It is India, not Britain itself that has made up the Empire. In India lies the economic foundation of Britain, the life-line of Britain. Without India the British Empire is but a third rate state. Without India the British Empire is bound to disintegrate. India was the life-line of Britain, the British authorities would hold to India with no stone un-turned even to the extent of sacrificing everything else. Therefore, the Indian revolutionary movement would not be a smooth sail.

This is Chinese Revolutionist Sun Yat-sen talking about the position of India within the British Empire, he points out the importance of India and also further advises Indian people to treat unity with the foremost importance and persevere in their struggle in coming years.

When we don’t know our country’s history the generations of society is doomed no matter how prosperous, free and rich we feel. The following is an excerpt from the book In The Footsteps of Xuanzang: Tan Yun-Shan And India by Tan Chung. Perhaps most of us would not have heard these names in the title or the book, nonetheless the book contains messages from the then President of India K. R. Narayanan and Vice-President Krishan Kant. It is important for everyone in India to know about these figures mentioned in this book and the friendly historical relations we had with our neighboring country China and what turned India-China relations into major international problem in the modern era.

The multi-faceted cultural contacts between China and India centred around the dissemination of Buddhism in ancient times. They were interrupted after the 15th or 16th century because of the drastic changes within the two nations and the gradual eastward expansion of Western colonialism. But, the tree of Sino-Indian friendship had been deep-rooted. In the period of modern history, the two peoples once again closed their ranks in their common struggle against colonialism. The two peoples extended their sympathy towards each other, offered their hands to each other. The old tree of friendship came to life with new blossoms. This friendship was struck in times of need. Although without the magnificence of the ancient cultural interface between two great civilization, this was the friendship of great affection and depth.

India was subjugated by colonial powers during the 18th and 19th centuries, and China likewise became a semi-colony. The tyrannic rule of the Western imperialist powers cruelly exploited and looted India and China and the two peoples lived in abysmal suffering. When the Indian Mutiny triggered off in 1857, the Chinese people received the news with delight, and it was a great inspiration to them. The Mutiny forced the British authorities to withdraw the troops which were on their way to China. Their earlier schedule of launching the Second Opium War against China was disrupted. During the Taiping Rebellion (in China), many Indian soldiers in the British army were driven by their pure sense of justice to defect to the Taiping army, and turned their rifles back at the imperialists and the Manchu feudalist suppressors. During the Boxer Rebellion, one Indian soldier condemned the atrocities committed by the imperialists and expressed sympathy with the just  cause of the Chinese  people in his diary. These were the first sign of the shared opposition and common hatred against their enemies. However, because of their historical and social limitations, such mutual sympathies were devoid of class consciousness.

The newly emergent nationalist forces during the end of 19th and the beginning of 20th century marked a genuine theoretical realization of the commonality of destiny between the two peoples, of the necessity to cooperate with each other in the anti-imperialist struggle, as well as putting into practice such cooperation. Such a realization also got heightened in the process of anti-imperialist struggle by and by.

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After the defeat of his bourgeois reformist movement, Kang Youwei, its leader, took refuge in Darjeeling. He toured many places (in India), met people of all walks of life, and then felt for the miserable sufferings of Indian people under the colonial rule with deep sympathy. He said that the British colonial rule was a system of racial discrimination and exploitation. A handful of colonial bosses trampled the Indians under their feet with tyrannic behaviours, treating Indians like dirt with “extreme cruelty”. “No Indian can get a better place than that of a subject of the sixth class.” Britons had in their possession all the best of wealth and resources while even the richest among Indians could only share some of the left-overs of the spoils. “The vast land of India is like a big prison.” He, then lamented with depression: “How sad is it to belong to a state that is dead!”

Another leader of the same Reform Movement, Liang Qichao, had mentioned India in about 100 articles of his writings. He analysed the causes why India had become a colony, and strongly condemned the ruthless and tyrannic rule of British colonialism. While discussing the Indian problems, both Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao would ponder over how China should not step into the Indian shoes. The common fate of the two peoples under the colonial rule was touched upon by them.

The early Indian nationalists and reformers were opposed to the opium trade (which Britain had imposed on China). Keshyap Chandra Sen demanded as early as 1870 that  the British government stopped the opium traffic. He pointed out that itwas a “dirty trick” in killing thousands of the pitiable Chinese”. An editorial of the Amrita Bazar Patrika in 1874 entitled “Chinese and British” listed the instances of how the British Colonialists had fleeced the Chinese, looked upon the British as “devils”. The famous activists of the Indian National Congress, Romesh Dutta and Gopal Krishna Gokhale also exposed and condemned with righteous indignity the shameful opium trade and the Opium War  launched by Britain (against China).

