The significant change that is taking place in China is pertaining to religion. The keynote speech by the party general secretary- Hu Jinto to the 17th Party congress in October 2007 – devoted a paragraph to religion. He stressed that religious people including priests, monks and lay –believers played a positive role in the social and economic development of China. Hence religion is not any more the opiate of the masses. The state controlled Xinhua stresses that there must be freedom of belief. It says that religion can play an important role in realizing an ‘harmonious society” which is the new political role of the party. [Asia times Online July -3 -2008]. That is the main issue we at India should be interested in. A study conducted by two professors of China Normal University based on more than 4500 people, in 2007 concludes that more than 300 million people namely 31 percent are religious and more than 60 % of those are in the 16-40 age group. The number of followers of Christianity has increased to 12 % from a low of less than 8% in the nineties.
This last fact is interesting since there is a huge underground Church has developed in China and
Zhao Xiao , a former communist party official and convert to Christianity, thinks there are up to 130 million Christians in China. [The economist 2nd October 2008] . This figure is much more than the official figures of 21 million –16 million Protestants and 5 million Catholics. If the latter figure is true—which is corroborated by other like Pew forum –then Christians are more in china than Communist Party membership which is 74 million in the last count.
The major change that is taking place in China is not related to their growth rates and three Gorges dam and the shopping malls and Olympics stadia. That is a typical Western way of viewing China. The main change is in religious affiliation and assertion of Islamic followers and development of large scale underground Church. The middle classes have given up rice [perceived to be for the illiterate poor] and are embracing Christianity since it also helps in job mobility particularly in global companies where the heads could belong to the same Church. The Muslim population is less dispersed and more concentrated in specific locations like western part But there is also a growing interest in China about its past. The Ming dynasty tombs in Beijing which are made in marble were painted in red color during the great cultural revolution of the sixties and even today laborers are washing it to make it back in to white color without success. The guides are not reluctant to talk about it. The ten handed Buddha in the summer palace of Ching dynasty near Beijing has significant relationship with our idea of Lord Vishnu who destroys evil and even this is mentioned clearly. More importantly China is opening what are called Confucius Institutes in more than fifty countries which is similar to British Council efforts but more focused on China’s ancient wisdom. . The first thing we should learn is to stop looking at China with Western glasses.
The economic growth bereft of spiritual underpinnings in the context of death of Marxism is going to be a great challenge for China and India as an elder brother should facilitate orderly transformation based on our common shared ancient wisdom. Let us remember that China is also a multi cultural and multi religious society but interested in our shared past. In the words of Hu Shih, former Ambassador of China to USA [1938-1942] “India conquered and dominated China culturally for 20 centuries without having to send a single soldier across her borders.” We should be sending Sri Sri Ravishankar/Mata Amirtananda / Swami Ramdev/ Pramukh Swami/Sankaracharyas/Vaishnavite Jeers and other spiritual leaders, Bharatha Natyam experts, musicians, other artistis in hundreds to China to “ Conquer and Dominate” by our soft power. We need to print million copies of Ramayana and Mahabharata and our Puranas and Gita and Jataka stories in all modern Chinese languages and widely make them available. The CD’s of Mahabharata and Ramayana etc can also be given free. We should start some fifty Bharatiya Vidya Bhavans in china. This is the only way to destabilize our younger brother by delegitimizing communism. Actually China needs this more than USA even though all our soft power is currently on show in the USA. We should create a fund of at least Rs.1000 crore for this effort. There is a statue of Kalidasa in the Shangahi theatre unveiled by the theater academy. I do not think of any metro in India including the so called “culture capital” Kolkata, having a statue of Kalidasa. At Kolkata, the Theater road became Shakespeare Sarani and not Kalidasa Marg!
We should strategically recognize the weak point of China and also the need of its masses in the absence of Communism. Many a Chinese even today believe that their next birth should be in India to reach salvation. Culture and religion are not taboos any more.
There are other issues. Officially China recognizes or permits only five religions namely Buddhism, Islam, Taoism, Protestantism and Catholicism [1997 Government white paper on religions] Hence we should take steps to include Hinduism as one of the permitted religions. The Indian Government should take steps since four other religions in India are permitted. The point is that our soft power in culture is interwoven in a tapestry form with the religion. You cannot separate it howsoever one tries it. Carnatic Music without Bakthi is neither music nor art. But our Government of all hues has never raised this issue with the Chinese.
The strategy should be to encircle China with music, dance, art, Yoga. Aurveda, spiritual texts like Ithihasas, Gita, Puranas etc and capture the hearts of the middle classes as we have done for centuries. The second issue is related to our own mind-set. We tend to look at China either through the Western spectacles or through local Marxist spectacles—which have more thick glasses. We need to come out of it. Even when invitations come to Indian spiritual leaders, the Government of India is unenthusiastic and indicates its dis-interest in the false assumptions regarding China’s political orientation. The policy formulators are still living in the sixties and seventies while as China is undergoing a gigantic social crisis due to material prosperity and spiritual vacuum. The next foreign Secretary was earlier India’s Ambassador to China. She should send the next one to China who grasps the strategy and fashions the responses and our actions. Unfortunately as a Chinese colleague of mine commented that “both our countries are ruled by rootless deracinated foreign educated wonders that do not have any idea of the civilisational roots or the cultural richness of our lands.”
But this is the opportunity to us since it is better to have a competitor and neighbor sharing the past cultural commonness. This will be very useful when the world is going to have two super powers from Asia unlike the conflict of last century between two super powers who did not have any shared cultural roots.
In the process we should de-stabilize the current dispensation and de-legitimize the remnants of communism. Many groups and sects from many a Western countries [with or without permission] are doing it– to spread their influence and message—since this is an opportunity.
Are we ready to undertake such an invasion?