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On the Difference in Outcomes for China and India in Post-1945 Era: 1

January 20, 2019 15 comments

Approximately three months ago, I wrote about my plans for a couple of series on topics which I had either not tackled or done in a less-than-through manner. In case you are wondering, one series would focus on the reasons why China became the world’s largest economy (in real terms) almost a decade ago while India is.. well.. stumbling around in that general direction. While most of the blame for dismal post-1947 performance of India can still be assigned to the first-, second- and third- order effects of the ‘jati’ system, there are clearly other factors at work- some of which are ‘intersectional’ to the continued existence of that wretched system. Let us start this series by examining them- starting with a comparison leadership cadre of both countries.

But before we go there, let me reiterate a few relevant points and spend the next 3-4 paragraphs giving you some background on the topic. As I wrote in a previous post, the majority of informed outsiders looking at the situation in both countries in 1950 would have put their money on India ending up as the more prosperous of two in 50-70 years. Yet in 2019, the Indian economy is still only 1/4th or 1/5th of its Chinese counterpart in real terms, despite containing an almost identical number of people. Did I mention that they started out at almost the same level in 1950. Let us also be clear that things had not gone well for over a century in either country at that time. In the case of India, it was a heavily exploited colony of now defunct British empire.

In the case of China, it was well.. a whole host of other problems. We can start with the various large and highly damaging rebellions towards the end of the Qing dynasty. One of these, known as the Taiping Rebellion, resulted in about 20-30 million deaths over a period of 14 years. Then there was the problem of western countries such as UK and USA pushing Opium in China which resulted in probably 20-40% of the population becoming dependent on that drug. There is some irony about tens of thousands of mostly white people dying from synthetic opioid overdoses, each year, in contemporary USA- given the major source of that drug. Add into that the humiliation caused by numerous military setbacks against 19th century European colonial powers culminating in the Boxer rebellion. And it got even worse in the early 20th century.

It started with the formal collapse of the Qing dynasty and lead to the Warlord Era– which was much worse than it sounds. And then there was that other unpleasant period due to the partial colonization by Imperial Japan, which culminated in events such as the Nanjing Massacre in addition to many millions more deaths due to that invasion, including many thousands due to activities of Unit 731. And we are not even getting into all the problems caused by on-again off-again alliance between various factions of the nationalists and communists in pre-1950 China. There is a very good reason that the Chinese see the hundred odd years between 1839-1949 as the Century of Humiliation. Long story short, China started from scratch after WW2. And we have not even talked about the Great Famine of 1959-1961 and the Cultural Revolution.

My point is that the modern nation states of India and China started at almost the same time (1947, 1949) and from about the same relative situation. Both had low literacy rates (12-15 % and 15-20 %), not much of an industrial base, very few universities and technical schools etc. Both experienced chaotic conditions during and shortly after their formation (India-Pakistan Partition, final stage of civil war on mainland China). Neither country had experienced unitary self-governance for over a hundred years. Most of the lay people in both countries still believed in tons of superstitions and bullshit. Long story short, both nation states started under equally dismal conditions. And yet in 2019, the economy and global stature of India is a fraction of China.

So let us now start talking about the types of people who ended up in leadership positions in both countries, starting with those involved in their respective independence movements.

The Indian “independence” movement, at least its modern form, can trace its origins to the establishment of the Indian National Congress in 1885. Ironically, it was established by a retired British civil service officer- Allan Octavian Hume. Think about it for a moment, the organisation which came to lead the Indian “independence” movement was not started by an Indian. But it gets better, or worse. Here is something many of you might know about many of the subsequent important leaders of the Indian “independence” movement.. most were the sons of people who had grown rich and powerful from enthusiastic collaboration with the British colonizers of India. Ya.. all those “great” leaders of the Indian “independence” moment were almost exclusively the sons of greedy and treacherous collaborators.

And most did not demand total independence until the early 1940s.. just varying degrees of autonomy from the now defunct British empire. And now you know why I decided to use quotation marks for independence. Sad.. isn’t it? And it gets worse.. if that is even possible. Unlike their Chinese counterparts, most leaders of the Indian “independence” movement were oxbridge educated lawyers with close to zero ability or experience to do anything beyond giving stirring speeches and writing elaborate letters in protest. They had a serious inferiority complex vis-à-vis white people in general and the British in particular. But most importantly, they simply wanted to rule instead of the British and had no real desire to improve the condition of most people in the country, and just wanted to be seen as equal to British on an individual level.

Now let us compare this sorry bunch to their equivalents in the Chinese national movement of early 20th century. Note that I am not implying that their Chinese equivalents were any less power-hungry, double-dealing, generally corrupt and sometimes thoughtless. But there are some very important and relevant differences between the two groups. For starters, most of their leadership did not arise from a group of traitors who collaborated with colonizers. Neither were most of their leaders born in very prosperous families. Sun Yat-sen, Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek came from somewhat comfortable but not unusually rich or politically connected families. Even the second and third order leadership of the national movement was largely derived from people born into poor, middling to somewhat prosperous bourgeois families.

Furthermore, they all agreed that expulsion of foreign colonizers, restoration of unitary authority and building a new secular technological society was not negotiable. Compare this to their Indian counterparts who were fine with continuing caste divisions, widespread poverty, little to no economic development, low literacy, semi-independence etc as long as they were in power. Leaders of the Indian “independence” movement.. you see.. just wanted an equal seat at the table of their British masters so they could regale them with tales with how stupid and poor all those “other” Indian were and have a laugh about it. While it sounds harsh, this is how things went after 1947. The leadership of the Chinese national movement, on the other hand, understood that only leaders of powerful and prosperous nations wield true power.

This is why, for example, the government of post-1949 China put so much effort into improving literacy levels, setting up universities, funding research institutes, building their own weapon systems, investing in infrastructure projects etc- even when they technically did not have the “money” to do so. In contrast, multiple generations of Indian leaders used the excuse of “no money” to either not do those things or do them in an anemic and half-hearted manner. That is also why India retained the shitty colonial system of laws and administration which was designed to exploit and abuse Indians rather than build a new one to benefit them. The darkly comic part of all this is that most of them lack the ability to understand their own pathetic behavior.

Will write more about this issue in the next part of series.

What do you think? Comments?