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Charm and Chivalry in China; By Asma Masood

Updated: Feb 1, 2023

Image Courtesy: Easy Tour China

C3S Paper No. 0116/2016

Courtesy: Vidura, a journal of the Press Institute of India, July-September 2016 Volume 8 Issue 3. 

It will be interesting to see how China wields power in the coming decades, says Asma Masood, who visited the country in April this year as part of an Institute of Chinese Studies-Embassy of China think tank delegation. One thing is clear, she adds – China offers numerous opportunities for India to develop bilateral relations.

Love thy neighbour, goes the adage. It was with mixed feelings I boarded the late night flight to Beijing. I wondered whether I would give cause for consternation, especially when discussing sensitive issues such as the Sino-Indian border. To my pleasant surprise, the Chinese officials and academicians we met were all charm and chivalry. Diplomatic discourse gushes through their veins. It was enjoyable to hear their well-worded views, regardless of the fact of our agreement/disagreement, on a range of issues such as the border, unconventional “geo-political threats” and the Dalai Lama.

Nevertheless, one aspect was clear – China is in the throes of change. At the Communist Party School in Beijing, it was underlined that innovation would be a key focal point in the coming decades. I wonder whether this would mean greater creativity in the younger Chinese generations. After all, innovative thought requires a certain tilt towards freedom. However, it was heartening to hear that China is learning to accept failure in the process of innovation, and would “protect” those who did not make the mark. Indeed, intellectual property rights laws are all set to receive greater attention from this Asian power.

On the other hand, the ‘rule of law’ is already well in place in China. Several prominent billboards in the streets of Beijing and even in a ‘modern village’ in Sichuan Province declare the importance of upholding the Communist Party’s principles. Women walk down the streets unaccompanied even after dark, with no sign of fear. Their safety is a given.

At the markets in Beijing, it was heartening to see a range of attractive goods within our wallets’ reach. Be it rip-off designer handbags or luxury watches, non-toxic toys, porcelain ware, clothing or electronics, China offers the best deals.

Music and art are booming industries in China. We attended the China Orchestra Festival at the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Beijing. We were treated to a riveting performance, a blend of Western classical notes and traditional Chinese tunes. We tapped our feet and nodded our heads to the rhythm of the musical ensemble before us. One factor stood out: An attempt was being made to combine the best of the Oriental and Western worlds in music. The Chinese spectators applauded at length, prompting the conductor to take several curtain calls.

Amidst the artistic freedom there was also the iron fist of discipline. Photography, the audience was informed, was not allowed during the performance. Not everyone felt they had to honour that restriction. Red laser beams instantaneously hovered over rule-breakers’ devices, forcing them to put them away. One woman who was secretly filming the show was politely escorted out. It demonstrated the seriousness with which order and decorum is maintained in China. At the Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, too, there was strict surveillance akin to an airport security check. It reminded me of the words of a well-wisher before I left for Beijing, “It’s China, no monkey business.”

Cleanliness is given a lot of importance. Every night, the streets of Beijing are washed with gushing water, removing the accumulated dust. Yet, one can’t help but notice the smoky air, thanks to the heavy traffic. China is working on ways to deal with the pollution problem, aiming to combine development with environmental protection.

Chengdu, in contrast, was a delight, with its comparatively low pollution, laidback atmosphere and flowers, carpets of them. Even the architecture of Chengdu is more colourful and varied than that of Beijing. Despite being smaller than the country’s capital, Chengdu is a prominent city, fast improving to uphold its position as a hub of the One Belt One Road initiative. There is a city square with highend designer brands flashing neon signs. Chengdu holds a balance between the new and the old. The Dujianagyan Water Conservatory Project nearby dates back to the Qin Dynasty while the Chengdu Panda Research Base is striving to protect China’s most precious animal.

The panda embodies the personality of China: strong, yet gentle. It will be interesting to see how the country will continue to wield power in the coming decades. Meanwhile, one thing is clear – China offers numerous opportunities for India to develop bilateral relations.

(Asma Masood is a Research Officer with the Chennai Centre for China Studies, India. She can be contacted at Twitter:@asmamasood11)

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