Monday, September 05, 2005

The New Five letter word : C****

These days every problem in India and for that matter the rest of the world is to be ascribed to or atleast discussed in the context of…yes… China. Be it the potholes on Mumbai roads, poverty levels in Indian society, pollution levels in the most remote corners of Greenland or the cost of living in Guinea-Bissau, it can all be related to China in some carefully uncovered obscure manner.

It follows then that not wanting to be left behind among the lunatic fringe of society who haven’t yet gotten around to dissecting and having China for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I too had to spend some time grappling with the dragon. My choice of books is often pretty disorderly – especially when it comes to non-fiction, which I don’t read much, I don’t really know if the books I am reading are “the books” in the field to be read, or just books that happened to be sitting in the Whats New section of my library when I was passing by.

Inspite of this tendency to believe in karma, my fate usually doesn’t desert me so easily, and I end up with a fairly decent cross-section of books. (Not counting self-help books which I am always disastrous at choosing, probably goes to show that I don’t need much help, or maybe I am beyond any now.) I walked in to the library confidently and picked up two books that just happened to catch my eye.

The first one is Professor Oded Shanker’s The Chinese Century. Shanker makes a cogent case for why China is not just the factory of the world, but a far more potent superpower than that. Unlike previous stars like Japan that faded out, China is not just a production economy – its vast consuming class ensures that China can offer a far more give-and-take relationship to other economies than Japan and the South-east Asian tigers ever could. He also points out why China’s increasing disparity of incomes itself is one reason why China’s domination in manufacturing will continue to grow, atleast for some time. As manufacturing low-end products becomes more expensive in larger cities with a rise in the standard of living, China can still afford to shunt this out to the hinterland where costs are lower, unlike other countries such as the U.S which move out of low-end low-skill manufacturing industries. The analysis is excellent, though Shanker doesn’t really offer any solutions – possibly they are hard to come by.

The second one I had picked up was Michal Lynch’s Mao, a well-told biography of the man who brought greatness to China and China to almost-ruin. The book is written in a very easy-to-read style and traces the rise of Mao in the context of the fall of the monarchy, the formation of the Communist party and the eruption of the civil war. For the man who authored the Little Red book, it appears that Mao’s beliefs in communism were more in the light of using it to consolidate the party and unify China – he comes across as a man concerned with action rather than ideology. Lynch doesn’t quite condone Mao’s horrific actions during the Cultural Revolution and The Great Leap Forward, resulting in the deaths of thousands of people, including some of his closest colleagues. At times though, it feels as if he is parallelly explaining the track of the times, a track that runs on the course of ‘everything is right during war.’ It explains the manoeuvres through which Mao moves from party founder and thinker to Chairman and Absolute Leader. It doesn’t fully explain though, what drives this man in the quest for total control – Fear of civil war resuming? Desire for wealth? Just lust for total control? I thought the mind of the man could have been explored in more detail. Nevertheless, the book is worth reading just for nuggets like its account of the Long March which is so evocative that one can visualize the comrades walking across the harsh land, miles being covered under the banner of solidarity. It was revealing to note that the Long March was actually a flight in retreat as the communists were being drubbed by Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalists. On the route, the long march picks up steam and after a long period of struggle, goes on to victory in Beijing. History is ofcourse written by the victors, and the initial rout of the long march is fairly well hidden in popular reading.

Being a newbie blogger ofcourse, I had very little idea of blogging in China, until I read this article which talks about how China is subverting even a fundamentally open medium like the web. It says : Techno-optimists … take it as an article of faith that all of China's controls are destined to fail… They point out that when chat rooms are closely monitored, people start talking about "cabbages" when they mean "democracy." …But these arguments ignore a fundamental principle in legal theory: A law does not need to be perfect to be effective. If you're talking about carrots and cabbages instead of multiparty elections, the Communist Party has already won. Ordinary Chinese won't have any idea of what you're talking about. Competing discussion threads that rant against the Japanese, on the other hand, will continue to enjoy mass appeal.

A few days ago, though, I had mailed my blog address to a close friend of mine who lives in Shanghai. (Yes, I am now in the phase where you shamelessly promote your blog to everyone you know). She wrote back saying, that she would really love to have a look at it, but could I please maybe send some of the stuff to her in another format, like, say a word document so that she could read it? She tells me most blog sites have been disallowed? That sounds strange to me, perhaps one of you would know better. I thought it was only the politically-incorrect stuff like democracy and freedom, not extending to harmless blogs like mine?