It is a curious fact that Chinese culture, though so distinctive, all-pervasive and compulsive, could not come to India, or if it did come, it could not leave any lasting marks behind it. Archaeologists and scholars tell us that Chinese ideas and ideals came to India with the Kushan Kings of the North, who were Tartars, but the influence that that dynasty has left on India is almost negligible. We are also told that there is influence of Chinese art on the Ajanta paintings. But that is only a theory, since there is nothing characteristically Chinese about these frescoes. The influence of India on China however is undeniable. It is not merely in religion that India influenced China, but in most subjects that go to make up national culture.

The Chinese, always proud of their civilization, looked upon the outside world with contempt. They called the tribes living to their North "Hun slaves," and the tribes living to the North-West "barbarians," while the Japanese were denominated by them "Dwarf Pirates." But their attitude towards India was different. India was known to them by a number of names, not one of which was contemptuous. She was called Hsin Tu, the Kingdom of the Hindus, or Ti Yu, the Western Land; to Buddhists she was Fu Kuo, the Land of the Buddhas.

Pre-Buddhistic Influence

It is probable that there was contact between India and China even before the birth of Buddha; certain similarities of thought and belief between pre-Buddhist Indians and pre-Confucian Chinese go to strengthen that theory. According to Hindus, the world sprang from the union of Purusha and Prakriti, the Male and Female Principles; the ancient Chinese writers thought the same—the Purusha and Prakriti of Indians being called Yang and Yin in China. There is also the worship of mountains in both countries; what the Himalayas have been to Hindus that Mount Tai has been to the Celestials. I do not think that these are mere coincidences due to the similarity of all early beliefs. There was a good deal of action and reaction of early Asiatic civilizations upon each other of which a proper history has yet to be written.

With the rise of Buddhism we are, historically speaking, on firmer ground. It is said that Asoka’s missionaries had gone to China. There are however no records left of it. But we do know as a matter of historical fact that in 67 A.D., the Emperor Ming Ti received Kashyapamadanya from India, who bore with him presents of images and sculptures for the Chinese emperor. Since then the intercourse between the two countries continued uninterrupted till at least the eighth century. During that time it is estimated that between thirty to forty Indian scholars went to China, and some two hundred Chinese scholars came to India, who took back with them to their country Indian books, paintings, and statues.

The influence of India on China can be traced on Music, Architecture, Painting, Sculpture, Literature, Mythology, Philosophy and Science.

Influence of Hindu Music

We learn from Chinese writers that Indian music had displaced Chinese music in the seventh century in northern China; records of this music are said to be preserved in Japan. Although Chinese architecture is mainly wooden, still Indian architecture has succeeded in influencing it. There were certain temples built during the Tang Period in China which were the offspring of Indian and Chinese styles of architecture. Those temples are however in ruins now, and so they cannot be studied properly. But the Chinese pagoda fortunately still exists. It is called Chinese, though the country of its origin was Nepal. The Newars, a people living in the Valley of Nepal, evolved it by making certain alterations in the Hindu temple. Those alterations were: (1) They built the pagoda on a platform and not on the ground direct like the Hindu temple; (2) They tilted up the roof of their building, mainly because the rainfall in the country is very heavy. Mr. Havell is of opinion that the pagoda was a modification of the stupa, while Mr. Sylvain Levi thinks that it represents an Indian style of architecture which has now disappeared. When the pagoda went from Nepal to Tibet and from thence to China is not definitely known yet. The oldest pagoda in China is, I think, of the sixth century.

In painting, India influenced China considerably. From the East Chin dynasty to the Tang dynasty there was continuous intercourse between the two countries, and Indian paintings went to China in great numbers and influenced, if not actually displaced for a time Chinese painting in the North. This Indian School of Painting flourished in China till the rise to power of the Southern Sungs who favored the purely Chinese style of painting. I shall never forget the exquisite, ethereally delicate pictures painted on silk of this period which I saw at an exhibition at Messrs. Yamanaka’s art galleries in New York in 1923. The manager of the galleries on seeing that I was an Indian, approached me, and pointing at the pictures in front of us, remarked with his inimitable Japanese smile, "They are all Indian really!" Then there are the wall paintings of the Tun Huang Caves (the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas) which Sir Aurel Stein and others have recently excavated in Chinese Turkestan.

A Chinese writer tells us that before the introduction of Buddhism there was no sculpture in three dimensions in China. But most of the early Chinese Buddhist sculpture was destroyed by an Emperor who was anti-Buddhist. There are, however, the rock sculptures and reliefs at Lo Yang and Lung Men of that period still left intact which show the influence of Indian sculpture on them. There are also sculptures to be found at Yung Kwang which closely resemble the Indo-Greek sculptures of Gandhara. The Sanskrit language and literature have influenced China to a certain extent, since the Buddhist Scriptures had to be translated into Chinese. On account of the study of Sanskrit—which, by the way, is the language of the Mahayana Buddhism and not Pali as some people imagine—the Chinese were inspired to invent an alphabetical system. This alphabetical system which has now disappeared, was called Ba-lamen Shu or Brahminical writing. Sakuntala, the masterpiece of the great Indian dramatist Kalidas, was translated into Chinese, and is said to have influenced the Chinese drama. In mythology, many Buddhist deities of India were adopted by the Chinese; for example, Kwan Yin, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy, was the Indian Tara. It has been suggested that Lao Tze got his idea of Tao—the Way—from the Hindu Brahm, Universal Soul. It is likely that the Indian sciences of Astronomy and Medicine influenced the astronomical and medical sciences of the Chinese. There is very good scope for a competent scholar to make a full study of Indian influence on China and other Far-Eastern countries, and write a book on the subject.


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