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Asian Panorama

Kishan S. Rana

By Tansen Sen
Manohar Books,New Delhi, 2004, pp. xvi 388, Rs. 750.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 12 December 2005

It is a delight to pick up a book such as this one, based as it is on original research, much of it of a cross-regional, interdisciplinary character, taking full advantage of the author’s Chinese language skills (Tansen Sen is a post-graduate from ‘Beida’, China’s most prestigious university), and felicity of personal contact in India, China and Japan.      Tansen Sen deserves praise for making ac-cessible to the student of history and to the general reader new, revealing perspectives of a period for which we have to depend on sources outside India, since little material relating to post-Harsha rule in India after the 7th century is available from our sources. As school students we have been brought up on the nostrum that this was a ‘dark age’ for much of the country. Sen declares at the outset that the common perception has been that India-China interactions peaked during the Tang period (607-918) and declined rapidly thereafter. He challenges this, asserting that this overlooks the thriving state of Buddhism in eastern India in the 9th and 10th century, and under the Song dynasty (960-1279) in China. No less vital were the secular exchanges in trade, both across the Silk Road, and the even more prolific commerce via the maritime route.    In the Song era the numbers of monks travell-ing between India and China ‘may even have surpassed the exchanges during the Tang period’; the same was true of Indian Buddhist texts translated during this period. Sen’s aim is to ‘rectify this model of pre-modern relations’. Chapter 1 looks at the exchanges between the Indian kingdoms and the Tang court, while Chapter 2 looks at the manner in which China became part of the Buddhist world. One regrets that the pre-Tang connections, from around the 2nd century BC to the travels of the legendary 7th century figure Xuanzang (as Huen Tsang is now called in the altered romanization of the Chinese language), are covered in just a few pages in the Introduction.       Chapter 3 of the book examines the exchanges after the Tang era, making the point that despite the high intensity of these links, what changed during this period was that shift in doctrinal interest of the Chinese clergy towards indigenous and practices rendered new teachings from India obsolete. The growth of indigenous schools in China transformed the Buddhist doctrines to such an extent that they became radically distinct from their Indic ...

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