India and China: A comparison

This is first in series of comparisons that could be done between the two countries. For all the non-inspiring traits I mentioned about us Indians, there is one that surely is commendable; as Swami tried to point out – and that is freedom of speech; which is how I am able to write this so freely and you are able to comment so freely (Thanks for your comments). It’s true that I always took this freedom of speech for granted and never realized its value till I got to China – which is at the other extreme.

When we are outside our country we become even more strongly aware of our nationality as we are representatives of our country outside. Let me further explain what it means to me today in an international setting, with people from different nationalities. When a westerner asks about some problems in India, we normally tell them it’s because of the population and they wouldn’t understand as they don’t come from a populated country. But this answer cannot be given to a Chinese person, as after all this is the only country with a population that matches ours (although the population density is lower). Of late, on my trips to India, I have ended up accompanying Chinese on their first trip to India (including a senior Chinese delegation once) and I can tell you they are appalled; mostly by the infrastructure, rather the lack of it. This is compounded by the fact that Chinese government’s answer to all woes is the infrastructure stimulus package. The rate at which the infrastructure is being developed here needs to be seen to be believed. So when the Chinese person comes to India and sees lack of good wide roads, highways, metro system and so on, they can’t believe that this country (which lacks basic infrastructure) will compete with China. Of course, Prof Gupta and his Chinese wife put it very aptly when they say though China is clearly ahead of India, the former looks stronger than it is while the latter is stronger than it looks.

An incident that comes to mind is when I accompanied the delegation to the Taj Mahal from Delhi and the highway was blocked by the villagers who were protesting against a murder – so we ended up taking a kuccha road which increased travel time substantially. The woes didn’t end there. In spite of being put up at the best luxury hotel within 500 metres of the Taj, the golf cart ride to the Taj proved to be a pain for them with urchins trying to climb onto the cart and ask for money – a scene straight out of slumdog millionaire! And then we have the likes of Amitabh Bachchan saying Slumdog is ruining the image of India – but that is the real India! If we/ the Indian government are so concerned about the “image” of India, then the road leading to the Taj Mahal should be cleared of illegal hawkers, urchins, and the likes. In fact given that the Taj Mahal is among the wonders of the world and one of top tourist destinations in India this is the least we can do.

Last night while posting the comments in response to Swami I talked about how we in India have the freedom to move to any city and if I don’t have  place to live there, I can live on the road creating a slum. While slums are clearly not an Indian phenomenon alone, mention must be made here of China’s ‘hukou’ system (system of residence permits, which makes it difficult to move across cities, thereby limiting mass movement of people from rural areas to cities). India, being a democracy doesn’t impose any restrictions on movement of people within the country and as an Indian I am free to go to any part of India. But they think it’s better to restrict movement than to have slums. Now, China’s hukou system has been criticized a lot as explained in this article which is blocked here (an example of the internet restrictions here). But to the Chinese, India’s problem are the slums and also the fact that our government does nothing to control the population growth – again an issue of democratic right of deciding how many children one wants to have. Now an important point as far as beautification of cities is concerned is that in China; the face is Shanghai and it’s very well decorated/ prepped up…but West China (which is the rural China) is the ugly underbelly that China doesn’t want to show. Whereas in India, it is what it is – all out in the open (we really don’t try to showcase only some places which make us feel good about our country). Which I would think is truly commendable and something to feel proud of as an Indian.

Also, lest I be accused of only drawing attention to annoying habits of Indians, I must say the Chinese have their own idiosyncrasies, what with the government in Shanghai trying its best to convince people not to spit, not to wear pyjamas during the expo. And for Deepesh’s comments, would say that the mainland Chinese will surely not read this due to their aversion towards reading English (manifested by the education system). Also, important to note here is that when we Indians feel superior because we know English, we tend to forget that it’s in a way thanks to the British colonization legacy! As for Arvind’s comments; most Indians would become more concerned about country’s image when outside as that’s when you are truly a representative/ ambassador of your country! So if and when I don’t conform to the stereotype image foreigners have of India (after seeing movies like slumdog millionaire); I do tell the story of the elephant and seven blind men and try to explain what being Indian means (which is how the previos post came about). I try to explain how our country is a melting pot of so many different cultures, languages, religions, customs, rituals, and so on.

In the coming weeks, I shall attempt to compare the two countries on food, language, outlook towards progress, outlook towards the west, internet freedom, and so on.

3 Responses to India and China: A comparison

  1. Smita says:

    I recently being in China for few months. What appalled me is the fear psychosis people live in. If you try to discuss current affairs with any chinese (we Indian do regularly) all become a seasoned diplomat. Democracy has many issues (and maybe it’s stopping us from reaching our full potential in many fields), but we have freedom of speech. Unless and until one live in China, noone understand what a blessing we get.

  2. Vikram says:

    Love your writing style. This article has convinced me to become a regular reader of your blog. I especially loved Prof. Gupta’s comment (“though …”).

  3. Sia says:

    Appreciate the simplicity of writing, very refreshing. I stopped reading blogs about a year ago, tired with the (ab)use of english in the ones that qualified to be even half as decent. Any blog that even remotely has any intellectual content – reads like one of those essays I read and wrote, when I gave the GRE.

    There are doubts about the originality of the blog, but anyways, Thanks for a good read 🙂

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