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Sunday, May 28, 2023

The Relevance of Mahatma to China in the 21st Century

by – Prof. Shang Quanyu


Mahatma Gandhi’s influences have prevailed over the world in the 21st century, including in China. Among other things, his autobiography, his non-violence, his simple living & high thinking and his pursuit of public good find lovers and adherents in 21st century’s China.

Mahatma Gandhi (1969- 1948), the spiritual leader of the Indian National Independence Movement and one of the greatest thinkers in human history, not only had a strong influence in the 20th century world as he lived, but has continued to have an abiding, far-reach- ing influence in the 21st century’s world after his death. Quite often, many of my Indian friends ask me a question: being a Gandhian scholar, what do you think is the relevance of Mahatma Gandhi to to- day’s China? With this question in mind, since 2012 I have been researching the topic on Gandhi studies in China. This includes studying over a century-long saga from 1920s to the 21st century. Here, I would like to share some cases in my research findings to show Mahatma Gandhi’s strong influence on China in the 21st century

 Prof. Shang Quanyu is a Distinguished Gandhian scholar from China. He teaches at the School of Foreign Studies at South China Normal University and serves as the Chinese Director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Latvia. For more than 30 years, Prof. Shang Quanyu has read, studied, and written on Mahatma Gandhi. He is on the Committee for the Commemoration of Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th Birth Anniversary. The committee was established by the Indian government in 2018 to promote Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy, principles, service, and teachings around the world.

Prof Quanyu is Member of the National Committee headed
by the President of India to plan the activities for the commemoration of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi from 2nd October, 2018 to 2nd October, 2020.

In May 2018, Prof Quanyu was invited by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi as a member of the august committee. The Committee is mandated to consider policies and lay down guidelines for the commemoration, and to decide on the time-frame for the commemoration related activities.

In the letter written to Prof Quanyu, the Prime Minister said, “Your guidance, based on your lifelong commitment
to the values espoused by Mahatma Gandhi, will help us to make the commemoration truly meaningful in every sense.” Prof Quanyu attended
the meeting. Again in 2019, Prof Quanyu was invited by the Indian government for the meeting of the national committee held at Rashtrapati Bhawan (The President’s Residence) on December 19. He could not attend it due to his work schedule at Confucius Institute, University of Latvia.

Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, has been the most influential work among all his writings in China since 1930s. In more than 80 years from 1930s to 21st century, Chinese translation of Gandhi’s autobiography witnessed two waves of flourish. 

The first wave of flourish appeared in 1930s, including these translations:

Gandhi’s Autobiography 

1) Translated by Ming Yaowu, Shanghai: Da Dong Book Company, 1932; 

2) Translated by Xiang Da, Shanghai: Zhong Hua Book Company, 1934; 

3) Translated by Wu Yaozong, Shanghai: Youth Association Book Company, 1935; 

4) Translated by Nan Liuru, Nanjing: Zheng Zhong Book Company, 1936; etc.

All these translations were abridged versions, derived from Mahatma Gandhi: His Own Story, translated and edited by C.F. Andrews. 

The second wave of flourish came in the 21st century, including these translations:

Gandhi, Autobiography 

  1. Translated by Liu Yulai, Changchun: The Northern Women and Children Press, 2002;
  2. Translated by Ji Li, Changchun: The Time Literature & Art Press, 2003;                         
  3. Translated by Lu Liangbin, Beijing: International Culture Publishing Company, 2003;
  4. Translated by Ye Li and Jian Min, Wuhan: Changjiang Literature and Arts Press, 2007;
  5. Translated by Zhong Jie, Changchun: Jilin Publishing Group, 2009;
  6. Translated by Zhong Jie, Hefei: Anhui People’s Publishing House, 2012
  7. Translated by Enlightenment Translation Institute, Shanghai: Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences Publishing House, 2015; 
  8. Translated by Wu Xiaojing, Kunming: Yunnan People’s Publishing House, 2016;
  9.  Translated by Hong Xiaoran, Beijing: China Books Publishing House, 2016;
  10.  Translated by Hebai, Beijing: China Industrial and Commercial Joint Publishing House, 2016; 
  11. Translated by Xi Cuirong, Beijing: Xi Yuan Publishing House, 2016;
  12. Translated by Shang Quanyu and others, Kunming: Yunnan People’s Publishing House, 2019; etc.

All these translations are full versions, translated from Gandhi, An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, written by Gandhi in Gujarati, translated into English by Mahadev Desai.

