Tagore legacy fuels China-India cultural ties

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

It was barely my second month in China. Everything was new, and I was still trying to grasp the rhythms and nuances of this unfamiliar country. Over the weekend, a colleague invited me to a cafe to join a group of Chinese university freshmen for an informal English corner. The idea was simple yet intriguing: to have casual conversations that would help the students practice their spoken English while allowing expats like me to socialize and make new friends.

As we began with the usual round of introductions, one student, upon learning that I was originally from India, exclaimed with excitement, “It’s so cool to know you are from India. I love ‘tiger.’ Do you also love his work?” Fresh to the country and the culture, I was puzzled by his reference to “tiger.” It was only when he showed me a photo that I realized he was talking about Rabindranath Tagore, the great literary polymath. Due to the Chinese pinyin
Taige’er, he had pronounced Tagore as “tiger.”

After residing in China for over eight years now, a place that has truly become my second home, I’ve grown to understand the profound reverence for Tagore here and his enduring relevance to India-China cultural exchanges.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Tagore’s first visit to China, and his teachings and relationship with the country have only grown more significant. In today’s world, marked by deep divides, polarization and geopolitical challenges, Tagore’s legacy serves as a bridge, fostering understanding and mutual respect between India and China.

Already a Nobel laureate by the time he visited China in 1924, Tagore embarked on a journey that would lay the foundation for a rich cultural exchange between two ancient civilizations. His visit came at a time when China was undergoing significant political and social transformation. Amidst this backdrop, Tagore’s message of universal humanism, spiritual unity, and cultural synthesis resonated deeply with the Chinese intellectuals and artists of the era. 

During his lectures and interactions, Tagore emphasized the importance of cultural dialogue and mutual respect. He saw the rich cultural heritage of both India and China as pivotal in fostering global peace and understanding. Tagore’s poetry, philosophy, and ideals were embraced by Chinese scholars, and his works were translated into Chinese, further cementing his influence.

Fast forward to the present day, the dynamic between India and China is intricate, characterized by a mix of cooperation and contention. Geopolitical tensions, border disputes and economic rivalries frequently grab headlines. Nevertheless, cultural diplomacy stands out as a potent means to bridge divides and nurture mutual understanding among nations, with Tagore’s legacy serving as a testament to the lasting influence of cultural ties. 

In contemporary times, Tagore’s philosophy of mutual respect and cultural exchange is more relevant than ever. His belief in the intrinsic value of different cultures and his efforts to promote dialogue can help navigate the intricacies of modern India-China relations. By revisiting Tagore’s contributions, both nations can find common ground in their shared cultural heritage.

Tagore’s influence in China extends beyond literature, penetrating the realm of philosophy and education. Xu Zhimo, a renowned poet, translated many of Tagore’s works and actively promoted his ideas. This intellectual exchange enriched Chinese literature and opened new avenues for philosophical discourse.

Besides this, Tagore’s holistic approach to education, which integrates arts, humanities and sciences, resonates with contemporary educational reforms aiming to produce well-rounded global citizens. In today’s globalized world, where divisive politics and cultural misunderstandings often overshadow dialogue, Tagore’s vision offers a beacon of hope. His advocacy for cultural understanding and cooperation is a reminder of the potential for harmony between India and China.

This 100th anniversary of Tagore’s visit to China can be deemed a poignant reaffirmation of the enduring principles he championed. It offers an opportunity to revisit his teachings and apply them to contemporary issues. Academic exchanges, cultural festivals, and joint literary initiatives inspired by Tagore’s legacy can serve as platforms for deeper engagement between the two nations.

Engaging the youth in both countries is crucial for sustaining Tagore’s legacy. Educational programs that promote the study of Tagore’s works can help cultivate a new generation of thinkers who appreciate the shared cultural heritage of India and China. Universities and cultural institutions can also play a crucial role in keeping the spirit of Tagore’s vision alive, thus, laying the groundwork for future collaborations.

Tagore’s legacy is a powerful reminder of the potential for cultural diplomacy to bridge divides and foster mutual respect. His teachings continue to inspire and offer valuable lessons for navigating the complexities of modern bilateral relations.

