China and India are the two most populous countries in the world.Both countries have very long and proud histories and culture traditions, and both countries went through less glorious moments in the latest 200 years compared to 1000 years ago. In the last 20 years, however, both countries show impressive and eye-catching development. Therefore it would be quite interesting to put the two together for a comparison study.
To start with, I think it is probably fair to say that China’s unification is more cohesive than India, in the sense that China has a universally language (mandarin) in use while South India gives me the impression to use a different language than northern India (I could be wrong on this point). Of course, unification does not save China from worrying about hassles across Taiwan Straits and potential independent movement from Tibet and Xinjiang, while India seems to be continuously bothered by Kashimir and the border with Pakistan and Bangladesh. My feeling is that both countries are afraid that the other will rise to become a super power as none gives the other assurance of comfort with more military, economic or political clout. Such a mutual fear and discomfort is intensified and complicated by the Tibet issue, in which India plays an active role in supporting the Dalai Lama camp. On the other hand, the very intimate relationship between China and Pakistan also discomforts India to a large extent. As an effort to balance, India appears to be more close to US than China.
If I can only pick one area that China shows an obvious advantage over India, I will probably go for efficiency in terms of infrastructure development. Most people who have travelled to China probably will be impressed by the airport, railway system and express highway network stretching through all over the country, which is without any doubt first world standard. As a contrast, India’s infrastructure development lack behind for at least 20 years if not longer. I remember myself taking a road trip in Maharastra a few years ago on a state high way. I enjoyed the trip very much as the people who travelled together with me are very nice and it was an extremely pleasant and educative trip. However it doesn’t change the fact that the road feels like under maintained, being narrow and bumpy like one in a small Chinese town about 20 years back. I also heard that some of the railway system still in use in India could be dated back to the British colonial days, and if true, does seem to show that there is some age in India’s infrastructure.
Another angle to compare the two governments’ efficiency is to see it through sports events held recently. China strikes the world audience in successfully organizing huge events such as Beijing Olympic, Shanghai Expo and Guangzhou Asian games, while India’s performance in a remotely comparable Commonwealth Game with a much less scale can only be called disappointing to be polite, just showing that probably the two governments are not at the same league in terms of events organization, though admittedly China is probably at the extreme of one end and India at the other extreme.
A patriotic Indian nationalist would argue back and say that one of the reasons why India lacks behind in infrastructure development is that India has democracy. As a result the government does not have the right to migrate residents and grab their land for road or airport building, as happened in China. This brings me to the next point: the democracy in India.
If I have to pick one point from India that definitely beats China, and as I imagine myself in the shoes of an Indian, I will probably go for democracy. You see, a proud Indian would say, at least every one of us has a right to vote, and our vote decides where the country goes. The problem, however, is that I am not sure a Chinese will be jealous about the voting rights in India, especially after comparing the living standards of the two countries today. It seems that the democracy in India has not addressed the problem that is supposed to be addressed by the superiority of democracy, naming reduction of corruption (India strikes me as at least as corrupted as China), improvement of living standards (India’s GDP per capita is lower than that of China), and reduction of income gap (it is almost embarassing that with less than $2000 GDP per capita, India has three out of the world’s top ten richest people).
Another point that might make Indian proud and feel better is that there is no one child policy in India, as compared to China. It is true that a lot of Chinese couple were deprived the right to have more than one baby if they wished to. On the other hand, it is also not convincing that having more babies would make Chinese live happier today, especially after they see what’s happening in India. I am of the impression that it takes at least 5 hours to travel from the west side of Mumbai to the east side, if one is lucky, thanks to the mass population and traffic jams. Mumbai’s office rental and housing price is one of the world’s most expensive, as you probably won’t belive it after seeing the condition of those buildings. And as I talk to a few of my friends in India, it is not uncommon for a big family to share a relatively small flat due to economic reasons. I have no intention to defend the one child policy in China. However, my point is that a proper and sustainable policy need to be carried out after the population explosion, and without such follow up policy an over populated city just adds pressure to daily life and brings down the living standard largely.
I might give the audience an impression that I am trying to up-play China while down-playing India, even though this is NOT my original intention. To be clear, both countries export the biggest amount of brains to the developed world (China and India top the oversea graduates and PhDs in USA) and the returnees are quietly making dramatic changes to both countries. India shall have a slight advantage in English assuming that it will continue to be world’s leading language of productivity though China is not far behind thanks to the national English education. India also has a potential advantage in demography with a younger population on average (partly thanks to one child policy in China). However as I mentioned above smart policy need to be conducted to tap the advantage of such labor supply, which could back fire like North Africa if not properly handled.
So far for what has been observed in China and India, which shall lead to the following question: what next – which I will discuss in the next post.