Between the two waves of flourish, we have to mention one historic and far-reaching translation, i.e. Gandhi, Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, translated by Du Wei and Wu Yaozong, Beijing: Commercial Press, 1959. This was the first full version of Gandhi’s Autobiography in Chinese, written by Gandhi in Gujarati, translated into English by Mahadev Desai.Theonlyoneofitskinduntil2002, this translation was used as a key source of reference for Gandhi studies for as long as 43 years in China. Compared with the 1930s, Chinese translation of Gandhi’s Autobiography in the 21st century assumes several striking features. First, all translations are full versions based on the authoritative original version. Second, translations much outnumber the previous period. Third, more importantly, most of these translations fall in a particular genre – they are part of a series of inspirational books. The categories of the series take the vastgroupoftheprimaryandsecondary school students as well as teenagers as their major target readers. These include series such as One Hundred Biographies of Political and Military Giants in the 20th Century, Ten Series of Biographies, World Leaders Past and Present, Translated Series of Psycho-Biography, Pictorial Biography Series of World Eminent Persons, My Favorite Eminent Persons Stories-Bilingual, An English Series of Illustrated Biographies of the Eminent Persons, Series of Biographies of the World Eminent Persons-The Youth Inspirational Edition, The Historical Memorial Series-Readings for Juveniles, Series of the Chinese and Foreign Eminent Persons’ Teen-Age,

Inspirational Readings for the Growing Juveniles, Series of the Eminent Persons Stories with Phonetic Notations for Juvenile, The Great Biographies of the World Eminent Persons – Juvenile Edition, Biographies of the World Eminent Persons-Must Readings for Teenagers, Biographies of the World Eminent Persons-Student Edition, Biographies of the World Eminent Persons-The Children’s Edition, Must Readings for Primary and Secondary School Students, Biographies of the World Eminent Persons in the Textbooks of Primary and Secondary Schools, etc.

Through these series, it could be observed that Mahatma Gandhi’s Autobiography increasingly has greater influence on young people in China.

Mr. Bei Ye: Promoting Mahatma Gandhi’s Non-Violence

Mr. Bei Ye, a writer, scholar, expert of community issues, under the influence of Mahatma Gandhi’s doctrine of non- violence, put forward “non-violence and cooperation by which to make contributions to the building-up of a harmonious society a slogan for maintaining legal rights in 2006”.

He wrote, “Mahatma Gandhi created miracles by his spirit of pursuing Truth via ‘Non-violence and Non-cooperation’ and defeated the powerful British Empire by using peaceful method. We have derived such an inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi as follows, i.e. in the process of building up a harmonious community, our slogan is to pursue social justice via Non-violence and Cooperation. Thousand years-long Chinese history

tells us that violence brings no winners but only more violence. Our slogan for maintaining legal rights is Non- violence and Cooperation! Because the government is our own government, estate property is our own property, all property owners are the same family members.

We are now in a historic transformation period, so we can only create our new life via mutual understanding and caring, via non-violence and cooperation.”

In Mao’s era, there was no such kind of issues, because at that time all estate properties belonged to state and government and every one lived in his/her own working unit’s apartment by paying very little rental fee. The department of estate properties of the working unit took responsibilities for maintaining it. All people lived in their own working unit’s apartment buildings. But in post-Mao’s era, especially in late 1990s and early 21st century, all working unit’s apartments were sold to employees and many more people bought their apartments in newly-built residence community areas and moved out of their working unit’s apartments. Newly-built residence community areas housed people from different working units. Property management companies took the responsibility of maintaining all estate properties (apartments). So a newkindofconflictappearedbetween property management companies and property owners.

On March 1, 2006, CCTV made a TV program “News Probe: The Story of Property Owners’ Maintaining Their Legal Rights”. Mr. Bei Ye was one of the three interviewers who were either current or previous heads of three different residence community areas in Beijing. It was said that when it came to the topic concerning property owners’ maintaining their legal rights, one could not help having pictures of contradictions. Conflicts between property owners and property management companies-estate property developers occurred. There were many court cases and some violence incidents. Why did residence community

areas became battle fields rather than places to live in peace? How to maintain property owners’ legal rights when violated? What are the ultimate aims of maintaining property owners’ legal rights?

