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Doctoral Project

Indian Philosophy Re-Imagined in Late 19th/Early 20th Century China
Lisa Lindkvist Zhang (M.A.)

Towards the end of the Qing dynasty and the beginning of the Republican era, many Chinese literati became increasingly interested in the idea of India. This heightened attention on the subcontinent was generated partly because of an increased traffic from India consequent to British imperial reach, and partly because of Japanese import of ‘Indian’ Yogacara Buddhism to China as well as the rising tide of pan-Asianism. This research project traces the articulation of ‘Indian Philosophy’ -- considered by some Chinese thinkers to be the core of ‘Indian culture/civilisation’ -- during this pivotal period. Indian Philosophy is here not understood in the broad sense of a rich thought-tradition with origins in South Asia, but as a transcultural trope used by modern Chinese intellectuals to invoke and conceptualise ‘Indian’ (or Yindu), ‘Philosophy’ (zhexue ), giving birth to the late 19th century Japanese/Chinese neologism ‘Indo Tetsugaku/Yindu zhexue’. At the time, ‘Indian Philosophy’ was often deployed as a tactic by Chinese thinkers to tackle the challenges which the Chinese nation and society faced, especially the prevalent sense that China was out of joint, running behind the ‘West’. Some proponents of Indian philosophy believed that its spiritual, logical and scientific spirit and resources, could guide the nation forward. While at the same time, critics professed that Indian philosophy (particularly in what was, and still is, seen as its embeddedness in Hinduism) stood responsible for India becoming weakened and allowing itself to be colonized – a most undesirable future for China. Unpacking the social and political choices which lead to these understandings of Indian Philosophy in China, I hope to delineate, not only Chinese imaginaries of Indian philosophy, but also how it served as an other ‘other’ (apart from the modern western other) with which Chinese identity compared itself with.

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