FB   
 
Powered bysps
        Society for Policy Studies
 
 

 
Is One Belt, One Road the Chinese ashwamedha? How China’s mythology influences its politics
Posted:May 23, 2017
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 
As Western hegemony wanes in the global village, China envisions the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) project. India withdraws from it. What makes cultures do what they do? The answer perhaps lies in their mythologies, which map the culture’s mind.
 
At the heart of Chinese mythology is belief in the Mandate of Heaven. The Emperor of China has been given the divine authority to mirror heavenly order on earth. If the emperor fails to do so, he can be replaced. A successful revolution marks the shifting of this mandate from one king to another.
 
Although communism sees itself as rational, and so anti-religion and anti-mythology, the communist revolution under Mao Zedong effectively marked the shift in the Mandate of Heaven from the old order to the new. The rise of China into an economic powerhouse under Deng Xiaoping also indicates yet another shift in the Mandate of Heaven. The current leadership in China is now expanding its Pax Sinica.
 
Geography plays a key role in Chinese mythology. At the centre is the Forbidden City (Beijing) around which is China and around which is the peripheral nations who look towards China for guidance to create heavenly order on earth. Beyond are the lands of chaos, whose people are best kept out using projects such as the Great Wall of China.
 
By contrast, time (kala) plays a key role in Hindu mythology. Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism speak of a world that has no beginning (anadi), no end (ananta) and is always impermanent (anitya). Indian mythologies speak of great universal emperors (chakra-varti) but these are more conceptual than historical. India thrives in dynamic diversity, with multiple kingdoms that rise and fall from Mauryas to Guptas to Vakatakas to Rashtrakutas to Kadambas to Gangas to Pallavas to Pandyas to Cholas to Nayakas to Mughals to British.
 
There is no Beijing equivalent in Hindu mythology, though Delhi is often projected as such in post-Independence textbooks. India, known in Buddhist, Jain and Hindu texts as Jambu-dvipa or Bharata-varsha or Arya-varta, is bound not by politics but by religion; it has been united not by empires but by pilgrim routes, an idea that perplexes modern historians who try very hard to prove India is a creation of the British.
 
In Chinese mythology, there is authority and bureaucracy in heaven too. The gods enable the living to be successful, and successful mortals such as emperors, military commanders and noblemen take the position of immortal gods. The highly formal, hierarchical and socially-responsible Confucianism, with its great regard for authority, is balanced by the more mystical and occult Taoism, that speaks of harmony and flow.
 
Essentially, the tone is highly materialistic and worldly in contrast to the otherworldly nature of Indian mythologies, where the psychological matters more than the physical. Jain, Buddhist and Hindu mythologies place great value on yoga, the un-crumpling of the mind crumpled by hunger and fear.
 
In Chinese worldview, India is seen in two ways. Firstly, it embodies luan, chaos. This chaos threatens the Chinese sense of order. This makes India a perpetual threat. It makes the Chinese leadership nervous. Secondly, India is Sukhavati, the Western Paradise in Chinese Buddhism, source of great spiritual wisdom. It speaks about transcending materialism to be free of suffering, an idea that invalidates the promise of the material philosophies, be it communism or capitalism.
 
Until the arrival of the Europeans, Buddhism was the only foreign idea that has had a dramatic impact on Chinese history. Since then, China watches with trepidation the rising tide of Christian evangelism in South Korea and Singapore, and Islam on its Western borders, and the hurricane of technology coming from the West. The Chinese way is eroding, unless the Emperor takes charge. Hence, OBOR.
 
Is OBOR the Chinese equivalent of the ashwamedha, the Vedic ritual by which a king established his authority and sovereignty? Is India reacting like the insecure Indra, king of the sky? Or are we choosing the hermit’s isolation over the householder’s pragmatism? Is maya (delusion) at play as we indulge our inflated sense of importance?
 
The Chinese classic, Sun Tzu’s Art of War, is about winning while Krishna’s Bhagavad Gita is about union with the divine. Very different goals. Something we need to meditate on.
 
Times of India, May 23, 2017
 
 
 
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 

Disclaimer: South Asia Monitor does not accept responsibility for the views or ideology expressed in any article, signed or unsigned, which appears on its site. What it does accept is responsibility for giving it a chance to appear and enter the public discourse.
Comments (Total Comments 0) Post Comments Post Comment
Review
 
 
 
 
spotlight image A career diplomat, Chitranganee Wagiswara, High Commissioner of Sri Lanka, is the first woman to be the island nation’s envoy to India. As Foreign Secretary, she was Sri Lanka’s top diplomat for 18 months before being posted to New Delhi.
 
read-more
Israel has announced the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will be the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the Jewish state since New Delhi established diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv in 1992. The visit will take place July 4-6. 
 
read-more
These are depressing times. For quite some time I have been watching with utter dismay the Secular India which Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Husain Ahmed Madani, Abdul Ghaffar Khan and others fought for being systematically undermined by ultra-Hindu nationalists. The obsession with Mother Cow has
 
read-more
With weird concoction like "Beer Yoga" getting popular as the next big international fitness craze, the ancient art of inner blossoming is seemingly going topsy-turvy. And as yoga hogs the limelight on its third International Day, the loud call for saving the spirit of the ancient and modern practice can't be swept under
 
read-more
“We cannot allow the state brutality to which we are subjected each day snatch our humanity and values,” the Mirwaiz said, asking: “What will be the difference between them and us then?”
 
read-more
The standoff between Indian and Chinese troops in the Sikkim section of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between the two countries has led to a suspension of the Kailash Mansarovar yatra via the new Nathu La route.
 
read-more
The city of Marawi in the south of the Philippines has been engulfed by a deadly, ongoing siege since late May, when government forces began to take on heavily armed militants linked to the Islamic State. Local media estimate the death toll to be above 300. Over 200,000 residents have fled what has effectively become an urban battlefie
 
read-more
The Iraqi city of Mosul this week celebrates its first Eid free of the oppressive rule of the self-styled Islamic State (IS) in three years.
 
read-more
President Donald J. Trump hosted Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India at the White House on June 26 for an official visit to Washington, D.C.
 
read-more
Column-image

Title: Reporting Pakistan; Author: Meena Menon; Publisher: Viking/Penguin Random House; Pages: 340; Price: Rs 599

 
Column-image

  A former Indian civil servant, who is currently a professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Duke University, US spent long periods in distant villages and city slums of India. The result? A scholarly book that presen...

 
Column-image

  Title: The Exile; Author:  Cathy Scott-Clark & Adrian Levy; Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing; Pages: 640; Price: Rs 699

 
Column-image

Jim Corbett was a British-Indian hunter and tracker-turned-conservationist, author and naturalist; who started off as an officer in the British army and attained the rank of a colonel. Frequently called in to kill man-eating tigers or leopards,...

 
Column-image

Title: Bollywood Boom; Author: Roopa Swaminathan; Publisher: Penguin; Price: Rs 399; Pages: 221

 
Subscribe to our newsletter
Archive