian Hindu: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Dalit, Punjabi, Bihari whatever. This is less salient for South Indian Hindus. Despite their lack of passion about the matter, South Indian Hindus are not opposed to Muslims having a very marginal say in the Indian democratic setup.

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