An Indian reader recently commented on one of my previous blog posts on Linkedin by simply stating – “The Chinese are cunning!”. Many uninformed Indians would readily echo this statement. In fact I am working on a presentation that seeks to explain what the average Indian thinks of the Chinese and why. These are my starting points -
1. Political – India and China have fought two wars over border disputes. Each country has depicted the other as the aggressor in these wars to its domestic constituents. China is also close to Pakistan, India’s enemy no.1.
2. Rapid change and opacity – China has undergone rapid changes in the last two decades. Indians who have never traveled to or lived in China are unable to visualize such rapid change since change in India is painfully slow and does not automatically translate to progress. China is also an inward looking society which makes it less transparent from a foreigner’s perspective. Hence, when an average Indian hears about the astonishing growth numbers emerging out of China the impulsive reaction is one of disbelief.
3. Perceived India Vs. China rivalry – When India and China started their respective economic reforms they were similarly placed in terms of several economic indicators. Since the trajectories of their progress have varied greatly, observers in the media and academia have exploited this to conjure up a rivalry between the two countries. The West has also found it convenient to picture India and China as rivals.
4. Institutional differences – The role played by institutions in politics, business and society vary greatly between the two countries. Nothing illustrates this point better than the role played by the government in business. In China the government is regarded as an ideal business partner which is the most influential trendsetter, innovator and investor in any industry both at home and abroad. On the other hand any business related association with the Indian government (except when it is a potential customer) is mostly viewed as a necessary obstacle. Indians understandingly find such role reversals bewildering and hence choose to view Chinese institutions from behind a veil of suspicion.
5. Cheap, cheaper, cheapest – Every single town in India with a population of more than a few thousands boasts of a ‘China Bazaar’. In big cities they are found a dozen to the square mile. These bazaars can be anything from multi-storied buildings to a small section of a basement or even an empty corner of a construction site. They mostly sell plastic products, furniture and a host of assorted un-categorizable products. Prices are unbelievably low. The cost of any product is often less than the cost at which it can be transported from China to India. Unsurprisingly such products have a very short lifespan. Thus, “chinese quality” has acquired an indelible place in the diction of every Indian. For most Indians this is the only picture postcard message they receive from China. Again, suspicion and bewilderment are the only plausible reactions to this barrage of unbelievably cheap products from Alibaba’s cave.
A lot more can be said on each of these points. Perhaps in later blog posts. Meanwhile, feel free to add more points to this list.
(Later edit – Yes, this blog post has a provocative title and content. The idea is to encourage a positive discussion to help overcome these misconceptions. Without understanding reasons behind such misconceptions it is difficult to overcome them. Most of these misconceptions can be easily cured by more information exchange and people-to-people interaction. I have also edited the title to clarify that only ‘some’ Indians share these views.)