Classical Indian and Chinese World Views on Global Order: A Comparison

A Berggruen China Center Workshop

Jennifer Bourne

These podcasts were recorded at a workshop in Bangkok in early 2018 organized by the Berggruen Institute China Center in Bangkok.

This has been a Microphilosophy production for the Berggruen Institute with Julian Baggini. You can find more about the event below:

On January 29 and 30, 2018, the Berggruen Institute successfully hosted the second workshop on its China-India Comparative International Thought Project in Bangkok, Thailand.

The simultaneous rise of China and India, two of the greatest classical civilizations, is redefining the landscape of contemporary international relations and world order. There is a growing need to rethink and broaden the philosophical and historical foundations of International Relations (IR) in the light of their rise. There is a growing body of literature on Chinese historical thought on IR, led by scholars such as Xuetong Yan from China’s Tsinghua University. There is also an emerging interest in the classical traditions of India, focusing on the thinking and statecraft of Kautilya, Asoka, and the Indian epic Mahabharata. However, there is no work available that compares the classical thinkers and traditions of China and India.

This project is created to develop the first systematic comparative study of the two by assembling a group of renowned Chinese and Indian scholars. This project consists of three phases. The first phase (in Beijing and Qingdao) took place in April 2017 and focused on presentations of Chinese classics on international political thought with comments from Indian perspectives. The second phase (in Bangkok) took place in January 2018 where Indian scholars presented papers on classic Indian texts and IR theories and Chinese scholars commented on them. The third and final phase of this project will be a workshop in 2019 in China and involve joint papers by scholars from both Indian and Chinese perspectives on themes like international order, political leadership, and just war.

This project aims to produce a high-quality academic publication in both English and Chinese, accompanied by dissemination of key ideas in the popular media.

This second workshop in January 2018 was attended by about twenty distinguished professors and post-doc researchers in IR and political theory. They are: Professor Amitav Acharya from American University, Professor Roger Ames from Peking University who also serves as the academic director of Berggruen Institute China Center, Professor Navita Behera from University of Delhi, Professor Daniel A. Bell from Shandong University, Professor Rajeev Bhargava from Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Professor Deep Datta-Ray from Jindal School of International Affairs, Professor Li Li from China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, Professor Siddharth Mallavarapu from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Professor Patrick Olivelle from University of Texas at Austin, Professor Manjeet Pardesi from Victoria University of Wellington, Professor Haixia Qi from Tsinghua University, Professor Upinder Singh from University of Delhi, Professor Kanad Sinha from University of Calcutta, Professor Xuefeng Sun from Tsinghua University, Ph.D. candidate Binfan Wang from University of Toronto, Professor Rihua Wang from Xi’an International University, Professor Jin Xu from Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Professor Xuetong Yan from Tsinghua University, Professor Tingyang Zhao from Chinese Academy of Social Sciences who also is a Berggruen Senior Research Fellow, Post-doctoral researcher Yujia Zhao from Tsinghua University, founding editor of The Philosophers’ Magazine Dr. Julian Baggini, Director of Berggruen Institute China Center Bing Song, and Berggruen Fellowships Associate Director Dr. Jennifer Bourne.

This two-day workshop focused on two themes, Indian classic texts analysis and Indian IR theories review. The workshop started with welcoming remarks from two organizers of the project, Professor Yan and Professor Bhargava. A third organizer Professor Bell followed by giving thanks to the Berggruen Institute for its generous sponsorship. Bell also offered a brief introduction of the project’s purpose and agenda.

Among Indian classic texts, inscriptions on Asoka’s political ideologies and policies were discussed heatedly. Olivelle argued that Asoka based his political philosophy of coexistence and non-violence on Dhamma during his presentation on the relations between states and rulers in Ancient India. In his paper Asoka’s Dhamma as Civic Religion: Toleration, Civility, Communal Harmony, Bhargava illustrated how Asoka adopted Dhamma as the common ground for all social groups to live together in harmony notwithstanding their different world views after Asoka unified the Indian subcontinent. Bhargava emphasized that the fundamental principle of Dhamma is restraint on speech or control on tongue. When presenting on Ideas of Empire in Ancient India, Singh highlighted Asoka’s important contribution on defining the concept of empire as explicitly condemning and rejecting wars. Singh argued that Asoka believed that by making Dhamma the cornerstone of his political agenda and reiterating them in far-flung areas, his moral jurisdiction could extend far beyond his political domain to the whole world.

