How China Sees India and the World:An Account of China's Perceptions and India-China Relationship
How China Sees India and the World
Written by Shyam Saran
Non-Fiction/History & Public Policy
Published by Juggernaut Books
Thank you Juggernaut Books for a review copy of the book.
How China Sees India and the World by Shyam Saran is a remarkable book that provides valuable insights into China's perceptions of India and the wider world. As an acclaimed diplomat and one of India's foremost experts on China, Saran offers a magisterial account of the India-China relationship, examining its historical, cultural, and strategic dimensions.
One of the strengths of the book is its ability to demystify China and its worldview. Saran distills the country's history, politics, and strategic culture with clarity and precision, creating the conditions for a richer public discussion about India's most potent adversary. He draws on a range of sources, including contemporary Chinese scholarship, CCP leadership speeches and writings, and his own experiences as a diplomat and Foreign Secretary.
In the initial chapters of "How China Sees India and the World," Shyam Saran provides a detailed account of the 15 dynasties that ruled China. Despite many of them being foreign, successive Chinese dynasties sought to unify their people through a common language and centralised administration. They introduced a common script that helped unify the country and enabled people to understand each other despite differences in dialects and accents.
Saran also explains the exam-based civil service in China, which he notes helped to mitigate social inequalities and introduced a tradition of meritocracy. However, he points out that candidates had to spend years in preparation and were often dependent on their families or wealthy benefactors during that time. The student who qualified became a "mandarin" and remained a privileged individual until the communists took power.
The author dispels the notion that the two civilisations had close trade and other contacts, noting that contacts were sparse and far between. While the Himalayas and the cold mountain deserts of Tibet were undoubtedly near-insurmountable geographical barriers, trade and contact between the two were intermittent, even by sea. However, the spread of Buddhism did facilitate meaningful contact between the two civilisations, with Indian monks travelling to China and serving as priests and translators in the country's monasteries.
Saran notes that in "Buddhist terms, China was described as a periphery while India was the spiritual centre." Ancient Chinese texts referred to India as 'Xi Tian' or Western Heaven, as it was the source of astronomy, medicine, and significant treatises. Jesuit missionaries travelling to China in the 16th century even passed themselves off as monks visiting from India and dressed in the robes of Buddhist monks since India was esteemed as a "civilised and sacred land".
The author also highlights the challenges in managing relations with China's communist regime, citing a lack of experts, understanding of China, and asymmetry in power as major obstacles. He points to Prime Minister Nehru's failure to comprehend Tibet's strategic importance as the water-head of major rivers and warnings by Indian officials that China would absorb Tibet and become an unfriendly neighbour. China's leadership since Mao harbours a negative impression of India, which they continue to propagate.
The book's historical section is particularly engaging, recounting the rise and fall of Buddhism and its spread through the trade routes that connected India to China and beyond. Saran questions China's claim to be the most important and influential civilization of the ancient world, arguing that India played a pivotal role in shaping the region's culture and history.
Saran's analysis of contemporary China and India is equally compelling. He offers sharp insights into China's strategic thinking and its views on India's rise as a regional power. He also examines the challenges and opportunities for India in navigating its relationship with China, especially in the context of the ongoing border disputes and the broader strategic competition between the two countries.
Overall, How China Sees India and the World is a masterpiece of scholarship and analysis. It is a work that will become a classic in the field of international relations and a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the complex dynamics of the India-China relationship. Highly recommended.
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