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India Using Yoga, Films to Win Support Overseas

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi performs yoga with a crowd of thousands in New Delhi, India, June 21. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi performs yoga with a crowd of thousands in New Delhi, India, June 21. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das)

The world held its first International Day of Yoga on Sunday. Yoga events took place in almost 200 countries. The Indian government organized many of the events. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the leader who suggested to the United Nations to mark June 21 as International Day of Yoga. He said India wants to protect yoga as the country’s gift to the world.

The U.N. liked the idea and declared the U.N. observance. Some Muslim groups have criticized the act. They see it as part of a program to support the efforts of Hindu nationalists.

Guru Modi popular on Weibo, China's "Twitter"

Yoga is an ancient spiritual, physical and mental practice. In India, Prime Minister Modi has taken on the job of a yoga guru for China’s Internet users. He is providing a daily yoga class to his followers on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. His Weibo posts also include images of exercise positions, and a list describing yoga’s effects on human health.

The posts are the latest in a series of Indian efforts to connect directly with people in China. India hopes to use the two countries’ shared links to Buddhism and other traditions to build emotional bridges.

Mr. Modi is not the only one seeking to play up the cultural ties between the two. Last month, he and Chinese President Xi Jinping exchanged Buddhist artifacts when they visited a religious shrine in Xian. The shrine was built in memory of Xuanzang, the sixth century religious worker who went to India and brought back the first collection of Buddhist writings to China.

Mr. Modi also joined Premier Li Keqiang to watch a joint demonstration of Chinese Tai Chi and yoga at the Temple of Heavens in Beijing.

Thousands of people performed yoga on yellow mats at the Eiffel Tower in Paris Sunday.

Thousands of people performed yoga on yellow mats at the Eiffel Tower in Paris Sunday.

A good foundation to develop relations

Ma Jiali is a South Asia expert with the Beijing-based Central Party School of the Communist Party. He says “People in China have respect for Indian culture and traditions. It is a good foundation to develop relations between the two countries.”

China’s first yoga school was launched earlier this month in Yunnan Province. The school is a product of a cooperation agreement reached during Mt. Modi’s visit. The idea is to establish rules for the teaching of yoga in China. Critics say the country’s yoga industry has expanded too quickly. They say this has led to many teachers with questionable qualifications and a lack of knowledge about the subject.

Zubin Zarthoshtimanesh is a follower of the world famous guru B.K.S. Iyenger. He says, “All over China, you see a rising enthusiasm for yoga. But there is a need to guide students to the proper way of practicing yoga.”

Mr. Zarthoshtimanesh and 19 other Indian teachers recently trained about 1,200 Chinese students in Chengdu city. The five-day camp ended on June 21, the U.N.’s International Day of Yoga.

Sharing popular culture and philosophies

And it is not only in yoga where India is seeking to build ties with China. The two countries recently agreed to push forward with three joint production films. One is called “Kung Fu Yoga” and will star Jackie Chan.

Chinese theaters are now showing a Chinese language version of “PK,” an Indian film that has proved to be popular in different parts of the world. The movie tells the story of a human-like alien that comes to Earth and questions religious customs. The film took fourth place in terms of popularity in China.

In Shanghai, India has helped establish the Center of Gandhian Studies at Fudan University. This is the first time an attempt is being made to offer Gandhian studies in China. The country was fighting a civil war when M.K. Gandhi led his non-violent movement in India. Last September, the Chinese president visited Gandhi’s home in western India at Mr. Modi’s invitation.

Liu Zhen is the Dean of the new Gandhian Center. He told VOA, “Most Chinese have no religion. But there is a growing desire for spiritual life. I think Gandhism, with its focus on truth, would be a good starting point for many Chinese wanting to travel the road to spirituality.”

A child performs yoga at a hotel in Beijing, China, Sunday, June 21, 2015.

A child performs yoga at a hotel in Beijing, China, Sunday, June 21, 2015.

China sees competitor India now as customer India

Han Hua is a South Asia expert at Peking University. He said, “There is a growing sense of shared Asian identity in China. It is now possible to improve the relationship between China and India more than in the past.”

Some observers wonder why China is permitting such direct connectivity with its citizens? For years, the government in Beijing considered India as another competitor in South Asia. And the two countries’ border dispute has lasted many years.

Yet India’s large market and interest in low-cost goods is welcome in China at a time when its exports have fallen sharply. India is also one of the biggest markets that China sees as part of its new Silk Road project.

Prime Minister Modi himself attempted an explanation after speaking to students in Beijing and Shanghai. “If a country allows the leader of a foreign country to address its youth,” he said, “it means that it wants to develop good relations with that foreign country. It is investing in faith in the foreign country on a long-term basis.”

I’m Caty Weaver.

This report was based on stories from reporters Anjana Pasricha in New Delhi and Saibal Dasgupta in Beijing. George Grow adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

gurun. a teacher

artifact n. an object that was produced by people in the past

enthusiasmn. an excitement or strong interest

proper – adj. correct or right

practice – n. the action of doing or using something

alien – n. foreign or not from our world

focus – v. to direct your attention at something

Is yoga popular where you live? Is there some other physical, mental and spiritual activity you take part in? We want to hear from you. Post your answers in the comments section.

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