A former diplomat who is considered widely travelled, Vice President Hamid Ansari took the Indian delegation by surprise when he told them that this was his first visit to China. “I have never visited China (earlier). Somewhere the God almighty registered that point, so I have come to visit China now,” he said. His current visit combines two objectives, bilateral talks and the 60th anniversary of the Panchsheel Treaty.
Ansari had visited the historic city of Xi’an before he reached Beijing. One of the country’s oldest cities, Xi’an was the capital for 13 dynasties over 1,200 years. Ansari visited a famous mosque and a great pagoda set up in the memory of seventh-century traveller Hiuen Tsang, the scholar who spent 17 years in India studying Sanskrit and who translated many scriptures. Some of these translated versions are preserved in the pagoda. When Chinese premier Li Keqiang called Narendra Modi to congratulate him on his election as prime minister, Modi mentioned that Hiuen Tsang had visited Vadnagar, Modi’s assembly constituency until recently.
The Vice President visited Terracotta Warriors and Horses, a world heritage site, and met the Communist Party of China’s secretary for Shaanxi province. An army of soldiers made of terracotta had been buried along with China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, a believer in rebirth, so that they would protect him. Twenty centuries later, local farmers stumbled on the site and it was excavated in 1974. Today, the 8,000-odd warriors with their arms and ammunition are a great attraction, with the site getting five million visitors every year, Chinese authorities say.
Ansari released an encyclopedia on Indo-Chinese Cultural Contacts. It has 700-odd entries on a relationship built over 2,000 years. The encyclopedia was conceived during the India visit of then Chinese premier Wen Jiabao in December 2010, and was compiled by a joint committee of scholars, those on the Indian side being Sabaree Mitra of Jawaharlal Nehru University; Madhavi Thampi of Delhi University, Kamal Sheel of Banaras Hindu University and Arttatrana Nayak, who was associated with Visva-Bharati University.
Among the Indian entities that have been attracting the Chinese are yoga and Hindi films. If Buddhism has been the key link between the two nations since ancient times, Indians living in China have noted that yoga and Bollywood have added new dimensions to the bond. Indian yoga trainers frequently visit China. B K S Iyengar, for instance, was in China in March 2012 to address the thousands of his followers. Simultaneously, Indian students have been visiting China to pursue many subjects, particularly medicine.
After a lecture at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, some scholars asked Ansari about the policies and priorities of the new government. The Vice President responded that the priority is to accelerate the country’s economic growth, and that more priorities will be announced in the Parliament session starting July 7.