China and India: Invention and Abstraction

The Chinese name for China is Zhongguo, meaning Middle Country. People here often ask me why then ‘their’ Zhongguo is called China by the laowai (foreigners). I explain to them how every culture or language has different names for other countries. For instance, the Chinese name for India is ‘Yindu’ – close enough but not the same; USA is called Meiguo, a little dissimilar and so on. A knowing smile then lights up their faces.

There are many similarities betwen India and China. When my short-stories were first published in China in a magazine and later in a book, my readers and editor, in particular, marvelled at how a ‘foreigner’ could understand China and the Chinese so well. I believe that happened because I, in the true Hindu spirit, was willing to accept and not judge. That apart, I think, there are many similarities between the two ancient neighbours.

China has a history as old as India’s – or thereabouts, anyway. For thousands of years we have shared a long common boundary and perfected the art of peaceful co-existence, except for that one incident in 1962. That apart, there has never been any violence between the people of the two countries. Yes, there were invasions from the north or northwest by Mongols. But, Mongols were different from the predominantly Han Chinese and came from further north of China. The Chinese never invaded India and Indians never invaded China. Yet, for most of the twentieth century we had the Asian equivalent of the US-USSR Cold War. Thank you, politics!

At a philosophical level, Hinduism and Taoism are quite similar. Like Hinduism, Taoism believes in the essential oneness of all creation and focuses on meditation as the way to achieve that realization. Confucianism, a later religion, however, is more orientated towards the material reality and teaches one how to best conduct oneself in society. Buddhism, however, was taken from India by the Chinese who came and studied the religion and then carried with them important scriptures, books and literature on the religion. India or its rulers did not need to send missionaries and crusaders into China to spread Buddhism.

The Chinese were probably the most inventive amongst all the ancient cultures and a huge number of inventions like paper, printing, compass, gunpowder, the wheelbarrow, clock and so on are believed to have been Chinese in origin.

Interestingly, there was one dissimilarity that struck me time and again. I found the Chinese very practical and earthy. Indians, on the other hand, tend to be more spiritual and cerebral, if you like, grappling with abstract notions and ideas, e.g., calculating the distance from the earth to the sun and so on. This, of course, is a very general observation and does not imply that every Indian or Chinese fits into the mould.

Perhaps, China is like the left hemisphere of the brain and India, the right! Together, they are complete and effective. Today, China is becoming the factory of the world and India, its so-called ‘back-office’. I believe, it’s a matter of time before India becomes the ideas factory or the laboratory of the world.

China and India will then become the centre of the world and, in a manner of speaking, the middle countries!The world will then, again, need Asia and look to it, as it did some centuries ago!

Author’s Note: (This article is sentimentally speculative!)

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