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India China Watching

Vijay Nambiar

Edited by Manoranjan Mohanty and Mira Sinha Bhattacharjea
Samskriti, New Delhi, 2005, Rs. 675.00


Unlike in other countries, we in India distinguish our sinologists from our China watchers. We see the former more as scholars of Chinese civilization, adept in classical Chinese, steeped in Buddhist lore and possessing a reasonable grasp and understanding of Confucian ethos as well as of Chinese imperial history. As against this, the China watcher is generally an area studies expert with a working knowledge of the modern Chinese language or putonghua, familiarity with modern Chinese history and focusing on analysis of issues of contemporary significance involving China. The first category has always been a relative rarity in India, more so today. The halcyon days of Sinology were marked almost three generations ago by the charismatic presence of figures like Tan Yun Shan, P.C. Bagchi and P.V. Bapat. The Cheena Bhawan of Vishvabharati as well as Delhi University’s Department of Buddhist Studies or Pune University still command high respect but today they are perhaps more distinguished for their doctrinal rigour in philosophy than for their sinology.   During his time, Giri Deshingkar straddled both the above fields in a manner few others were capable of doing. Though trained in both classical and modern Chinese language as well as in Chinese history and civilization, his essential forte was as an area specialist. Forced by circumstances to abandon the sinologist mantle to assume responsibility for building up in Delhi University almost from the ground up a whole new discipline of China area studies, Professor Deshingkar took charge at a time when relations with China were at their nadir. The trauma of the 1962 conflict had caused widespread fear and suspicion of China in the public mind and an anti-China paranoia had gripped officialdom. Almost from the word go, he was faced with the pressure of responding to a public stereotyping of that country. Compounding matters, China itself was being pushed by Mao steadily into the ideological straitjacket of the Cultural Revolution. Under these circumstances, if he did not succumb to the temptation of becoming a mere polemicist, that was a tribute to his academic integrity and objectivity as a scholar.   The formation of the China Study Group and eventually of the Institute of Chinese Studies (of which he was one of the founders) represented the fruition of Giri Deshingkar’s efforts at building area studies scholarship in India on China. If it was prompted initially, as in the case of the ...

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