In Mr. Bei Ye’s opinion, his act of maintaining property owners’ legal rights is a scholar’s civil experiment. He starts from claims for his own and his neighbour’s legal rights, and graduallymovesontofocusonpublic

Those longing for recovery of humanity, progress of soul can get inspiration and strength from Gandhi’s works: Mr. Bei Ye

affairs within his residence community, and finally upgrades to ponder over issues of maintaining legal rights of the whole society. Every week, he organizes a virtue education seminar in his apartment, discussing the topic concerning virtue education. He believes that virtue education is an integral part of civil education, and the cultivation of awareness of civic obligations is the indispensable prerequisite for maintaining property owners’ legal rights.

Through non-violent action (talk, ne- gotiation), the conflict between property management companies and property owners is resolved peacefully. Mr. Bei Ye’s residence community is awarded as an excellent model in Beijing. Nowadays there is seldom news about violent inci- dents in residence community areas.

Mr. Bei Ye keeps on promoting Mahatma Gandhi’s thoughts. In his article “Recommending a Good Book – Studies on Mahatma Gandhi’s Philosophy of Religion for Readers”, he wrote: “Currently I’ve finished reading a good book, titled Studies on Mahatma Gandhi’s Philosophy of Religion. With the permission of the author, I will

publish the book online stage by stage. I believe we can learn a lot of meaningful things from Mahatma Gandhi and India’s modernization road, especially some substantially spiritual things, just like our ancestors’ did when they went to India to get Buddhism.”

In his article “Seven Things to Destroy Human Beings”, he wrote, “Mahatma Gandhi warned us that there are seven things that will destroy us: Wealth without work, Pleasure without conscience, Knowledge without character, Commerce without morality, Science without humanity, Worship without sacrifice, Politics without principle. Mahatma Gandhi is our mentor, and his spirit is a good remedy for China’s society. Those who are longing for the recovery of humanity and progress of soul can get inspiration and strength from Gandhi’s works.

Here I would like to introduce four books for you all: Ms Wu Bei’s two translations Mahatma Gandhi: Sayings on Morality, Virtue and Health and Mahatma Gandhi: Sayings Selection. Mr. Shang Quanyu’s Studies on Mahatma Gandhi’s Philosophy of Religion, Someone’s Gandhi’s Leadership. I hope to organize a Gandhi Fans’ Club on my website so that we can keep in touch and exchange ideas.”

Ms Wu Bei’s Experiments With Mahatma Gandhi’s Simple Living & High Thinking

Ms. Wu Bei, a previous University lecturer in capital city Beijing, is influenced strongly by Mahatma Gandhi’s thought and act of simple living & high thinking. She gave up living in a big city and moved to a village. Recommended and coordinated by this author, she was interviewed by BBC. In the BBC news report, she was called “A lady who leads a life as Mahatma Gandhi”.

Ms. Wu Bei was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi since 2004 when she participated in a “Han Hai Sha Soul Environmental Protection Project”

sponsored by a NGO. One of the tasks of this project is to translate Mahatma Gandhi’s works. In the project proposal, it says that under the impact of blind pursuit of modernization, China’s villages face many problems. The deterioration of the natural environment is originated from one’s soul’s becoming barren. While we are engaged in the work of natural environmental protection, we have to search a radical solution from the level of human beings’ existence philosophy. Oriental philosophy is the road leading us to return to Nature. In Mahatma Gandhi, we find an upgraded new level of the oriental wisdom. He looked at, and reflected on many problems of modernization from a typical perspective of an oriental traditional philosopher. He also travelled in villages himself and solved the practical problems of existence in villages.

Translating Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas have practical and realistic significance. Those who long for soul force will get inspiration from his works. Those who are concerned with rural issues will get elicitation from his action. Those who love nature will get strength from it. Those who search for truth will follow his spirit to walk their own road. The translation focuses on Mahatma Gandhi’s works concerning his reflections on the relationship between human beings and nature, modernization and rural issues, religion and education, etc.

Ms. Wu Bei is the translator and Mr. Shang Quanyu is the consultant and proof-reader. Her translations were published by New Star Press in 2006 and 2007, the only Chinese translations of Mahatma Gandhi’s works so far in China, except his Autobiography and Hind Swaraj (Home Rule). While translating, she also wrote several articles to promote Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas. Many people are strongly attracted and influenced by these two translation books and her articles.

Influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, Ms. Wu Bei undertakes experiments with vegetarianism and leads a life as simple as possible. She refuses to buy and eat meat, refuses to buy and eat anti-season vegetables, refuses to use refrigerator, refuses to use washing machine, refuses to use air-conditioner, refuses to use elevator, refuses to buy newspapers and best-selling books like health care books. Her conviction is that she said she translated Mahatma Gandhi’s booklet Key to Health, from which she will benefit for her whole life. She regards her simple life as a happy life.

Since 2017, she has given up living in a big city and now lives in the countryside. She runs a special school Qingtan Xuetang in Huangtian (Yellow Field) village, Jing County, Anhui Province, where she is try- ing to make her “Silver Dream” a reality. Her school is open for those children who are excluded by regular schools, who are distorted by the inappropriate way of cul- tivation of their parents, who are not in conformity with the existing educational criteria, who have some disabilities such as Autistic Disorder and Attention Defi- cit Hyperactivity Disorder. Her dream is to make the faces of such children light up with happy and bright smiles, to make their bodies stretch in nature, to make their hands labour for themselves and others. In her talks with this author about the influence of Mahatma Gandhi, she summarizes as follows: simple life, non-violence (no-harm in words, actions and thoughts), environmental protection, child education, care about disadvantaged group, equality for all, etc. Ms. Wu Bei emphasizes that in our modern world, humankind’s greed is growing, and with it, the desires. This has brought about many problems. Ms. Wu Bei firmly advocates that Mahatma Gandhi is very important for this increasingly materialized world, because he supplied a spiritual source for us.

Mr. Lin Lusheng’s engage- ment with Mahatma Gandhi’s Pursuit of the Public Good

Mahatma Gandhi’s life is a life pursuing the public good. Mr. Lin Lusheng, who graduated from Beijing University, follows Mahatma Gandhi’s footprint and has dedicates his life to public good. He was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi in 2008 on reading his Autobiography. A journalist from China Youth magazine who interviewed him in his dorm room in Beijing University when he returned for studying the master program in 2016 wrote, “Lin Lusheng, a very thin guy with a pair of bright and piercing eyes, a determined and stern expression, in a thin black suit in the cold winter and a pair of worn shoes donated by a friend, was meditating on the dorm room floor. He uses Mahatma Gandhi’s image of meditation as his WeChat profile photo and meditates at dawn and dusk every day. Since the time he first read Gandhi’s Autobiography, he sees Gandhi as his idol. He has read Gandhi’s Autobiography many times, and also watched movies on him multiple times to search for the value of life. He quit his job in Beijing Normal University and engages in the cause of public good, which he regards as a valuable way of life.”

At first, Mr Lin Lusheng pursued his cause in Beijing. He established an NGO named Culture Development Center for Beijing Peasants’ Descendants and led a simple life in the countryside, spending only 150 RMB a month. He helped peasants sell chestnut and organized village tourism programs, but these endeavours failed. Later, Mr Lin Lusheng opened a school named Yanshan Xuetang at the foot of Yanshan Mountain. He opened this school for the children of migrant rural workers. He took lead to build house, to repair toilets and roads, and to grow vegetables. In addition to regular courses, the school also offered

courses on skills such as carpentry, and also helping the students find joy in such diverse pursuits like The Book of Songs and The Compendium of Materia Medica. He was happy to see that the children were able to significantly enhance their abilities of manual work and cooperation with nature. Doing public good has brought him not only joy but also honour. In 2014, Yanshan Xuetang was conferred with the Social Enterprise Award by the British Embassy. Later, Mr Lin Lusheng moved from Beijing to his hometown, a village in Fuji- an Province. He collected money and or- ganized a group of experts and volunteers to repair and maintain the classic Taoshu- lou Buiding, a UNESCO World Heritage. He also put forward and implemented a “good neighbor project”. He opened a school, Taoshu Shuyuan. Besides, he es- tablished his own public good enterprise “Meihe Service Center”. Mr Lin Lusheng told a journalist from Paper News Report that he hopes to promote cultural edu- cation and environmental protection in rural areas. This endeavour, he said, should start from protecting and maintain- ing our rural landscapes, also referred to as ‘classic earth building’. Mr Lin Lush- eng said that in the process of modern- ization and urbanization, rural areas are becoming barren in cultural edu- cation and environmental protection. He hopes to expand his model to other villages. He is also planning to establish a “Gandhi Farm” to practice Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas.

In all, from the cases above, we can clearly see that Mahatma Gandhi’s influ- ences have had a positive impact on 21st century’s China, as in the whole world. We strongly believe that his influences will last forever in human history.


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