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Updated: Oct 2, 2020

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF XUANZANG: TAN YUN-SHAN AND INDIA, Edited by Tan Chung, www.ignca.gov.in

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Tan Yun-Shan was a Chinese scholar and founder of Santiniketan's Cheena Bhavana, the oldest centre of Chinese studies in South Asia. He devoted his life to the cause of Sino-Indian cultural friendship.

Tan arrived at Santiniketan in 1928 and joined Visva Bharati as Professor of Chinese Studies. He started Chinese classes with just five students. He himself started learning Sanskrit. He also held discussions with the intellectual fraternity at Santiniketan. He soon realised that his work required a separate hall/ building but Visva Bharati, then a private institution, was short of funds. Tan decided to move around to collect money for the purpose and he took on odd jobs to support himself. He went to Singapore and Rangoon. He accompanied the special envoy of China in his mission to Tibet. The envoy died on the way and so Tan carried his papers and handed them over to the 13th Dalai Lama in Lhasa. He was given a message for Mahatma Gandhi, which he delivered at Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad. He visited the Buddhist pilgrimage centres and after a short stay at Santiniketan, went to China.[1][2]

Back to China in 1931, he was successful in garnering support for his ideas. The China chapter of the Sino-Indian Cultural Society was established at Nanjing, the capital, and returned to India to establish the India chapter of the society. He went back to China and returned to Santiniketan in 1936 with adequate funds (Rs. 50,000) for his cherished China Hall and 100,000 books (collected with the support of the Sino-Indian Cultural Society). Tagore was thrilled and allotted land in the heart of Santiniketan for construction of Cheena Bhavana. The hall was designed in collaboration with Surendranath Kar and Tan supervised its construction. The building was completed in record time. Nandalal Bose, Benode Behari Mukherjee and others from Kala Bhavana adorned the hall with frescoes and reliefs. Tan planted trees all around the building. On 14 April 1937, Cheena Bhavana, the first institute of its kind in India, was formally inaugurated by Indira Gandhi. Tan was appointed its first director. However, in view of Visva Bharati's grim financial situation Tan refused to take a salary, but the Chinese government provided him an honorarium. Mahatma Gandhi, in his message to Tagore said: “May the Chinese Hall be a symbol of living contact between China and India”. Jugal Kishore Birla donated Rs. 5,000 to start research activities. Fund collection continued

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