Written by Adam Horálek
Krno, Svetozár (2014): Himalájske veĺmoci [Himalayan Powers]. Univerzita Konštantína Filozofa v Nitre, Nitra. ISBN 978-80-558-0713-3. 188 p.
China and India constitute today’s most increasing super-powers in the world with the two most rapidly growing economies and the two biggest populations comprising one third of the world’s population. Therefore, there is a need for comparison of these two states and neighbors. The book written by Professor Svetozár Krno is the one which takes up this challenge. The title of the book – Himalayan Powers (or Superpowers) – is a bit misleading as most of the readers would probably expect the book to be focused more accurately on the Himalayan region and its traditional states such as Nepal, Bhutan and historical kingdoms such as Tibet, Sikkim, Guge, Mustang, etc. However the title may seem confusing, it is a very correct and very inspiring title indeed. Not only does it make the reader aware of the fact, that these two superpowers, for decades enemies and nowadays economic and political partners, though very pragmatic ones, are neighbors not only geographically, but also culturally and religiously.
The author is based at the Department of political and European studies at the University of Konštantín Filozof in Nitra, Slovakia. As a political scientist both countries are not his only region of interest and therefore his book cannot be understood as an in-depth study of both countries but rather as a political-scientific focus on these superpowers. The content of the book appears very overrated. Not only has he tried to combine information about both India and China when each of them could deserve an individual book, but also the scale of the topics the author tries to cover is too ambitious. The book is divided into two major parts, the first on China (pages 13–89) and second on India (pages 90–161). Each of the parts covers topics from a general overview, religious characteristics, chronological overview of the history of the particular state, political developments in the 20th century, and the contemporary ethnic and political situations of both countries. As it appears, its aim is too ambitious to be complete and neither of the topics are exhausted. However, the reader should appreciate the coverage of both countries from a holistic perspective. At least that is, in my opinion, what the author aimed for. The book cannot be understood as a complete overview but rather as a short holistic perspective combining information from very different disciplines and combining them into inspirational conclusions and rhetorical questions.
The very first chapter on China – Peculiarity of the Middle Kingdom – does not leave the reader unaware of the fact that the book tends to discuss China in a more philosophical manner. The following chapters on traditional “religions” in China such as Confucianism, Taoism, Legism, Cult fo Shenung, and Buddhism try to point out the most significant parts of the respective religion and philosophy on the constitution of the phenomenon known to us as China. He combines the traditional explanations of each religion with the western tradition of philosophy and religious studies. Therefore, there is little description of the religion itself but rather it puts its impact on Chinese society in the wider context. Even though the scholars focusing on Chinese religions may concisely accuse the author of particularism, eclecticism or shallowness of his descriptions, there is still some contribution of the author’s perspective. The following chapters try to cover at least five thousand years of Chinese history from the first hominid habitat over the mythical emperors towards Deng Xiaoping’s reforms. Of course, in some twenty-five pages it is impossible to cover such an extensive historical development. On the other hand, it is important to point out, that the author focuses pragmatically on this vivid and valid information (at least according to his perspective) for the understanding of contemporary development in and of China.
The same implies to the part of the book devoted to India. The same structure of chapters and topics tries to cover religious and historical development of the no less historical and civilizational center which is India. In general, the book must be read as a political scientific or cultural-geographic focus on these two countries. What I do appreciate the most in the book is the fact that in a not very extensive way the author intends to broaden the perspective of regular readers with a non-sinological and non-indological background. The book is very readable and also quite short which makes it more approachable to a wider audience of both scholars and general readers. It is very much a book following the tradition of regional cultural geography or political studies which has quite a significant tradition in Czechia and Slovakia. Therefore, even though it may be accused of anachronism, it has its place in the scholarly reproduction of knowledge.
Despite the fact, that the author is neither educated in Chinese, Hindi nor any other oriental language, the book contains minimum errors in translations and transcriptions. Partially it is due to the usage of Slovak standard transcription not the international version (pinyin in the case of Chinese). Even though it is a general trend to use pinyin and international transcriptions in scholarly works, in the case of this book and due to the conception and intention of the book the choice is understandable. Chinese studies in Slovakia are on a quite considerable rise. The Slovak scholars produce the Asian Newsletter and are very innovative in scholarly outcomes on China and other Asian regions. The author is very well aware of these activities and of most of the significant personalities in this field of study. Still or maybe just because of it, the book seems to avoid the trends leading towards case studies and more specifically focused monographs, and keeps the tradition of a holistic approach to the region.