Google Translate

Monday, January 16, 2012

China and India: Being Neighbors, They Can’t Be Different

China, the world’s second largest economy after the US, that grew 10% a year during the first decade of the 21st century, continues to enjoy a huge current account surplus, besides $3 trillion worth of foreign exchange reserves, and stands tall over the developed countries of the world that are struggling to keep their currencies afloat.

That is one side of the China story. On the other side, we have Yu Hua, a seasoned novelist, raising a simple question in his latest book, China in Ten Words, whether China has changed after moving away from “Mao Zedong’s monochrome era” to Deng Xiaoping’s “polychrome era of economics”, and answering it succinctly:  one kind of madness has simply been replaced by another. 

During Mao’s time it was all gloating about grain production—inflated harvest figures—while 8 million people died of hunger in Sichuan province alone. And today, it is all about announcing the inauguration of swanky airports, 6-lane highways, or superfast rail roads. 

Yu explains the recent history of China discursively under ten heads—“People”, “Leader”, “Reading”, “Writing”, “Lu  Xun”, “Revolution”, “Disparity”, “Grassroots”, “Copycat”, and “Bamboozle”—freely moving between the past and the present within these boundaries so as to avoid the gaze of the Chinese censors that monitor the net. 

According to Yu, what has remained constant in both these eras is: violence. And the reason is not far to seek, for he says that “since 1990 corruption has grown with the same astounding speed as the economy as a whole.” Perhaps, to give a glimpse of its intensity, Yu says that impoverished peasants have to pay bribes for selling their own blood to vendors supplying blood to local hospitals. According to him, Tiananmen Square is the marker between “a China ruled by politics” and “a China where money is king.” 

In per capita income, the people of China—whose economy is said to be the second largest in the world—rank 100th, says the author. He is forthright in describing the current plight of lesser mortals when he says, “The strong prey on the weak, people enrich themselves through brute force and deception, and the meek and humble suffer while the bold and unscrupulous flourish.” 

To an eager Chinese reader, all that he/she can get is the “grindingly dull accounts of class struggle”, for works of literature are routinely destroyed in book-burning bonfires. 

According to him, survival in today’s China is “like war”, for “there is a breakdown of  social morality and a confusion in the value system.” The chapter on “bamboozle” depicts modern China as a country where trickery, fraud, and deceit have become a way of life.  

Simply put, Yu presents China in such a way that you start wondering if what you have heard all along from tourists visiting China is true. And he appears to have succeeded in achieving his aim: to “clear a path through the social complexities and staggering contrasts of contemporary China.” 

Now, turning to India, one may wonder: Is India in any way different from China? True, India too has caught the world’s attention with an impressive economic performance: India’s economy has quadrupled in size, having achieved an average growth rate of about 7% a year over the past two decades, and over 9% during 2005-07.

There is another side to this impressive economic performance: a recent study carried out on the height and weight of more than one lakh children across six states reveals that 42% of children under five years of age are severely or moderately underweight, and that 59% of them suffer from moderate to severe stunting. The findings—42% of Indian children are malnourished—are described by the Prime minister as a “national shame”, that too, when the country is recording an impressive growth in GDP in recent years. This clearly brings out the link between poverty, food insecurity and nutrition, to which the ruling clan is apparently insensitive. 

Nor is the national leadership better off: the backsliding of the Prime Minister on retail reform shows how weak the Prime Minister is. Besieged by graft scandals, the government is in a freeze. The civil society led by Anna Hazare is demanding a strong anticorruption law. With the attitude of averting responsibility ruling the roost among the government functionaries, the economy has become the victim:  growth for July-September quarter fell below 7% from a year before.

That is what India and China are and their similarities in the contrasts. Yet India stands out on one count: The kind of anticorruption protests that Anna Hazare staged in Delhi is only possible in India, and certainly not in China, an authoritarian state. 

True, China’s economy is more than three times the size of India’s; nor is India’s economy growing as quickly as China’s. Yet India’s rich private entrepreneurship that is dynamic and its democratic institutions shall keep its future growth in good stead. Hopefully.

Image courtesy -


Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Recent Posts

Recent Posts Widget