The relationship between the Chinese and Tamil people date back to the Han dynasty in the second century BC. There had been cultural and trade relationships between the two peoples since then.
During the Tamil Pallava rule in south India, Bodhidharma Thero visited China in the year 527 AD, and introduced Zen (Dhyanamarga) Buddhism. He also introduced martial art or Kung Futo China. Before he left for China from Kanchipuram, he visited Tiriyai in Trincomalee which then was another Centre of Tamil Mahayana Buddhism. Other Tamil Buddhist monks, Gunavarman and Vajrabodhi had also visited Tiriyai prior to their undertaking visits to China.
In the 8th century AD, the Tang Dynasty forged a military alliance with the Pallava King Nandivarman II to protect China from Tibetan expansionism. The Chinese people and their rulers had always valued self-preservation and were against expansionism. The Great Wall of China was symbolic of that doctrine.
In the year 1409, a Chinese Admiral erected a stone tablet in Galle harbour to signify the visit of the Chinese Navy to Lanka. The tablet was only in Chinese, Tamil and Persian. These languages were, then and now, recognized as three of the oldest living languages of the world. Such was the relationship that the cultured Chinese people had with the cultured Tamil people in the past. But things changed after the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was established in China in 1949.
A prophetical question asked 60 years ago
It was June 1962. The army of the PRC had intruded past India’s northern border and begun a war. We, the undergraduates belonging to the Faculties of Engineering and Science in the Colombo Campus of the University of Ceylon were agitated. The Colombo Campus housed only these two Faculties. The Medical Faculty was inMaradana and the other faculties were in Peradeniya.
The undergraduates were invited to meet at the College House on Thurston Road, it being the ‘common room’ of the students. Many acrimonious speeches were made. It was pointed out that the government of the PRC was a hegemonic and expansionist government. It had annexed the peaceful Buddhist country of Tibet in 1959. It had expelled the Dalai Lama, the spiritual and political head of that country and had begun a process of cultural genocide. Now, the PRC army had walked into northern India and attacked unsuspecting Indian soldiers and butchered them with bayonets.
A resolution was passed at that meeting to the effect that the undergraduates of both faculties would undertake a protest march to the Chinese Embassy on Turret Road, demanding withdrawal of its troops behind the international border. The resolution was carried with more than two hundred undergraduates voting in favour and around ten voting against. These were the pro-communist undergraduates who wrongly understood the proposed protest march as a protest against the doctrine of communism.
Protest march against China
We fashioned several placards, the most popular one being “Yesterday Tibet! Today India! Tomorrow Ceylon?”. There were other placards which called for the Chinese to quit Indian Territory; Indians are our Kith and Kin, and so on. We obtained permission from the Cinnamon Gardens Police and commenced the protest march from College House. When we reached the Chinese Embassy and began shouting slogans, a group of thugs appeared suddenly from nowhere and attacked us with wooden clubs. Around thirty students were injured, of whom seven had to undergo treatment at the nearby Colombo General Hospital. In the same manner as the thugs appeared, they suddenly disappeared, probably into the Embassy building.
The student leadership, which included me, decided that we should not disperse, but march along Turret Road, Flower Road and Thurston Road to the Residence of the Indian High Commissioner. In any case, India House was in the neighbourhood of College House.
Expression of Solidarity with India
Outside India House, we shouted slogans expressing solidarity with India. Thereupon the High Commissioner B.K. Kapur invited the leadership of the protesting undergraduates, three in number, which included me, into the premises and to his residence. We expressed solidarity with India on this issue. The High Commissioner thanked us profusely for our active support of India. He told us that the event would be reported to the Indian government headed by Jawaharlal Nehru. Thereupon the protestors dispersed to College House and thence to their residences.
True nature of PRC
During the Second World War, the Republic of China was led by Chiang Kai-shek who helped the Allies to win the War. However, Mao Zedong ousted Chiang Kai-shek in 1949 and forced him out to Taiwan with his followers. However, the establishment in Taiwan under Chiang Kai-shek was recognized by the United Nations as the legitimate government of China, despite the fact that the vast majority of the Chinese was under Mao.
Since the majority of the Chinese people were under the PRC of Mao, the Indian government led by Jawaharlal Nehru supported the claim of the PRC under Mao to be recognized as the legitimate government of China. In spite of such a favourable position taken by India, in 1962, the government of the PRC decided to attack India on her northern border. Recall the earlier sacking of Tibet by the PRC. Unfortunately, at that stage, liberal India took up the position that Tibet was an autonomous State, but subject to Chinese suzerainty.
Thus Nehru had followed a policy of non-confrontation with the PRC and was confident that China would never attack India. However he was disappointed. The politics of the PRC had no morality. The intentions of the PRC were not understood by Nehru. The PRC’s ambition wasExpansionism followed by Hegemonic subjugation of other nations.
A disappointed Nehru visits Ceylon
In October of that year, Prime Minister of Ceylon Sirimavo Bandaranaike invited Nehru to visit Colombo, which he readily obliged. During that visit, the undergraduates of the Faculties of Engineering and Science invited Nehru to address a gathering of the students at King George’s Hall. He gladly accepted our invitation. I was one of the student leaders who received Nehru when he arrived for the meeting. During the course of his speech, he expressed disappointment with the PRC, both in respect of Tibet and India.
PRC targets Sri Lanka (Ceylon)
The current political leadership of Sri Lanka has leased out the Colombo Port City to the PRC. Earlier the Hambantota Harbour was similarly leased out to them.The Sri Lankan political leadership had not understood the Expansionist motive of the PRC. This should have been clear to any intelligent person when Tibet was annexed in 1959.
Expansionist governments never support self-determination of people
Agents of the PRC have conveyed promises that if the Tamils of Sri Lanka would support Chinese enterprises in the North and East, the PRC would create Tamil Eelam for them. This promise has been conveyed to former and current Tamil Members of Parliament. Tamil journalists and journalist-politicians are being wooed by the PRC agents.
The Tamil political leadership which had mastered the ‘art of rhetoric’ was urged by a stupid section of the Tamil Diaspora to blindly support Velupillai Prabakaran in his war against Devolution of Powers and against India. The net result for the Tamils has been the migration of 1.5 million Tamils from Sri Lanka. The Tamils have now become a politically powerless people.
We should recall the original Chinese doctrine of self-preservation. Regardless of the mistake made by the Sinhala leadership, the Tamils should be able to recognize the PRC as Expansionist and Hegemonic. Let us not forget that the PRC stabbed Nehru in the back sixty years ago, and has committed cultural genocide in Tibet prior to that.
(The writer is former secretary to the Chief Minister, North-East Province, Sri Lanka; Former senior advisor to the Chief Minister, Eastern Province, Sri Lanka; Former MP; and President of AkhilaIlankai Tamil Mahasabha. The views expressed are personal)