Dr. Jiang Yili Interviewed by The Print

Dr. Jiang Yili, wife of Chinese Ambassador to India, gave an interview to Ms. Jyoti Malhotra, Editor of ThePrint recently. The transcript of the interview is as follows:

Over Green Tea, Chinese Ambassador’s Wife

Talks DU Days & Buddhism

Jiang Yili, scholar of Indian philosophy, tells ThePrint that reports of China’s control on religion are not all that true.

She keeps a beautiful house. An enormous bronze Nataraja statue greets you at the entrance, face to face with an enormous Chinese vase.

Later, when you sip green tea over a conversation on India and China relations, which includes an admission of a Peking University romance with her husband – she, a student of Indian philosophy, he a student of Indian history of fine art – you note that the tea cup is made of exquisite blue porcelain.

“A tea set like this was sent for use at the G20 meeting in Hangzhou, China,” Jiang Yili, Chinese scholar of Indian philosophy, diplomat and wife of China’s ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui, tells ThePrint.

It all speaks to a casual comfort with objects of expensive art. But Jiang is already waxing eloquent about the Ajanta-Ellora caves, the Golden Temple, and travels to both Agra and Assam.

“As a teenager I was very fond of the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore,” she says. “Later I read Western philosophy and psychology, both Artistotle and Plato, as well as Fromm, Freud and Jung. Then I went to Peking University and majored in Indian philosophy and religion.

“I think Indian philosophy is more spiritual. They are more focused on the meanings of the truths of life rather than material goods,” she adds.

Talking religion

Is there a contradiction here? Dr Jiang is atheist, but she’s written several books on Indian religions, including one comparing Hindu Brahminical thought with Buddhism.

When she lived and worked in Pakistan in 2007, along with her ambassador husband, she translated Benazir Bhutto’s autobiography, Daughter of the East, into Chinese. It remains a best-seller in the country.

Asked why she thought of translating the book, Dr Jiang says the Bhuttos – as well as India’s Nehru-Gandhis – are still very popular in China. Both Indira and Rajiv Gandhi remain “very popular”.

Before 1962, she adds, “India and China had very good relations”.

Q: This was the time of Jawaharlal Nehru and (former Chinese premier) Chou En-lai…

A: Yes. The Chinese paid a lot of attention to Indian leaders… You know, my husband had the privilege of receiving former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi when he visited China in 1988.

Q: What did he think of him [Rajiv Gandhi]?

A: He was a nice, handsome man. His behavior was very polite, very gentlemanly. He made great contributions to China-India relations. Today, Prime Minister Modi has a mass of fans in China. We are very satisfied with the progress in our relationship.

Fast forward to the meeting this April in Wuhan — “President Xi told Prime Minister Modi that he had watched Aamir Khan’s movie Dangal , and, as you know, Aamir Khan is very popular in China,” Jiang says — and Delhi and Beijing agreeing to launch the high-level people-to-people and cultural exchange mechanism, for which Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi is coming to Delhi later this week.

“Sometimes, government leaders are the driving force to enhance bilateral relations,” says Jiang. “We should make good use of this element to enhance people-to-people exchanges, whether in agriculture, high-tech, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals or just between people.”

The DU days

Jiang’s latest essay is a memoir of her time at Delhi University in the early 1990s, where she was a Ph.D student at the Department of Philosophy. This essay is collected in the book titled Fond Memories on the Campus – Stories of Chinese and Indian Exchange Students, which will be launched later this week during Wang Yi’s visit.

Buddhism and other Indian philosophies remain an abiding interest for Jiang.

The story of how Buddha renounced his royal life to seek the “meaning of life” is “very popular” in China, she says, adding: “All religions advocate that people should do good things and avoid evil. People want to seek some spiritual goal. They want to realize the meaning of life.”

Asked why so many ostensibly atheist Chinese, including herself, are visiting Budda temples, she says, “You know many people in the outside world think the Chinese society is very tightly controlled, but really, we enjoy much more religious freedom than ever before.”

“Buddhism emerged as a faith of anti-Brahminism,” says Jiang. “Buddha advocated that all men were born equal. Brahminism advocated samsara, nirvana, karma, people will get liberation according to God’s blessing. But Buddhism says, it’s your own karma, what you did, your action will get results,” she adds.

She points out that religion, or at least the culture of religion, has made a comeback in China. The church has returned and there’s even a mosque on the outskirts of Beijing, on a road called Cow Street.

“I don’t believe in reincarnation, but I really believe in causality,” she says. “That is, results must have a cause. Your action will get results… In this sense, I believe.

“But I don’t believe in life after death. In this life, you have bad behavior, you get bad results. So people should do good things to get good results,” she adds.

“Doesn’t mean that if we go (to the Buddha temple), we become Buddhists. ‘Bodhi’ means enlightenment in Sanskrit, so Buddha is the one who get enlightenment.

Similar values

India and China, two ancient civilizations, bred on the banks of the Ganga-Yamuna and the Huang He (Yellow River), both disbelieving and also believing, their citizenry seeking help at the feet of their gods both on Earth and in ‘heaven’.

“The Bodhisattvas in India are male but in China, one of the Bodhisattvas, Avalokiteswara, is female…” says Jiang.

“Many people are spiritual, but some want material benefits. For example, she is believed to have the power to get barren women pregnant. So young couples go to her to worship and pray,” she points out.

She admits that Indian and Chinese traditions and values are similar. The joint family system was common in China until the one-child norm forced change towards nuclear families. Preference for a male child remains common.

“Socialism is good because it makes everybody more equal…” says Jiang. “Today, in China, you don’t need to pay dowry when people get married, but still people prefer a son because it is the son that inherits the family name,” she adds. “Still, things have changed a lot.”

Pakistan memories

“As a scholar-turned diplomat, I have been to many countries, including Singapore, Thailand, Unite States, and Canada. I also worked in Chinese Embassy in Islamabad. I really enjoyed my life in all of those countries. ” She says.

It was in Pakistan that she and some embassy colleagues decided to translate Benazir Bhutto’s book-- Daughter of the East into Chinese.

“My husband visited her at her residence in Islamabad after she was just back from exile, and asked her to write a preface for her book of Chinese version.” says Jiang. “She agreed and did it . Until now, the Book remains a best-seller in China,” Jiang adds.

So, India should not worry about China’s relations with Pakistan?

“It is not a zero-sum game,” says Jiang. “Both India and Pakistan are friends of China. We really wish the two neighboring counties remain peace and harmonious. It’s not as if we want only Pakistan, or only India.” she adds.

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