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India’s little known history in China…

July 11, 2011

The Indo-China war fought in 1962, which led to a cold war between India and China, the frost of animosity which continues to linger is little taught in Chinese history textbooks today. Another interesting skirmish well known in China as the Boxer Rebellion though, is studied history. The boxer rebellion was a pro-nationalist movement in China between 1898 and 1901, opposing foreign imperialism and Christianity. The rebels, mainly young Chinese farmers and workers, kept more than 400 foreigners holed up in Beijing’s Foreign Legation Quarter.

Leaving a significant mark on Chinese history, Colonel G. Jaishankar, who is currently serving as the Defence Attaché in the Indian Embassy in Beijing recently brought to life India’s little known though important  anti-chinese role to play. According to accounts dug out by him, during the Boxer Rebellion, British Indian troops fought alongside the British army  which eventually paved the way for the occupation of Beijing by foreign troops. Though not extremely proud of their history though the British in China, Indian regiments made their way to the foreign quarter “crawling through the Imperial sewage canals”, undetected by the Boxers, and were the first troops to come to the aid of the besieged foreigners.

At another point and date, On August 4, 1900, a relief force of more than 3000 soldiers from Sikh and Punjabi regiments left Tianjin, part of the larger eight-nation alliance that was dispatched to aid the besieged quarter, where 11 countries had set up legations. Indian troops were also dispatched to guard churches and Christian missionaries, the targets of the Boxer uprisings.

Later, the British also dispatched Indian regiments to China leading up towards the Opium War, which ended with the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 and the opening up of Chinese ports to the British.

The British deployed Sikh soldiers as law enforcement officers in ports like Shanghai, where their trading companies had set up a large presence by the early twentieth century. The Sikh soldiers were feared by the Chinese with their imposing figures, so much so that the British deemed that they did not even need guns when on duty, Colonel Jaishankar said, citing records from the time.

While these accounts of history don’t paint Indian troops positively, historians claim that the acts need to be placed into context, where both India and China were colonies and made to be aggressive towards each other for foreign profit. There are also accounts of Indian soldiers sympathizing with Chinese peasants – Gaddhar Singh, a Rajput who was in Beijing in 1900-01, empathized with Chinese grievances in his accounts, arguing it was an entirely justified peasant rebellion.

Other examples include the Battle of Hong Kong during the Second World War, when Indian and Chinese troops fought together against the Japanese. The 585 Indians who lost their lives are still remembered today in Hong Kong’s war cemeteries.

Another case in point was in 1994, when the Indian army returned a bell that was looted by British troops from Beijing’s Temple of Heaven when the city was ransacked by foreign troops following the Boxer Rebellion. The bell was later put up for display by the Chinese military.

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