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Mahatma Gandhi's thoughts make debut in Mao's China

May 27, 2013 16:34 IST

The first Chinese version of a book on Mahatma Gandhi's thoughts was launched in Beijing on Monday, marking the debut of Gandhian philosophy in a country intensely dominated by the ideology of 'Chairman' Mao Zedong.

'Gandhi's Outstanding Leadership', written by former Indian diplomat-turned-Gandhian Pascal Alan Nazareth, was released at the Peking University's Centre for India Studies in the presence of Indian Ambassador to China S Jaishankar.

Prof Shang Quanyu, a history professor with the SouthChinaNormalUniversity, translated the book into Madarin. He described the book as a "trail blazer".

Indian officials said in many ways the book was an "official debut" of Gandhian thoughts in Mao's China as the revolutionary leader, a contemporary of Gandhi dominated the Chinese thought like a colossus for over six decades until the country began loosening its the grip over his ideology in recent years.

Officials said this was the first time a book in Chinese was launched with official permission with world wide rights in Chinese language though 'Gandhi a Memoir' by American journalist William L Shirer hit the book stores in China last year.

Launching the book, Nazareth, who retired from Indian Foreign Service in 1994, said Gandhi's thoughts are more relevant to the world, especially to China.

He also spoke about how Mahatma opposed Japanese attack against China during the 2nd World War in an open letter to Japanese people calling how he "intensely disliked it", criticising the move "you have descended to imperial ambition".

Gandhian philosophy is relevant to China as it is experiencing too much of consumerism after a rapid economic growth bringing in deleterious social effects, Nazareth said.

"It is everyone's interest to know what might be antidote for this. You can have very shining smart cities but if you have distress in the countryside," he said, highlighting the problems faced by India in dealing with Naxal attacks.

"In China's context, most well established regimes are brought down by peasant uprisings. So therefore to keep track the deleterious impact of the rapid economic growth, this is where Gandhi's philosophy is relevant," he said.

Also Gandhi emphasised truth which is missing in all the countries today with "spin-masters at work, to make untruth the truth", he said.

"All the countries are suffering as dishonesty has become rampant. I do not know about China. Gandhi is the only modern leader who has spoken about the importance of sticking to the truth," he said.

In a meeting attended by a number of students specialising in Indian studies, Nazareth also dealt with the contradictions between Mao's power flows through the gun philosophy and that of Gandhi's non-violence.

Citing problems faced by the United States in putting down Taliban in Afghanistan despite over a decade's war, he said "when people are not afraid to die there is no way you can defeat them. So power does not grow out of the barrel of gun.

The forces of the soul are much more powerful than what comes out of the barrel of the gun. The world history in the last 50 years has shown that," he said.

About how Gandhi prophesied about terrorism, Nazareth said: "9/11 has ushered in a new and dangerous era of asymmetric warfare where the powerless have retaliated devastatingly utilising the assets of those that have wronged them."

"The enemy is not from foreign state but few suicidal terrorists" he said adding that Gandhi is the first 20th century leader to fight against racism, colonialism communalism, castism while fashioning an effective strategy to fight them.       

Also the Gandhian outlook also could help to improve India-China relations bringing about "transformation of the relationship".

"One of the problem is national national interest. Beyond that is the interest of the humanity at large. We can not be insisting on national interest. We need to look beyond national interest. We need to look at the larger picture," he said.

"There could issue where there is conflict of interest. But there are whole lot of other areas with mutuality interests," he said, adding "art lies in mutuality of interest and try to promote them, then we solve the other problem".

He also appealed to India and China to set up an institute of Gandhian studies in China.

"Because the more progress we make, we need Gandhian perspective as economic progress have deleterious effects on society and on nature. I believe Gandhi is the only one among the modern leaders who have taken an all inclusive view of this," he said.

In his speech, Jaishankar said, "What has made Gandhi different from other similar figures is that with the passage of time, his message and example has acquired an increasingly universal relevance".

"It explains the components of Gandhi's leadership and dwells on his achievements in India" and written in a form to make it more relevant particularly to the younger generation.

Recalling improvement in relations and recent visit of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to India, he said, "This event is taking place at a time when there is a growing interest in China to understand other cultures, particularly the neighbouring ones of Asia".

"The situation in India is not very different in that regard. Although we were proximate civilisations with a long history of cultural interaction, our modern day intellectual contacts have been more limited," he said.

"As India and China develop further, re-establishing our links is an important aspect of that process. We are attempting that through a variety of initiatives in people-to-people contacts. That includes teaching Chinese language in Indian schools, bringing out a common encyclopedia on cultural contacts, expanding university linkages and promoting tourism," he said.

"The just-concluded visit of Premier Li was an understanding to promote sister-city relationships and an agreement to undertake translations of classics and contemporary works," he said.

Interestingly, Rabinndranath Tagore and Jawaharlal Nehru were voted as among the 60 most foreign leaders who influenced China in a poll conducted in 2009 in connection with six decades of establishment of PeoplesRepublic of China.

The name of Gandhi whose philosophy of non-violence is in sharp contrast to Mao's thoughts like "power flows through the barrel of gun" did not figure in the list, which many say was due to total lack of awareness about his works.

Photograph: Getty Images 

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