(This column was published in DNA edition dated January 2, 2008.)
By Venky Vembu
Journalists reporting on China are often criticised by Chinese interlocutors for focussing more on the country’s socio-economic and cultural problems – of which there are plenty – than on what’s good about it.
A Chinese official once bitterly complained to me that some of my reportage was overly critical of China.
It isn’t true, of course: as a journalist reporting on China from an “Indian perspective” and for an Indian readership, I’m acutely conscious that many of China’s problems are similar to those that India faces, and I try to reflect that in my writing.
But in the spirit of openness that characterises Indian media and society, I also look at the dark underside of China’s undisputed economic rise, and its impact on social and cultural mores, with a fair element of criticism. Not to do so would be dishonest.
But, hey, this is the festive season, and a new year is upon us – a year in which China hopes to host the grandest Olympics ever. And after a recent backpack tour of southern China, and some enduring, warm interactions with ordinary Chinese people, I’m gushing with goodwill for China.
In that spirit, le me list here some five things that I unreservedly love about China.
No religious/caste wars: Sure, China witnesses over 80,000 “mass incidents” every year, and of course it goes too far in repressing religious freedom. And the ‘spin’ that the government puts on building a ‘harmonious society’ is sickeningly syrupy. But China doesn’t witness bloodletting in the name of religion or caste, of the sorts you see in India from time to time.
As a corollary, you don’t have politicians spewing communal or casteist poison and campaigning on platforms of hatred. You don’t also have mad mullahs issuing fatwas on tennis stars’ skirts and so on.
Project implementation, not politics: As opposed to India, where everything from building a bridge to signing nuclear deals with other countries is viciously politicised – and put in deep freeze for eternity – China gets things done.
The emphasis is on project implementation, and even if the methods employed may not be above criticism, it is a huge contrast to the Indian way.
Women at work, safely: Wherever you travel in China, you’ll see women at work, participating as productive forces in the economy. Not just in traditional occupations, but as bus drivers, toll booth operators, factory workers, and in hospitality services and in new-age industries.
Many of them relocate to cities far away from their hometowns and families, stay in dorms, and return home only twice a year. (It happens in India too, but not on the same scale as in China.)
And although the commodification of women in hospitality services is complete, on the streets of China’s cities and towns, women are not subjected to rape or “eve-teasing”, as in India. I’ve seen women pedalling alone at midnight in many cities and towns, without fear of “molestation”, which is an index of how civilised a society is.
A sporting superpower. The Beijing Olympics this year will confirm China’s supremacy in international sports. Contrast that with India’s signal failure on this count, and you have to wonder how China, which too is a developing nation, with the same problems of widespread mass deprivation, “punches above its weight”.
The warmth of strangers: But perhaps my most compelling reason to love China is the indescribable warmth and kindness of ordinary folks. Wherever you travel, you’ll be touched by open-hearted hospitality that, to be fair, you’ll experience in parts of India too.
If you can speak a bit of Chinese and will join them for a Sunday-morning choral singing session (or tai chi) in the park or for a round of mah jong or Chinese chess, you’ll find yourself enveloped by their hospitality and good cheer. It’s enough to get you singing Ai Wo Zhong-guo (I Love China).