The Dragon and the Foreign Devils: China and the World, 1100 BC to the Present by Harry G Gelber - review by John Keay

John Keay

Smoke Without Fire

The Dragon and the Foreign Devils: China and the World, 1100 BC to the Present

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Bloomsbury 512pp £25 order from our bookshop
 

With China supposedly poised to take over the world, it is worth recalling what happened at a couple of history’s other ‘China moments’. In AD 648, when the Tang empire was at its zenith, a Chinese diplomatic mission crossed the Himalayas into Bengal and was there robbed and incarcerated. The attack may have been motivated by religion: although China was overwhelmingly Buddhist at the time, in North India Buddhism was under threat from a Brahminical revival. The Chinese knew this. A stream of Chinese pilgrims to Buddhism’s Indian ‘Holy Land’ reported on the worsening situation, and the 648 mission may have been sent to protest about it.

Wang Huance, the imprisoned emissary, managed to escape. He recrossed the Himalayas, raised a largely Tibetan army, and returned to wreak vengeance. Tang histories report a notable victory ‘whereupon India was overawed’; Indian sources stay silent. The Chinese withdrew and the matter is not further mentioned. But although well-informed and

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