Most people tend to mark the beginning of Indian international relations thought to Nehru, and his self-proclaimed attempt to build a true non-aligned movement and more enlightened international system. But Indian thought didn’t emerge sui generis after Indian independence, as Rahul Sagar notes in his edited anthology, To Raise a Fallen People: The Nineteenth-Century Origins of Indian Views on International Politics.

For a book that is fundamentally about hope, Philippe Sands’s The Last Colony is a depressing read, not just its in its tale of colonial injustice, but also in its recounting of the US and Britain’s refusal to abide by the norms, the “rules-based order”, that they demand of others. “One rule for you, another for us?” as Sands succinctly puts it.

Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, was the earliest advocate of the Non-Alignment Movement, a doctrine that enabled the newly decolonized nations to keep away from the larger world politics of the Cold War. Additionally, Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, took the stance of non-violence that, in the sphere of international politics, restrained India from interacting with the world in a way that requires aggression. On the one hand, both non-alignment and non-violence have encouraged a view of India as a nation that has not engaged with the world in terms of clearly taking a stand in the face of international conflicts. On the other, India also has also been known to cultivate strategic alliances with nations that show considerably less reticence contrary to the spirit of non-alignment. India also maintains nuclear weapons, thus seemingly violating the fundamentals of non-alignment and non-violence. 

The first diplomatic mission from Brazil to China took place from 1879-1882; it also included Brazil’s first circumnavigation of the globe (sailing east in this case). An account—Primeira circum-navegação brasileira e primeira missão do Brasil à China (1879) by Marli Cristina Scomazzon and Jeff Franco—has recently been published. This excerpt about the delegation’s stop-over in Hong Kong and Macau has been translated from the original Portuguese and is published with permission.

In 1973, the Philadelphia Orchestra boarded a Pan Am 707 plane in Philadelphia for a once-in-a-lifetime journey: a multi-city tour of Maoist China, months after Nixon’s history-making visit. There was drama immediately after they landed in Shanghai. Chinese officials asked for a last-minute change to the program: Beethoven’s Sixth. After protests that the Orchestra didn’t bring scores with them, officials returned with copies haphazardly sourced from across the country, with different notations and different notes, forcing the orchestra to make do.

In the early 1970s, sports may have sparked a thaw in Sino-US relations, but it was classical music that had more lasting influence and would bring Chinese and American musicians together for the first time in the People’s Republic. In 1973, Zhou Enlai invited the Philadelphia Orchestra to perform in Beijing and Shanghai, thus becoming the first American symphony to play in China in a quarter of a century. At the time of Zhou’s invitation, the US table tennis team had already made the term “ping pong diplomacy” a household name and Nixon had already made his secret trip to China. As Jennifer Lin writes in her new book, Beethoven in Beijing: Stories from the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Historic Journey to China, this trip not only marked a turning point in Sino-American relations, but also helped set the future direction of classical music in China and around the world.