Mao Zedong, left, Mohandas Gandhi
It is a stretch to call Mohandas Gandhi and Mao Zedong contemporaries because they were born 24 years apart and died 28 years apart. Mao, in fact, was Jawaharlal Nehru’s contemporary.* This bit of information is necessary to introduce the news that Gandhi’s ideas are for the first time making their appearance in China in the form of a book.
The Press Trust of India (PTI) reports from Beijing that the first Chinese version of a book about Gandhi’s thought was released on May 27. “’Gandhi’s Outstanding Leadership’, written by former Indian diplomat-turned-Gandhian Pascal Alan Nazareth, was released at the Peking University’s Centre for India Studies in the presence of Indian Ambassador to China S Jaishankar,” the PTI report said.
Prof Shang Quanyu, a history professor with the South China Normal University, translated the book into Madarin. He described the book as a "trail blazer".
Indian officials said in many ways the book was an "official debut" of Gandhian thoughts in Mao’s China as the revolutionary leader, a contemporary of Gandhi dominated the Chinese thought like a colossus for over six decades until the country began loosening its the grip over his ideology in recent years.”
A couple of centuries from now it might not seem so incongruous to call Gandhi and Mao contemporaries, although I like to think that a difference of 24 years in their age is a considerable time by any measure. By the time Mao was born, Gandhi had already gone though his formative years. For one he had been married to Kasturba for about 11 years by the time Mao was born and had fathered two children Harilal (1888) and Manilal (1892). Gandhi and Kasturba, in fact, had their first child when they were about 15 but the child died.If marriage and fatherhood are not clarifying and formative, what is?
Nevertheless, this book translated in Mandarin offers a significant opportunity to those in China who may have heard of Gandhi but not known much about him. I am not sure that those Chinese interested in Gandhi would have had to wait for a book like this to come out since the Internet abounds in Gandhian literature.
Perhaps for the Chinese generation familiar with their country’s near civilizational antipathies against Japan may find some resonance in the fact that Gandhi strongly disapproved of Japan’s attack on China during the Second World War. The PTI story quotes Nazareth as saying that Gandhi “intensely disliked” the Japanese aggression and said in an open letter to the people of Japan "you (Japan) have descended to imperial ambition".
Those who keep track of such developments say that in recent years China has begun to promote Gandhian ideas. They also see in the development a subtle shift away from Mao’s philosophy which was for long at the heart of the Chinese experience. Of course, one can always read too much into the release a book on Gandhi here and a discussion on him there. In so much as both China and India have moved considerably far from the respective perspectives of Mao and Gandhi, it may not matter much that such shifts are happening.
While I am on the subject, I might as well point out the deeply troublesome rise of what the Indian establishment describes together as “Maoists guerillas” across India. Although at the heart of these loosely connected insurgencies is decades of disenchantment with the Indian State among the marginalized classes, they have acquired a spectacularly violent edge in recent years. It was barely four days ago that “Maoist rebels” killed 25 people in the central Indian state of Chhatisgarh. Some might feel tempted to point the irony of the so-called “Maoist” rebels gaining strength in India at a time when China is promoting Gandhi’s ideas.
* Gandhi—October 2, 1869 January 30, 1948
Mao—December 26, 1893, September 9, 1976
Nehru—November 14, 1889, May 27, 1964