What made you decide to visit Brown for the Year of China?
Professor (of Physics) Chung-I Tan wrote to me and mentioned this event. Basically, he was interested in talking about the whole issue of China and India and the relations between India and China, and that’s what I’ve been working on for a very long time now. So it seemed to me it was a very good fit, and I’ve always enjoyed coming to Brown. It seemed like an interesting thing to do.
Why is it important to discuss these issues?
China is emerging as a major economic and political power in the world. It’s a very remarkable phenomenon – it’s a historical thing. I can’t think of any subject that’s more urgent or important.
What are the major issues in the relationship between India and China?
There are many, many issues … with trade, the borders between India and China. There are many issues that are very important for both countries. Today, the most difficult and disturbed part of the world is the area around Afghanistan. Afghanistan is close to China – it shares a border with China. It doesn’t have a border with India, but it is close to India, and it has historical connections with India and then there’s Pakistan as well. I really think it’s very hard to see a situation in the future where there is peace in Afghanistan and the region around it except through the cooperation of countries like India, China, Iran and Russia.
Why is it important to be engaging with these issues on an American college campus?
As I said, China is a very important place – industrially, politically, intellectually, economically. One tends to forget that. Because of historical reasons, America looks toward Europe. It hasn’t looked toward Asia historically, and I do think that’s something very important in the years to come. We’re returning to a situation where Asia and Asian economies will become dominant in the world.
I think it’s important to talk about this on a college campus. In the time that I’ve been traveling to China, it’s incredible how many young Americans are now in China – young Americans, young Indians. Tens of thousands of Indians are studying in Chinese universities. In Beijing, there are so many young Americans who can’t find jobs in America and have gone there to try to find jobs. In a very direct way, China is important to the lives of young people. My kids are in college, as well, and I always tell them that they have to think about it.
How did you decide to become an author and journalist?
I was always a big reader – I loved to read, and after a certain point, that’s what takes you into writing. If you love to read, it’s the natural thing to do. I love fiction, especially novels, and I love historical novels.
How do literature and anthropology come together in your works?
Anthropology is about the world at large, literature is about the world at large. There are many areas of overlap, but really it’s just an accident that I happened to do anthropology. Everything you do and study helps and contributes to the richness of your work, the breadth of your works. My journalistic career helped in my work as well.
What do you hope to accomplish during your visit? What do you hope students and the Brown community take away from your talks?
I want them to get a sense of how important the relationship between India and China was in the 19th century and that this is not something new – it’s just a new iteration of a historical axis.
Do you have any advice for students who want to pursue a similar career path as you?
My career path has been very idiosyncratic, so no. I think the careers of tomorrow are completely unlike the careers of yesterday. The most important part of writing is reading – read what interests you, what will help you write what you want to write.