West Heavens is an integrated cross-cultural exchange programme. It aims to untangle and compare the different paths of modernity taken by India and China, to facilitate high-level communication between the two countries' intellectual and art circles, and to promote interaction and cross-references between the two countries through social thoughts and contemporary art. Since 2010, the project has organized more than 100 events including forums, exhibitions, film screenings and workshops, as well as publishing more than 10 books.
Modem India is both near China and far away. Apart from vague generalizations, and supposedly Indian-Chinese economic rivalry enthusiastically promoted by Western media, most Chinese people are unaware of India. Of course we are aware of India’s rich history but we are less familiar with its modern culture, in particular the significant role played by Indian thinkers in international academic circles. As China’s neighbour and traditional ally, India has long been deserving of China’s attention. As a large modem nation, India also has tremendous economical, cultural, and technological potentials. But the most important reason for China to connect with India is to enlighten ourselves.
China has been possessed by the demon of modernization for over a century. From revolution to Cold War，and now capitalist globalism, China has been unable to shake off paradigms set by the West. Even Chinese discourse about modernity has so far been trapped by dichotomies of “East/West” and “China/West”. No wonder that efforts at developmental self-reliance have only led to increasingly westernized economic and political institutions and lifestyles. Today the West that China emulates as the model of “advanced civilization” is no longer suitable for guidance, and yet access to China’s own historical resource has been blocked by the framework of these models. To establish a position for itself outside the two Western Cold War ideological paradigms, to develop historical resources beyond Western ideals, China must make connections elsewhere. Among Asian countries that have struck off on different paths of modernization, but still successful by the parochial standards of “prosperity”, India has much to offer its neighbours. For more than a century, challenges of imperialism and capitalism have forced India and China to develop political strategies that have profoundly transformed both societies. To share this experience is valuable for Indians and Chinese alike.
For China, long before the seismic cultural shift towards the West it had experienced one other profound cultural turn. The Buddhist tum did not bring comparable destructive fervour as the past century of revolutions, but its influence was just as far reaching; Buddhist learning took many centuries before it was fully absorbed into Confucian scholarship in the Song dynasty (10-13 C). Today, after a century of revolutions, it is important to remember this history of cultural self-transformation. At this age of global change it is critical for China to remind ourselves that in our imagination of the world there is not just the West, but also the “West Heavens”.