China Studies in India: Of Caste, Class and Capital

An All India China Scholars Colloquium was organized by the Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS) in New Delhi on 11 August 2012 with the objective of bringing in scholars from different parts of the country to hear their views on three issues: the priorities and challenges in Chinese Studies in the country, impediments to institutionalizing Chinese Studies in India and, the implementation of partnerships between Indian and Chinese institutions.

In his keynote address, Prof. Manoranjan Mohanty flagged three key problems of Chinese Studies in India. One, a lot of research related to China was media-driven while in fact, researchers ought not to focus simply on the topic du jour but think beyond to larger issues and problems. Further, the focus on media-dependant or media-driven research risked two additional problems of being misled or misdirected either by Western biases or by Chinese state propaganda. Two, Indian scholars had failed to come up with alternatives to the dominant Western discourses and models of the study of China ranging from Sino-centrism to cultural relativism to modernization theories. And three, an assessment of the state of Chinese Studies in India revealed that there were in fact more comparative studies about India and China originating abroad rather than India itself. In this sense, older generations of China scholars in India had failed in their goal of developing comparative frameworks on India-China studies and it was the media and Western discourses that had either driven or become the foundation of the Indian state’s efforts at understanding China.

I was discussant in the first session outlining the challenges and priorities in the field. The session opened with the lead speaker Dr. Tansen Sen, Associate Professor of Asian History and Religions, Baruch College, City University of New York highlighting three challenges before Chinese Studies in India – the lack of proper infrastructure, including lack of world class teachers and researchers; the lack of curriculum reform to enable the integration of language studies with disciplinary expertise and analytical tools; and, skewed employment opportunities. (His full presentation was later published in the Economic and Political Weekly and can be read here.)

In my presentation, I too raised three issues that I thought Chinese Studies, and Indian academia, in general had to engage with – caste, class and capital. There was surprise, some mystification and as the session progressed, not a little hostility, to the raising of these issues. Chinese Studies in India has problems enough. Continue reading China Studies in India: Of Caste, Class and Capital