Visual chronicle of Tagore’s forays into China

July 21st, 2011 - 4:41 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, July 21 (IANS) A showcase of more than 50 archival photographs and press clippings, “Rabindranath Tagore in China”, compiled by the Shanghai Municipal Archives over the years, will open in India for the first time Friday.

The exposition at the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) is a visual testament of the Nobel laureate’s visits to China and the guests from China to Visva Bharati University in India drawn from various publications and personal anthologies of photographs.

“The showcase is a joint collaboration between the Shanghai Municipal Archives, Shanghai’s People Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, Indian Mission in Shanghai and the ICCR,” says Suresh Goel, director-general of ICCR.

It will mark the 150th birth anniversary of Tagore.

Tagore, an avid traveller, forged an indelible bond with China over a period of five years between 1924 and 1929 when he visited the country three times.

A sneak peek at the “Tagore in China” spread by IANS offered rare insights into the poet’s itinerary in the country.

Four black and white photographs shot in 1929 show Tagore, his friend Xu Zhimo, his wife Liu and friends at the Fayuan temple in Beijing at the invitation of the Buddhist New Youth Association.

A famous Chinese painter, Xu Beihong, who was invited by Tagore to Visva Bharati in 1940 spent lot of time with the poet. In the course of his meetings and discourses with Tagore, Beihong was inspired to paint Tagore at work and at leisure reading the newspaper. The former was a full portrait of the seated poet while the latter was a line drawing of Tagore at work.

A set of five photographs show the painter’s visit to Shantiniketan and the drawings he made of Tagore.

Tagore struck a chord with the Chinese with his Indian philosophy of unity, tolerance and social justice at a time when China was undergoing a socio-political change. The old structues of monarchy were crumbling in the deluge of Western ideas, 10 years after the 1911 revolution which overthrew the last Chinese emperor.

The bard from Bengal had whipped up “a Tagore fever” with the attention that the Chinese press showered on him and also courted a small measure of controversy with his pan-Asian ideology.

Publications like the Orient magazine, Novel monthly and the Budhist New Youth dedicated special editions to Tagore.

Tagore was 63 years old when he arrived in China for the first time. He visited Hangzhou, Nanjing, Jinan, Beijing, Taiyuan, Hankou and Shanghai.

Of the all places, Shanghai was special because his translator and old friend Xu Zhimo lived in the city. Located at the mouth of the Yangtze river as the gateway to the mainland, Shanghai drew celebrities and intellectuals from all over the world back in the 1920s.

Tagore scholars in China say the friendship between the 27-year-old Xu and the 63-year-old poet was like father and son. Xu Zhimo, who studied in Cambridge, stood by Tagore when the poet was criticised for his romantic views by Chinese intellectuals and people in 1924.

Later, Xu offered the Nobel Laureate hospitality when Tagore visited China five years later in 1929 at his home in Simingcun in Shanghai.

The showcase closes July 27.

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