Why Mahatma Gandhi is becoming popular in China

Mahatma Gandhi Chinese supporters joined Gandhi in South Africa in protests against discriminatory laws

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For the first time, Indian independence hero Mahatma Gandhi's own story of his life is to be available in China.

The Story of My Experiments With Truth, which has sold more than 200,000 copies in India alone and has been translated in to some 35 languages, will now be translated in Mandarin to cater to what Chinese scholars say is the "growing interest" in the leader in their country.

Five volumes of Gandhi's selected works containing his writings on satyagraha [people's movement], religion, politics and speeches, will also be translated into Mandarin.

"Gandhi's works have largely not been available in Russia and China so far. We are really excited with the growing interest about his writings in China," said Vivek Desai of the Ahmadabad-based Navajivan Trust, the 84-year-old publishing house founded by Gandhi which has published more than 300 volumes of the leader's works.

Surge of interest

Dr Huang Yinghong of Guangzhou-based Sun Yat-Sen University said he and a team of academics would translate and publish Gandhi's works in China. Over 80 of the leader's speeches will also be translated.

"A lot of people, especially the young, in China are interested about Gandhi's work but unable to find anything in the local language," he said, adding that he planned to launch the five volumes of translated works by the end of the year.

What is driving the surge of interest in the works of the independence hero in China?

"Gandhi's non-co-operation movement [against British rule] in 1920 and his ability to mobilise people had caught the attention of Chinese rulers," says Prof Shang Quanyu, who teaches at the foreign studies department of South China Normal University in Guangzhou and has been researching Gandhi.

"Until 1950, 27 books and hundreds of articles on Gandhi and his ideas where published here. He was described as the Rousseau and Tolstoy of India."

However, he says, interest in Gandhi's works declined with the rise of communism.

Peace activists hold signs with pictures of the late Indian leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi under his statue in front of the Indian Embassy in Washington. Mahatma Gandhi is an global icon

"Gandhi's advocacy of non-violence and class harmony was out of tune with the Maoist ideology and political climate inside China," says Prof Shang.

Former Indian diplomat and Gandhi expert Pascal Alan Nazareth said that in pre-Mao period, "Chinese thinkers met Gandhi and followed him closely to find an end to their problems".

Though Gandhi never visited China, the leader's non-violent movement touched a chord among many Chinese.

Indian historian Ramachandra Guha has written about Gandhi's relations with the Chinese during his time in South Africa.

Some 1,000 Chinese supporters joined Indians to take part in Gandhi's first peaceful protest in Transvaal province in 1906 to protest against a law that barred Asians from owning property and made it mandatory to carry identity cards, among other things.

Chinese supporters courted arrest during a non-co-operation movement launched by the leader.

After they were jailed, Gandhi "discussed the multiple paths to gods with his Chinese comrades in prison", Mr Guha writes.

"Gandhi emerged as the main leader of the Asians in Transvaal. Chinese people participated in Gandhi's movement and even threw dinners for their Indian friends in South Africa," Mr Guha told the BBC.

Many decades later, in an essay published in 2000, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo compared Gandhi to a "single martyr [who] can fundamentally turn the spirit of a nation and strengthen its moral fibre".

Prof Shang says Gandhi's works became a subject of interest after the economic reforms in China: more than 50 books on Gandhi had been published in the country since 1980.

Mahatma Gandhi Gandhi's works became a subject of interest after the economic reforms in China

Pascal Alan Nazareth said Gandhi was known in China as the founder of modern India and a master of the doctrine of non-violence.

"But now people want to know more about his religious, social, economic and political ideas. China is more inquisitive about his work," he said.

During interactions with Chinese students, Mr Nazareth found many "deeply impressed" with how Gandhi used religion to mobilise people.

"China's Communist ideology rejects religion, but the role of religion in creating a harmonious society is now a matter of great interest at intellectual and policy making levels in China. For this they are looking at Gandhian and other doctrines," he says.

Dr Huang believes Gandhi's teachings "may help people and the state [in China] to consider better ways to express their complaints".

"And yes, Gandhi's suspicion towards capitalism and modernity also need to be considered in today's China," he said.

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