(Left to Right) Roger Ames, Rajeev Bhargava, Xuetong YAN

Interestingly, Asoka’s Dhamma-Propagation was questioned by Acharya whose hometown was conquered with force by Asoka. However, Asoka never showed any remorse or took any action to rectify the situation. Acharya argued that it is highly possible that history was distorted to only record the positive side of Asoka given his power and influence.

Ames, a renowned scholar on Chinese classics, tried to make a comparison of Dhamma with the Confucianism’s concept of Dao. Ames commented that with Dhamma, kings do not make the laws but only enforce them. whereas with Dao, it suggests “way-making” to actually make laws. Ames further added the concept of voluntarism in Christian theology in the  comparison by asking: Does God do what is right because it is right, or it is right because God does it?

(Left to Right) Deep Datta-Ray and Roger Ames

Further, in Acharya’s presentation on Civilizations, World Orders and the Study of Global International Relations, Acharya endeavored to challenge Huntington’s thesis on “clash of civilization” and argued that civilizations mostly respect and learn for each other in a peaceful way, even as they clash. Tingyang Zhao quoted a famous Chinese anthropologist Xiaotong Fei’s ideal situation of intercultural communication as “proud of one’s own civilization, while appreciating other civilizations, and shared with each other” to support Acharya’s claim of great diffusion.

Acharya also provided examples of several ancient Chinese scholars and pilgrims who traveled to India in search of knowledge. Monk Xuanzhang (AD 602-664), the most famous one among them, traveled a long and hazardous journey to reach Nalanda and spent 16 years there to study and collect Buddhist records. After his return to China, Xuanzang devoted the rest of his life to disseminating the knowledge he learned from India. While agreeing with his argument, several Chinese participants raised an interesting point, that is there is not much evidence found in history of Indian scholars or pilgrims traveling to ancient China to study and learn. Further research needs to be done in this area.

Director of the Berggruen Institute’s China Center Bing Song

On other Indian classics, Kanad Sinha presented on Righteous War, Virtuous Peace and Svadharma: V?sudeva K???a and the Debates on War and Peace in the ‘Udyogaparvan’ of the Mah?bh?rata. When making comment, Bell compared Krsna with Chinese Mencius. Bell argued that Krsna and Mencius both shared an aversion to war and considered war as the last resort after other peaceful means fail. Bell also noted the major difference between Krsna and Mencius is that Mencius believes that human nature is good whereas Krsna does not appeal to the good sense of warmakers and tries to argue against their natural inclinations.

On discussions of Indian IR theories, Pardesi focused on the comparison of historical institutionalism and systems change in ancient Greece, India and China. Datta-Ray explained the rationality of Indian diplomacy by analysing the Indian Epic of Mahabharata in his paper on The Making of Indian Diplomacy: A Critique of Eurocentrism. Mallavarapu provided the readers with a comprehensive introduction on IR theory studies in India in his paper Development of International Relations Theory in India: Traditions, Contemporary Perspectives and Trajectories. Behera pointed out in hisRe-Imagining IR In India that there is no non-western IR theory in India and argued for creating alternative sites of knowledge construction to explain the Indian ways of knowing with India’s own history and philosophical traditions.

(Center) Patrick Olivelle

Commenting on the absence of systematic IR theoretical studies in India, Yan admitted that China shared the same dilemma. Yan believed that the issue was caused by the utilitarian thinking in IR studies which show more interest in practical knowledge in diplomacy rather than theory building. Yan further suggested that it is necessary to have clear academic distinctions between policy studies and theory studies. Yan also cautioned about establishing an Indian School of IR or a Chinese school of IR because good theories need to have universal phenomena rather than on China’s or India’s specialty. Further, it risks being considered as cultural explanations rather than serious theories.

(Center) Xuetong Yan

The workshop concluded with discussion from all participants on identifying the best academic channels for publishing the workshop papers and ways to disseminate the central ideas of those papers for dialogues in the general public. The participants also discussed how to prepare for the final phase of this project in 2019. Several Podcasts from this workshop are being edited and will be published on Berggruen Institute’s website and pushed out through the Institute’s social media platforms shortly. Please stay tuned.

Click here to read the Chinese Language version.