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Here Be (No) Dragons

The Indian media reserves its vitriol for China. It’s horribly unfair.

Here Be (No) Dragons
Here Be (No) Dragons

It’s an understatement to say that there’s China-bashing in the Indian media. Occasionally, there are rational and insightful voices, but these, by and large, are often submerged by many a 24/7 news channel and the patriotism-trumpeting column inches in newspapers. China is always drawn in cartoons as the Fearsome Dragon with a fang, or an Ugly Big Brother with a shadow. Stereotyping is the name of the game.

Recently, an English daily devoted an entire Sunday page to asking prominent Indians: Would you choose to be Chinese or Indian? Really, would any sensible citizen, let alone those “prominent”, publicly opt for another nationality? Worse, the answers of prominent Indian citizens to the question ranged from “They dress like robots” to “Indian Chinese food trumps Chinese Chinese any day”, from “China’s success is overrated” to “We are the best Asian country”.

The crowning glory in stereotyping must go to the piece a fiction writer wrote titled We dream. Chinese don’t dare to, in which the author promptly pronounced, from her one trip to China, that people there didn’t even “know the difference between what the top bosses want them to know and what the truth is”. How did she arrive at such a dramatic conclusion? Answer: The three female guides assigned to her on her recent China trip turned out to be 30-year-olds, single and virgins!

For a moment, forget the Indian writer’s intemperate inquiry. Forget also the care the hosts took to choose suitable guides for her. But isn’t it ridiculous of her to draw conclusions about Chinese society based on the remarks of the three guides? The writer also failed to notice that all three hailed from rural China, managed to learn English and find jobs in cities. Their achievements not only demonstrate their ability to dream but also that dreams such as theirs do come true in China.

Such portrayals of China are indisputably wrong. China today is an open and dynamic society, boasting 360 million internet users. Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty in the last three decades. Obviously, not all Indians share the author’s perception of China. But hers is representative and inimical to Indo-China relations. It’s often claimed that India is a country where opinions are freely expressed, but this assertion  doesn’t whitewash the fact that these so-called opinions are presumptuous and agenda-driven.

Statements from India’s top officialdom on the thorny boundary issue can’t even tame raging media ‘incursion’ flames.

The media’s primary responsibility is to tell the truth. But a section of the Indian media is doing fellow Indians a great disservice by reporting on an important neighbour like China with dogmatic simplicity bordering on contempt. It seems nothing about China is right—China’s growth rate is always “overrated”; its goods are “cheap and dumped”. What about Indian customers and dealers who benefit from goods otherwise inaccessible to them? When the media talks about work visas, the focus is invariably on China’s attempt to “grab Indian jobs”. Rarely do we read about Chinese workers building roads, power plants and factories in India. One Chinese project in Tamil Nadu has, no doubt, 200 workers from China, but it has simultaneously created 1,000 local jobs. Has the Indian media written about this? On the more thorny boundary issue, the ensemble statements of the foreign minister, the army chief and the foreign secretary could hardly tame, let alone douse, the media “incursion” flames.

Indians deserve to know a China which has changed and continues to change. It’s  open, thriving with robust development, and is a responsible international player. It’s in China’s interest to have friendly relations with India. Chinese people regard Indians with warm affection. Where are the articles reporting this reality? It’s about time the Indian media rethinks its China reportage. For the sake of India itself.

True, this argument applies as much to the Chinese mainstream media. Like China, India is changing rapidly. Phobia usually stems from ignorance. Looked at clearly, the looming large dragon depicted in India is nothing but an illusion, a figment of paranoia. Fortunately, since ten times more Indians visit China every year than vice versa, we now have increasingly sensible voices articulating the new Chinese reality, albeit outside the media. For building robust China-India relations, and nurturing friendship between the two peoples, it’s imperative the Indian media doesn’t remain stuck in a time warp.

(Wang is South Asia bureau chief of Wen Hui Daily, China, and has been based in New Delhi for the last eight years.)

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