In an era rife with geopolitical tensions, Tagore’s vision of universal humanism and cultural synthesis shines as a guiding beacon. By embracing his legacy, India and China can certainly strengthen their ties and pave the way for a more harmonious tomorrow, thereby building a community with a shared future for all of humanity.

Looking back on Tagore’s journey, let us also look ahead, drawing inspiration from his ideals, toward a world where cultural exchange and mutual respect underpin international relations.

The author is a media professional based in Beijing. [email protected]

Art lovers find HK a growing cultural paradise

Crowds at Hong Kong’s M+ museum, Asia’s first global museum of visual culture. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Hong Kong, known for its blend of Eastern and Western cultures, is experiencing a thriving art scene, with affluent collectors seeking to make significant art purchases this year.

A telling example is the Art Basel show held in March in the special administrative region – a barometer of the global art market. For the first time since 2019, the exhibition regained its pre-pandemic magnitude, featuring 242 prominent galleries from the Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa and the Middle East. Among them, 69 galleries made a comeback after a hiatus, while 23 galleries participated in the fair for the first time.

“This edition reflected the city itself to the world – utterly alive and teeming with energy, a meeting place of tradition and the avant-garde, a port of cultures and an essential bridge in the evolving art landscape across regions,” said Angelle Siyang-Le, director of Art Basel Hong Kong.

A closer look at the China Cultural Center in Paris

China-France Photo: VCG

The Global Times recently visited the China Cultural Center in Paris, France to listen to the stories of staff and learn how they fell in love with Chinese culture.

The China Cultural Center in Paris, opened in November 2002, was the first cultural center established by the Chinese government in Europe. Over the years, it became known as the “Chinese cultural salon of Paris.” The center has held a series of training courses, lectures, forums, exhibitions and performances, becoming a bridge for Chinese-French people-to-people cultural exchanges and cooperation.

The year 2024 marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of ­China-France diplomatic ties. It is also the ­China-France Year of Culture and Tourism.

When the Global Times reporter visited the Chinese Cultural Center in Paris, it was a Saturday, the center’s busiest day. In a building primarily used for teaching, nearly every room was filled with local youth attending classes.

The center is an embodiment of the exchanges and mutual appreciation of the cultures of China and France. It is located on the left bank of the Seine River, adjacent to renowned cultural and artistic landmarks such as Les Invalides, the Rodin Museum, and the Musée d’Orsay. The building housing the center was once owned by a descendant of Napoleon. 

Upon entering the center, historical architecture and modern design intertwine. The green spaces between buildings feature panda sculptures, lamps inspired by China’s nine-colored deer, and a sculpture titled Seeking the Way by Wu Weishan, a world-renowned Chinese artist and the director of the National Art Museum of China.

As a “salon,” the center frequently hosts various Chinese cultural exchange events and exhibitions. Currently, the second floor of the center is exhibiting Chinese calligraphy works. Besides calligraphy, the China Cultural Center in Paris also offers courses in Chinese language, traditional painting and traditional Chinese musical instruments such as guzheng. Many French teenagers who love Chinese culture study here.

“I have been learning Chinese for six years. I like China and I like speaking Chinese. My mother is Chinese,” said 11-year-old Elsa, whose Chinese name is Tianyu.

While a crowd was drawn by a beautiful guzheng performance, the Global Times reporter noticed that a French girl was among the performers.

“I started three years ago, and I’ve played with the same teacher here in this school. I learned about guzheng when I was young. And I have watched Chinese movies. I wondered what this instrument was, because you couldn’t see it [around here]. My French friends think it’s very mysterious,” Marie-Ange Boyomo told the Global Times.   

“It’s so huge and it’s a whole other universe. There are so many things you have to do and it’s very complex sometimes, because you can play several melodies even with one hand. And it’s a lot of things to learn, so even in the third year, you’re still learning a lot of things,” added Boyomo, reflecting upon her experience of practicing guzheng. 

Liu Hongge, director of the China Cultural Center in Paris, told the Global Times that the center is dedicated to promoting in-depth exchanges between China and France. 

“Our ultimate goal is to promote exchanges and mutual learning between civilizations, so that the friendship between the people of China and France will continue to deepen.”