In a rare gesture, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Friday personally presented India's coveted civilian award Padma Bhushan to Ji Xianlin, renowned Chinese Indologist who has inspired love for Indian culture and literature among generations of his countrymen.
Mukherjee paid a visit to the ailing 97-year-old Ji, who is the first Chinese to receive the honour, at a military hospital where he has been staying and presented the medallion and award certificate.
Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and India's Ambassador to China Nirupama Rao also accompanied the minister, who is on a four-day visit to the country.
On the eve of the Republic Day, the Indian government had announced the award to Ji, a widely respected scholar and a Sanskrit expert who had not only introduced Indian studies in China, translated Ramayana from Sanskrit to Chinese but also promoted relations between the two neighbours.
Ji, considered to be the country's foremost Indologists, translated the Ramayana from Sanskrit to Chinese in poetry form secretly during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), reflecting his passion for Indian culture and civilisation.
His memoirs of the 10-year turmoil titled Memoirs from the Cowshed was published in 1998 and touched the hearts of millions of Chinese readers.
Apart from Ramayana, Ji has also translated several major Indian classics into Chinese, including the Shakuntala and Panchatantra, and taught many generations of Chinese students, many of whom have pursued Indology.
Ji, a Life Professor at the Peking University is a writer, paleographer and historian who is widely respected for his erudite study of Buddhism and the cultural interaction between India and China.