The bust of Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799-1837) at the intersection of Fenyang Lu and Yueyang Lu is often claimed to be the only monument to a foreign writer in China. Not true. It’s not even the only one in the former French Concession. For in May 2010, a bronze bust of Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941) was unveiled at the intersection of Nanchang Lu and Maoming Lu, in honour of his visit to China and the ties he established between the two countries.
Aged just 20 in 1881, Tagore had written an essay entitled The Business of Killing People in China, a powerful attack on the British strategy of producing opium in British India (particularly disturbing for many Indians, including Tagore) and selling it in China, with a devastating effect on the Middle Kingdom population.
As an Asian winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, Tagore encouraged the Chinese to feel the recovery of Eastern glory (yu you rong yan, as the Chinese saying goes - ‘we all share the glory’). Two years later, one of the founding fathers of the Communist Party of China, Chen Duxiu, translated Tagore's prize-winning anthology Gitanjali, making it accessible to the people.
By now a celebrated figure in the country, he undertook a grand visit of China in 1924 in response to ‘Tagore fever,’ described as an “earth-shaking event” by scholars at the time. He came with a message of love and brotherhood; in his view the two civilisations stressed the same concept of harmonious development, only in different languages: vasudhaiva kutumbakam (the world is one family) in Sanskrit, and shi jie da tong (universal brotherhood) in Chinese.
[All images by Nicky Almasy]