Sorry for the rather inappropriate title. But I have been feeling rather disgusted with myself all day today – having been left at the doorstep of the 1911 revolution yesterday, I woke myself up into the bloody turmoil that was twentieth century China.
Perhaps it is the result of gorging up a four thousand year old civilization in one gulp – or perhaps my texts focus on the bloody more than usual – or perhaps Chinese history is indeed written with blood! There seems to be a revolution every few years or so. In each revolution people die in the thousands. Blood, gun boats and war! The last part of Chinese history (the period from the Revolution in 1911 to Now) is so messy that I haven’t honestly understood the entire thing yet.
I can’t help draw a comparison with India – India and China are both old. Both were subjected to very poor treatment during the Colonial period. Lots and lots of people in both the nations. Both emerging countries. Oh yes, and both of them eat rice.
Compared to China, India has not enjoyed the same level of unity – for the major part, ‘China proper‘ was under the same authority expect for intermittent periods here and there. Some Chinese emperors seem to have had the foresight to impose a common language and currency system over China long time back. There seems to have been greater migration of people within China. This is all the more remarkable given the huge size of China.
India on the other hand was jigsaw puzzle until a century ago – nearly 400 principalities and over 2000 languages. In it’s entire history, which is as old as that of China, the whole of India has NEVER under one ruler. Ashoka came the closest – but even he did not include the three southern most states. The later dynasties – the Guptas, Mughals, Marathas etc ruled over large territories but never comprehensive enough to be called an aAll – Indian empire. There has never been nor is there now a single unifying language for all the people. Hindi and English come the closest – but is by no means as pervasive as Mandarin in mainland China. It is also interesting to ask if the people everywhere identified themselves as Indians before Independence or the movement towards independence.
I really don’t believe that they did.
Now of course, with Hindsight, a common century of colonial oppression, millenia of shared culture and religion, languages that sound similar, food with related tastes, same superstitions and the Kamasutra it’s very tempting to think that Indians always identified as such – as part of the large Indian subcontinent but essentially the siblings of the same womb. Today, the railways, a common mode of entertainment aka Bollywood, cricket and national politics have created a far ranging feeling of unity among Indians than all those factors mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph.
Whenever this question is raised – namely the feeling of Indianness and it’s origin – people pick out the bunch of factors mentioned above (culture, religion, language etc). But to them I ask – what about Europe? Europe is smaller than India in size, it’s people have migrated and intermarried with each other for generations. They have the same history – it’s impossible to separate out the history of any one people from that of the entire continent. The European languages are all as related as the languages of the Devanagiri script (the languages of Sankritic origin). Religion, philosophy and politics have always been intermingled. Yet, Europe is a collection of Nations while India is one nation – How did things come about like this? How did India- much older, much more diverse and far less developed, manage to bring all it’s varied people under one common umbrella whereas Europe went the other way around?
And equally interestingly, how did China manage to circumvent the challenge to disintegrate, though there was enormous pressure to do so – but manage to remain consolidated not in the near proximity of the century but remarkably through most of it’s millenium old history?
I have always been drawn by this comparison of India and Europe – but never quite understood how these change in the local policies came about – perhaps European national consciousness rose too soon and too strongly in a competitive economic and military environment so that the nations chose to differ. In India the strain of colonial oppression forced people to look at each other for support and it was easier to forge a national alliance than to declare four hundred separate nations.
Coming back to the starting topic – I might be completely wrong here – but Indian history seems far less bloody than that of China. Of course, there was no final all out clash like the Sun Yat Sen and PLA, thanks to Gandhi, but even before that, it appears as if the Indian people are less aggressive than the Chinese.
This is definitely not the impression that I have now – almost all of my Chinese friends are some of the nicest people that I know – and I have seen more than my fair share of crude aggressive Indians. Also, some parts of India have had more blood shed than the rest – we in the South are traditionally more peaceful than the north – leading one of my northern friends to remark that we were making sculpture and writing poetry while they were busy defending the country (it’s no fault of ours that most of the older invaders came through the northern plains – however, it could equally be said that the Europeans came from the south via sea and we did a poor job of fighting them off 😉 )
But my heart goes out to my fellow China men – the strangest flower does bloom in the farthest deserts.