Friday, August 15, 2008

Chindia or Inhina.

In her book “ Smokes and Mirrors”, Pallavi Aiyar gives an absorbing account of her 5-year stint in China, and the many encounters with interesting people and a range of experiences, while as an English teacher at the Beijing Broadcasting Institute and later as the Correspondent for The Hindu. Inevitably, comparisons with India keep cropping up.

Towards the end of the stay, she asks herself the question, “If I could choose, would I rather be born Indian or Chinese?”

Difficult question with no black or white answers, she admits. One provided roads, schools and electricity, but stifled diversity, criticism and participation; the other allowed diversity, criticism and participation, yet achieved little in improving livelihoods and providing economic opportunities.

But if forced to reply in broad brush strokes she would assert: were she to be able to ensure being born even moderately well-off, she would plump for India over China. In India, money allowed to exist happily enough despite the failure of the Govt. No electricity, you could buy a genset. No police protection, you could have your own security agency. And so on.

On the other hand, were she to be born poor, she would take her chances in authoritarian China, where despite lacking a vote and the freedom that is taken for granted in India, the likelihood of her being decently fed, clothed and housed were considerably higher. More crucially, China would present her with greater opportunities for upward socio-economic mobility. So that even though she may have been born impoverished, there was a better chance she wouldn’t die as wretched in China as in India.

I am reminded of what Singapore’s Lee Kyuan Hew asserts frequently, that Asian countries are unfit and too indisciplined for democracy of the western variety. Some sacrifice of personal freedom and liberty was necessary, in the larger interest of society. But what he experimented with in Singapore worked in a country of that size, whereas in countries as large as China or India, you have to swing to either end of the democracy-autocracy balancing wheel.

1 comment:

deepthinking said...

I am new to your blog and I already love the topics you select and write. Very well written. Keep up the good work....