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Jia Yan

Published On


Page Range

pp. 67-98

Print Length

31 pages

2. Writing Friendship

The Fraternal Travelogue and China-India Cultural Diplomacy in the 1950s

  • Jia Yan (author)
Sino-Indian literary relations blossomed in the 1950s, in the aftermath of India’s Independence and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China – which India was the first to recognize – but also in the international context of the Bandung Conference, of which Nehru and Zhou-Enlai were protagonists. Apart from the international writers’ Conferences (the first of which was organized in Delhi in 1956), bilateral cultural diplomacy took primarily the form of visits by delegations and brought about unprecedented cross-border travel of and direct contact between Chinese and Indian writers. This also brings to light the fissures in the declared internationalist solidarity. Many of these writers, including Bing Xin, Yan Wenjing, Mulk Raj Anand, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, and Amrit Rai, embraced the literary form of travelogue to document, reflect on, and disseminate their travel experiences and observations. Focusing on several travelogues written in three different languages (Chinese, Hindi, and English), this chapter argues that, despite the shared willingness to foster mutual understanding, distinctive asymmetries existed in how cultural diplomacy was carried out in China and India respectively, and in how writers interpreted and represented the other country’s postcolonial realities. On the Chinese side, these visits were managed by Communist state institutions, whereas on the Indian side, Chinese visitors met a mixture of government and civic society representatives, only the latter usually Communists. And only some of the Indian visitors to China were committed Communists; others were sympathetic but Congress-leaning, yet others strongly critical of Communism. Partly because of the different degree of state involvement, Chinese writers reported about their Indian visits in an almost unanimous and positive way, while the Indian writers’ assessment of the newly established Communist China varied according to their political inclination. Often published immediately after the visit and with the author’s “eyewitness” perspective and objectivity emphasised, these travelogues were intended to (re)shape the public perception in one society of the other, either bolstering or challenging the official rhetoric of “brotherhood” (Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai).


Jia Yan