India and China have had few interactions throughout history due to the insurmountable geographical barrier in the shape of the majestic Himalayas. Even then, nature bowed to the sheer might of the human will when travellers like Xuan Zang, Fa Xian and I-tsing travelled to India to study Buddhism over a millennium ago. In fact, it was the Indian scholars, Kashyapamatanga and Dharmaratna, who introduced Buddhism into China in the first century AD.
The first youth delegates of the India-China Youth Exchange programme visited each other in 2006, the year 2010 marking the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the RoI and the PRC - a historic moment for both countries since they are on the verge of becoming two of the biggest powers in the economic, political and military spheres. Both have managed to weather the Global Financial Crisis triggered in 2008. Unlike the negative or very low growth rates of the economies of Europe and the United States of America, China and India had impressive rates of 8 and 10 percents respectively. To commemorate this, the two countries celebrated the ‘Festival of India in China’ and the ‘Festival of China in India’. The Indian President, Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil, paid a state visit to China from 26-31 May 2010, and the Chinese Premier, Mr. Wen Jiabao, had a successful visit to India from 15-17 December 2010.
During his visit Premier Wen Jiabao proposed increasing the number of delegates from 100 to 500. The Indian Youth Delegation’s visit to China from September 20, 2011 saw the first batch of 500 youth delegates coming to visit China: Beijing and Shanghai Groups of 200 delegates each and a Guangzhou Group with 100 delegates. I had the honour of being a part of the Beijing Group.
Prior to this visit, my knowledge about China was only through books. There was an element of romanticism about this ancient civilisation. Images of the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Silk Route from Xian captured one’s imagination as a small child. Stories about great Chinese inventions, especially their wonderful display of fireworks have become a part of folklore. There remains a significant Chinese population in India, principally in the eastern city of Kolkata, who have wielded their soft power over Indians through their excellent food. The Spring Festival, with their colourful dragon dances, is celebrated with much gaiety in this China Town of Kolkata. The northernmost districts of Tinsukia and Dibrugarh, in Assam state of India, also have some Chinese people living down the generations. One can never forget the bridges built by two of India’s most illustrious sons - Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis and Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore - with China. Similarly, India loves Professor Tan Chung for his dedication to Indological studies all his life. In 2010, the Government of India honoured him with the nation’s third highest civilian honour - the Padma Bhushan - for the services he has rendered in translating and popularising information about Indian literature, society and culture to China.
The Indian delegation to Beijing, of which I was a part, was highly impressed with China and its people. They are very disciplined, hard-working, focused and punctual. The physical infrastructure in the form of roadways, railways and airports is world-class. It was astounding to travel at the phenomenal speed of nearly 300 kilometres per hour on a train from Zhengzhou to Xi’an. The cleanliness of the cities is eye-catching. The high point of this visit was meeting Premier Wen Jiabao at the Great Hall of the People on the September 22, 2011. His message of the youth being ambassadors of peace, harmony and mutually beneficial cooperation struck a chord in the hearts of all.
While the Indian delegation was left spell-bound by the Chinese display of martial arts, calligraphy and tea ceremony; in return, the Indians regaled the people of China with the multicultural display of folk songs and dances, the wonderful game of Kabaddi, as well as the ancient technique of Yoga. Meeting students of our own age at the Zhengzhou and Xi’an Universities was also rewarding: we got to understand more about each other’s educational system. Visiting the Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shihuang Di in X’ian was a ‘dream come true’. One is astonished to notice that the face of every warrior differs from the others. The weapons were coated with 5-10 micron layer of chromium to prevent rusting, which portrays the metallurgical prowess of the Chinese people 2200 years back. The carvings of the Buddha in the Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang are marvellous. I felt I had stepped back in time: it was unforgettable to see such wonderful places. Concurrently, a visit to the Huawei Company’s office in Beijing displayed the technological prowess of China, especially in bringing the fruits of such advancements to the reach of common people. All said and done, there was one major lacuna that came to the fore. The inability of the Indian delegates to follow Putonghua and of the Chinese to understand English and Hindi hindered greater intermixing. The Governments of India and China should vigorously promote the learning of each other’s languages by providing more opportunities in the form of scholarships for the people of either country to visit the other and learn.
In keeping with the spirit of this youth exchange programme, the Union Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports, Government of India, Shri Ajay Maken, has invited a 500 member Chinese youth delegation to visit India. Let us hope that such exchanges continue in the future to promote common understandings. This is the time for Asia to regain its lost glory. The new leaders of this process are China and India. By joining hands together, they can lead an economic, social and cultural revival throughout this vast continent. Today’s youth are the future nation-builders. As Prof. Tan Chung says, the guiding principles should be in the form of the Chinese concept of shijie datong and the Indian maxim of vasudaiva kutumbakam, which have the similar meaning of the whole world being a harmonious family for all mankind. Optimism remains the driving force.