China’s silent clash with Hindu Civilisation

After the recent clashes with Chinese forces at the Ladakh border, many Bharatiyas have become alerted to the threat posed by China. It can be seen how this clash virtually follows precedents set in ancient times. At various points in history, the Chinese civilisation has been indirectly and directly clashing with the Hindu influence on the world.

Over the centuries, China has been ruled by dynasties belonging to various ethnicity. The Chinese ruling dynasties – especially those of Han heritage – can be characterised as being uncomfortable with the direct and indirect influence Hindus had on the world. Many Chinese emperors and statesmen carried out campaigns aimed at containing the spread of the Hindu influence. Take for example the below three instances:

  1. The persecutions of Buddhism between the 9th and 10th centuries C.E.
  2. Zheng He, the Muslim Chinese, and his impact on the spread of Islam in the former Hindu regions of South East Asia
  3. Annexation of Tibet

Persecutions of Buddhism in China

Buddhism has been often characterised as “Hinduism stripped for export”. After gaining major footholds in China and other countries, Buddhism experienced major persecutions between the 9th and the 10th centuries. Although earlier in the 5th century, the Northern Wei dynasty had carried some persecution of Buddhism, they were of lesser impact.

In 842 C.E., Emperor Wuzong of the Tang Dynasty initiated the “Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution”. The excuse given was to appropriate war funds by stripping Buddhism of its financial wealth and to drive “foreign” influences from China.

Guided by a Taoist monk, Zhao Guizhen, Wuzong was a devoted Taoist who viewed the “foreign” Buddhism with suspicion. He issued an imperial edict in 842 to mandate the return of those Buddhist monks who were sorcerers or convicts to lay life. Also, the wealth of monks and nuns was confiscated unless they agreed to return to lay life.

As Buddhism encouraged taking up monk-hood, Confucian writers like Han Yu also censured Buddhism and accused it of harming society. In 845, the persecution reached its peak as Buddhist temple properties were confiscated. 4,600 Buddhist temples and 40,000 shrines were destroyed. 260,000 monks and nuns were removed from the monasteries. Following these persecutions, Buddhism permanently lost its influence on the Chinese government and gained the status of a foreign religion.

Later, in 955 C.E., Emperor Shizong of the Later Zhou dynasty ordered that all Buddha statues be melted down to harvest their copper content. The punishment for not complying was death. However, the historical records vary on the number of deaths.

Zheng He and the spread of Islam in formerly Hindu South East Asia

Hindu influence in South East Asia (source: Google)

Islam had arrived in the Hindu kingdoms of Southeast Asia from the eighth century as Muslim traders had established small settlements. But Islam did not gain prominence until the 15th century, during which time Admiral Zheng had also begun his voyages.

As commanded by Yongle Emperor of the Ming dynasty, the Muslim eunuch, Zheng He (or Cheng Ho), led armadas of 300 ships with 20,000 men in voyages of discovery between 1403 and 1435. Zheng was a descendent of a Persian family of China with origins during the time of the Mongol Emperor, Kublai Khan. Zheng is claimed to have had an impact on the spread of Islam in present-day Indonesia and Malaysia where mosques, museums, and temples commemorating him can be found.

Parameswara was the first ruler of the Malacca Sultanate. Zheng is claimed to have some influence in the conversion of Parameswara to Islam. In 1411, Parameswara sailed to Beijing and submitted himself to the Yongle Emperor who bestowed the Sultanate with the status of a Ming protectorate. This can be compared to the present situation when the People’s Republic of China uses Pakistan as a buffer state to counter the influence of Bharat.

The Ming support for Malacca and the spread of Islam propagated by both Malacca and Zheng’s fleet also had an impact on the neighbouring Hindu kingdom of Majapahit, which was a successor to the former Srivijaya Empire. The Majapahit maritime power declined, especially in Sumatra. Northern Sumatra increasingly became Islamic and eventually became independent.

In summary, although it was not the primary stated goal of his voyages, Zheng is credited with some influence in the spread of Islam in South East Asia. Overall, his voyages had the impact of increasing Ming influence in South East Asia and spurring on the spread of Islam. Both these factors contributed to the weakening of the Hindu influence in South East Asia.

Annexation of Tibet

A close relationship between Bharat and Tibet has existed from ancient times even predating the time of Gautama Buddha. Tibetan chronicles record that Rupati – a Kaurava general – was fleeing the Mahabharata War and exiled himself in Tibet with other survivors. He is said to have been elected king of the Tibetans.

Buddhism became popular in Tibet between the 7th and 9th centuries C.E. Tibetans continued to travel to Bharat for pilgrimage and to study under Bharatiya Buddhist masters. Tibetan Buddhism also exerted much influence over the Mongols and the Mongol Yuan dynasty which ruled China between the 13th and 14th centuries. Incidentally, the script used to write the Tibetan language is also derived from the ancient Brahmi script of Bharat.

In 1912, following the collapse of the Qing dynasty, Tibet gained independence and existed as a sovereign state until 1951, when Chinese forces invaded and occupied the land. The annexation of Tibet took place after Tibet attempted to gain international recognition and to modernize its military. A military conflict broke out in the Chamdo area in 1950 and the Tibetans eventually signed the Seventeen Point Agreement in October 1951.

The Government of Tibet and Tibetan society could remain mostly unchanged until the 1959 Tibetan uprising, after which the Dalai Lama exiled himself in Bharat. Chinese authorities then dissolved the Government of Tibet and since then have committed many alleged human rights violations as attempts have been made to radically restructure Tibetan society.

Perhaps being unaware of the long Indo-Tibetan relationship, Prime Minister Nehru committed a major blunder in 1954 when, for the first time, he acknowledged China’s claim over Tibet and signed the Panchsheel Treaty which recognised this claim. Nehru’s blunder turned out to be a dangerous move which has affected Indo-Tibetan relations and has had other ripple effects.

Conclusion

In more recent times, the Falun Gong (meaning “Practice of the Wheel of Dharma”) was a movement of spiritual practices partially inspired by Buddhism.

In the 1990s, this movement gained an unprecedented number of followers as its popularity and clout skyrocketed. Perhaps viewing it as another undesirable “foreign influence”, the Communist Party of China waged a campaign to eliminate this movement in China. This war took the shape of mass-propaganda, forced ideological conversions, and various other alleged violations of human rights.

Although only a few examples were considered, a more in-depth study will reveal a broad historical trend where the Chinese ruling class has, for many centuries, been opposing the broad Hindu influence in the geopolitical, religious, and other spheres. Alongside other well-known threats, Hindu civilisation thus faces another challenge. Facing this challenge undoubtedly requires more widespread recognition of the problem and an in-depth study.

References:

  • Perkins, Dorothy. Encyclopedia of China. (2013)
  • Sen, Tan Ta. Cheng Ho and Islam in Southeast Asia. (2009)
  • Mehrotra, L. India’s Tibet policy: An Appraisal and Options. (2000)

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About the Author

Jayant Charan
Jayant Charan is an avid reader and his main interests include fiction, society and culture. He likes to write mainly about contemporary politics.