Around the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, a nationalist group led by Bal Gangadhar Tilak emerged in the Congress Party, while a bourgeois revolutionary group led by SunYat-sen also appeared in the Chinese scene. The nationalist movements of both the countries entered into the phase of nationalist revolution. From an identical revolutionary stand, the revolutionary groups of the two countries realised the need of mutual support and cooperation in their common struggle. They made great efforts along this direction. Thus the friendly relations between the two peoples entered into a new stage.

The pioneer of this new stage were Sun Yat-sen, Zhang Taiyan from China, and Borohan, Bose and others from India. Sun Yat-sen referred to India a number of times in his writings and speeches. He was of the opinion that India’s becoming a colony was due to the English East India Company’s taking advantage of the internal split of the Indian feudal  society. He thought that Britons were the most cunning conquerors. He pointed out: “What the colonialists expect the most is to get the colonies supply them raw materials and making them the markets of their industrial manufactures.” For this purpose, they made “China and India bear the brunt”. According to him Britain had adopted economic and supra-economic measures in India to reach this target. She destroyed the traditional Indian textile industry, drained India’s resources by levying heavy land revenues, creating the economy decline, famines occurring in quick succession, people living in destitution, and skeletons bleaching the plains.

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He said: “Every year, Britain exacted huge quantity of food-grains from India for her own consumption, while in India nineteen million people died from hunger in ten years. It is not as if India is not producing grain, but the Indian produce is looted by Britain, hence India is made to starve.” He continued: “Though apparently Britain seems to mean no plundering in India, in reality it is a predatory tyrannic rule depriving Indians the means of survival, hence it is a plunder in a large scale.” Talking about the position of India within the British Empire, he pointed out: “It is India, not Britain itself that has made up the Empire.” “In India lies the economic foundation of Britain, the life-line of Britain.” “Without India the British Empire is but a third rate state.” “Without India the British Empire is bound to disintegrate.” He further pointed out that since India was the life-line of Britain, the British authorities “would hold to India with no stone un-turned even to the extent of sacrificing everything else.” Therefore, the Indian revolutionary movement would not be a smooth sail. He advised the Indian people to treat unity with the foremost importance and persevere in their struggle.

When Gandhiji launched the non-cooperation movement Sun Yet-sen had assumed power in Guangzhou as the Extraordinary President of the provisional government, ready to launch his Northern Expedition against the war-lords. He hailed  Gandhiji’s movement as the “awakening of India”. In 1921, he said in a speech: “The Indians have long been oppressed by the British. They have now reacted with a change in their revolutionary thinking… There is progress in their revolutionary spirit, they will not be cowed down by Britain.”  Sun Yat-sen regarded the high tide of the Indian struggle as an integral part of the wave of national self-rule in the world after the World War I. He observed: “Since the European War, there has been a drastic change in the world situation.” There emerged a new force. “What is the force? It is the great awakening of the oppressed section of humankind to form a massive resistance against the mighty powers.” “Though India has gone under by the force of Britain, the common people stand opposed to the British.” Sun Yat-sen departed from his prepared text to specially commend Gandhiji’s doctrine of non-cooperation while he was speaking and propounding the doctrine of his own Three people’s Principles in 1924. He said: “What is non-cooperation? It is not to supply what the British are wanting. It is not to accept what the British are eager to supply. If the British need workers, no Indian would work for them; if the British bring up a lot of imported goods for the Indian consumption, the Indians should refuse to use them, and only consume their native products. In the beginning the British had taken this idea lightly. Through the passage of time non-cooperation organizations had  mushroomed in India, and this greatly hurt the British economy, hence the British government  throws Gandhi into prison.”

“Sun, then, called upon the Chinese people to emulate the Indian example, become united and act, “severe economic  ties” with the imperialists. He continued: “If all Chinese could emulate  the Indian example of non-cooperation…..we will not be cowed down even if the foreign powers resort to the suppression of armed forces, economic measures, and the presence of their people.” Apparently it looked strange that a champion of armed revolution like Sun Yat-sen would be favorably disposed for a non-violent and non-cooperation movement. But Sun had a wide vision to look at the strategies and tactics of the national struggle from various angles. He dwelt upon the active and passive ways in fighting imperialism: active, like awakening the national spirit, seeking the solutions of people’s power and livelihood, and face to face against  foreign aggression: passive, i.e. “non-cooperation, to weaken the role of imperialists, hence safeguarding the national position, avoiding the fate of total extinction.”  While he thought that the non-cooperation movement was an effective economic weapon in fighting the foreign rule the people will have to resort to armed struggle to overthrow it.

Sun Yat-sen also advocated Sino-Indian unification. He wrote in 1923 that “All the oppressed peoples should unify their efforts to fight against the tyranny of foreign aggressors.” “India and China are the backbone of the oppressed peoples in Asia.”  In deference to Sun’s wishes, the Guangdong revolutionary government and the Kuomintang Party adopted as one of their foreign policies the unification with all the oppressed peoples, especially with India.

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