Thursday 3 December 2020
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Churning Of River Yangtze: Challenges For Indian Minds

Virus transmission is just one of the many outcomes due to the churning on the banks of River Yangtze this century: A historical perspective

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According to ancient Indian philosophy and Hindu Puranas, the churning of the ocean resulted in the production of halāhala (poison) and amrita (nectar of immortality). Amongst other things, the churning also produced pārijāta (flowering tree), Kāmadhenu (wish-granting cow), Shāranga (powerful bow), and shankha (conch shell), which were distributed to the participants involved in the entire process of churning the ocean. The Chinese are an ancient civilisation, too, with a history of thousands of years with most historical developments happening along the valleys of the Yangtze or the Yellow River. These regions are witness to many twists and turns that determined many historical events, sometimes at a global level.

Civilisational states like India and China have many historical events or incidents considered very significant in the historical timelines. World history prior to the 1950s is full of wars and battles, which dictated changes in boundaries of many kingdoms. India and China are no exception to this fact.

The outcomes of certain wars or battles in both countries influenced the thoughts of military planners and strategic thinkers for centuries. Visual arts have extensively focused on these specific events for movies, non-fiction and dramas in the 21st century. India film industry produced a movie titled Panipat and released it on 6 December 2019. This movie is based on the Third Battle of Panipat between Afghans and Marathas near the Yamuna in the year 1761. The battles fought near the banks of River Yamuna at Kurushetra, Panipat and Tarain determined the seat of power in Delhi for centuries.

Similarly, the wars or battles fought on the banks of the River Yangtze decided the fate of the Han Empire in AD 208. The famous military battleground along the Yangtze witnessed epic military battles. The Chancellor of the Han Empire, Cao Cao, known for his military genius and contributions to many war journals, together with the allied forces of Liu Bei and Sun Quai lost the Battle of Red Cliffs. The large military forces of Cao Cao lost the decisive naval battle, which resulted in the downfall of the Han dynasty. The ambitions of Cao Cao to dominate the south of the Yangtze were never fulfilled with the defeat at the naval battle on the Yangtze. This war resulted in the beginning of the Three Kingdoms period in Imperial China. During this naval battle, Cao Cao’s military forces had to face the plague, which decreased the efficiency of the war-fighting capabilities.

The military battlefield along the Yangtze river decided the fate of political power and led to the decline of the Han dynasty. In the 20th century, the downfall of China’s Qing dynasty began with an uprising or revolution on the banks of River Yangtze, opposite the mouth of River Han (the largest tributary of River Yangtze). The uprising was carried out by armed members of the secret societies and revolutionary groups like the Literary Society and Progressive Association against the imperial Qing government on 10 October 1911. The flames of revolution spread like wildfire with 18 provinces in southern and central China agreeing to secede from the Qing government in December 1911. The revolution that had begun on the banks of Yangtze was successful in ending the rule of Qing or Manchu rule over China for five centuries. This political and military churning on the banks of the Yangtze created conditions to transform Chinese politics, culture and society. In the same year, British Indian authorities made an announcement to shift their political capital (for the British Indian territory) from the banks of River Hooghly to the Yamuna.

Fast-forward to the present when the World Military Games were held on the banks of the Yangtze during 23-28 October 2019. This event saw the participation of many soldiers from across the globe. Around the same time, the transmission of the mysterious virus began from the banks of River Yangtze to create global chaos thus impacting more than 200 countries in the last four months. Global media is engaged in propaganda wars to confirm and decide the birthplace of the virus; between the seafood market and a scientific lab. Scientists, professors and researchers are all engaged to solve the mystery of the virus, which landed at the river banks of Yamuna, Indus, Kaveri, Hudson, Nile, Thames etc, all around the world. Diplomats are engaged to shape the narrative of their respective countries and arrange medical supplies. Millions from the textile industry workforce is engaged to stitch masks to save human lives along with doctors and other medical workers. The quality of the medical equipment and their availability at hospitals remains a global challenge.

Clean water is flowing in many Indian rivers like Yamuna and Ganga after many decades. However, the mysterious virus rapidly spread from the banks of the Yamuna to many corners of India in just a few weeks. Similar incidents of virus transmission are recorded across the globe. In the midst of this chaos, one participant involved in the churning at the Yangtze riverbank announced his victory, while all other participants are still trying to solve the mysteries behind the virus.

There are many lessons to be learnt from the churning on the banks of the Yangtze situated in central China. The fate of political dynasties of China — Han and Qing — were determined along River Yangtze in the past. If history is to repeat itself again, rapid transmission of the mysterious virus will play a dominant role in the shaping of domestic Chinese power politics in the years to come. History is witness to how the banks of River Yangtze flooded the ambitions and dreams of Cao Cao, leading to the formation of the Three Kingdoms period, resulting in political stability in ancient China. In 20th century history, the Yangtze once again rose to prominence by being the birthplace of the October Revolution, which occurred in the year 1911. The possibilities for modern revolutions along the Yangtze to impact global politics continue to grab the attention of scholars across the globe. The political future of many political leaders and their popularity will be closely associated with the virus and its transmission in China and many other countries.

China will celebrate the centenary anniversary of the CPC (Communist Party of China) foundation in 2021. The origins of CPC can be traced to the May Fourth Movement, which was primarily a university student protest against the Chinese government’s weak response to the Treaty of Versailles at the Paris Peace Conference in the year 1919. In the 21st century, the mysterious virus transmission from the banks of the Yangtze locked thousands of universities and impacted millions of students in educational institutions across the globe for many months. Educational institutions are still adapting to the new culture of online teaching.

Only the future can provide answers about the response of the students in schools and universities against government authorities’ response to the virus transmission and its spread in China and across the world. It will be difficult to predict the social responses of the student communities towards the new culture of wearing mask and social distancing.

The shadow of the virus and the mental trauma associated with the virus will dominate the minds of billions of people across the world when CPC will celebrate its first centenary celebrations in the year 2021. For the second anniversary of CPC in the year 2049, it will be forty years of virus memories for billions of minds in China and elsewhere.

If a decision made by global powers in Paris in the year 1919, can create student protest against Chinese Government weak response in Beijing in the 20th century. The global students thoughts, ideas, and innovations against the Chinese Government response to virus in 21st century is a question with a potential of million replies, thousands of journal articles, hundreds of books and many other things similar to the churning of the ocean in ancient Indian puranas.

The Paris Peace Conference in the 20th century had representatives from 27 countries which included Great Britain, France, Japan, China, USA, Italy, and Greece. It was only the Chinese delegation which refused to sign the treaty at the signing ceremony due to many issues like the return of Shandong to China in the year 1919. Interestingly, 20th-century powers like the US, the UK, France and Italy, which played a major role in the Paris Peace Agreement, have witnessed tens of thousands of virus-related deaths and infections in the last two months. Virus transmission is just one of the many outcomes due to the churning on the banks of River Yangtze in the 21st century. The outcome from the churning of the oceans will only start once the lockdown ends with unpredictable results in the future.

Kota Mallikarjuna Gupta
Kota Mallikarjuna Gupta
Doctoral candidate in Chinese Studies at Center for East Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. China-United States relations and Chinese Foreign Policy is the focus of his academic research. He has published several papers/articles on various topics like Chinese Military Modernization, Chinese Ship Building, China’s military exports, and CPEC.
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