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The Materiality of Friendship

Updated: May 1, 2023

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Kongfuzi as a Source for China-India Interactions during the 1950s (Part 1)

Tansen Sen March 11, 2022


The Kongfuzi Website

Kongfuzi 孔夫子舊書網 ( ) [IMAGE 1], a Chinese online second-hand books and antique store, is becoming increasingly popular among researchers working on twentieth-century China (see here and here [pdf]).

Image 1: Kongfuzi homepage

On sale are hard-to-find books, pamphlets, drawings, photographs, souvenirs, and discarded library collections. The online site can be a treasure trove for those searching for sources beyond those available in Chinese libraries and archives. Most of the items are personal belongings sold by individuals or stores that collect them. Prices are often relatively reasonable. However, to purchase items from Kongfuzi, buyers need to have a Chinese bank account and a local mailing address. Once these steps have been completed, researchers can build their own small archive of Chinese sources [IMAGES 2A & 2B].

Kongfuzi (lit. Master Kong), which is the Chinese name for Confucius, has numerous items that relate to India and China-India interactions. They date from the late nineteenth century to the present day and include Chinese and foreign publications and artifacts [IMAGES 3 & 4].

Image 3: Photographs of Sikh guardsmen in Hong Kong, dating from the late-Qing period on sale on the Kongfuzi website

Many of these items can be used to study topics such as knowledge production about Indian history and society in China, the presence of Indians in China, and interactions between the two countries. This blog samples some of the items I have purchased from Kongfuzi over the past year or so that relate to the exchanges between China and India during the 1950s. The items curated here are important, albeit unknown remnants of a period that is usually defined as a phase of India-China brotherhood because of the famous slogan “Hindi-Chini bhai bhai” (“Indians and Chinese are brothers”), coined by the Indian actor and parliamentarian Harindranath Chattopadhyay . Indeed, they are in one way or another associated with this popular adage of friendship.

Image 4: A book on India, published around 1893, on sale on the Kongfuzi website

The materiality of China-India interactions during the 1950s manifests itself in several ways in these objects. There are metallic lapel pins and items made of paper, including notebooks and a scrapbook, photographs, and comic books. There is also an object that was made of stone, but now available only as an image on a poster. Some of the poems and songs discussed here were part of oral performances and celebratory speeches that have survived in their physical forms in printed books and pamphlets. Most of these objects were produced by individuals or civil-society groups. They reflect the involvement and contributions of non-state actors in fostering and imagining solidarity between the peoples of China and India during a phase in the decolonization of Asia. Bruno Latour and other anthropologists of “things” would correctly point out that some of these objects were imbued with agency, since they attracted and brought together different actors and audiences participating in the performance of China-India friendship during the 1950s.......

The Friendship Song

All musings about the interactions of the 1950s between China and India must begin with the ubiquitous slogan “Hindi-Chini bhai bhai.” It was uttered by political leaders, members of friendship associations in China and India, and rendered into a musical score and performed at almost every event celebrating China-India friendship. Despite its ubiquity, however, much is unknown about the origins of the slogan. It most likely emerged from the “India-China Friendship” poem written by Harindranath Chattopadhyay, though it is not clear when he composed it. I have so far been unable to find the original Hindi version.

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