If there is one form of Indian posturing that China supports even at multilateral forums, and allows its citizens to adopt freely, it is Yoga.
On Saturday, many cities across China began week-long programmes to mark the second International Day of Yoga, which falls on June 21.
Local governments joined hands with the Indian embassy and consulates across China to organise Yoga classes, with teachers flown in from India and thousands of Chinese expected to take part in sessions over the next few days.
In November 2014, China had happily supported India’s bid at the United Nations to mark June 21 as the world Yoga day, possibly without muttering the name of a snug South Asian ally.
On Saturday morning, more than 600 Chinese practitioners took part in a Yoga session in Beijing’s biggest park. Five Indian teachers guided them.
Senior Indian diplomat Bala Bhaskar read out excerpts from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech on the second International Day of Yoga: “Yoga is much more than a physical exercise – it enables us to access a new dimension of the self, even while providing a holistic approach to preventive healthcare and well-being.”
In eastern China, the Indian consulate in Shanghai helped organise Yoga sessions in nine cities, beginning with Wenzhou on Saturday. Shanghai will hold a session on June 21 that is expected to attract a large number of Chinese followers.
Yoga has steadily become popular in China over the years. Ironically, some Chinese teachers learnt Yoga in the US – and to many here, the origins of the practice was in the US.
That impression is changing.
The first dedicated Yoga institution, the China-India Yoga College, was opened in southwestern China’s Yunnan Minzu (Nationalities) University at Kunming last November.
Yoga has been “gaining a foothold in China in recent years“ and “many of the country's 50,000 fitness centers now offer classes” in Yoga, the state media reported in May.
“Yoga was first introduced into China by Hong Kong practitioner Wai Lana in the 1980s. Her workout programs, which aired daily on China's Central Television, were the starting point for many Chinese yogis,” the official Xinhua news agency reported.
It’s popularity is spreading, with some users on China’s Twittter-like Weibo uploading photos of themselves in various Yoga ‘asanas’ or positions.
The Chinese government wants to publish a teaching manual and issue Yoga instructor qualification criteria.
“The government wants to see more standardisation as Yoga develops in China, with the field already seeing fake Yoga organisations, unqualified instructors and injuries caused by excessive practice,” a state media report said.