Many overweight volumes have been written to explain and sometimes lament the theoretically implausible ascendency of China in her rivalry with neighbour India for the accolade of pre-eminent economic power of Asia. According to favoured theory, given the near-parity of their populations, India’s status as a multiparty democracy should give it the edge over totalitarian China in their mutual quest for economic stardom. Yet reality scarcely defers to theory, and China easily trounces India in just about all measures of economic prosperity.
Having failed to explain the China-India development differential using their cherished governance model of prosperity, the proponents of that model, instead of looking elsewhere for a self-consistent explanation of the anomalous dominance of China, decide to cling to their theory and offer refinements to their proposition. In essence their refined proposition asserts that India suffers from what we may call Obsessive Compulsive Democracy Disorder (OCDD), a condition characterized by an obsession for compromise between fractious political groups to the point of paralysis. Therefore, little can get done in India fast enough because the decision-making process is painfully slow. China, on the other hand, with its scant esteem for diversity in opinions reaches decisions very quickly and can implement them unwaveringly. The Chinese, therefore, can always steal a march on the Indians and take to the field of play while their neighbours are pinned in their quarters polishing their latest piece of compromise.
All this looks very neat except for an inconvenient historical fact: when China and India shared the same system of government back in the heyday of oppressive monarchies, China still out-performed India as a political and economic power. In the language of mathematical analysis, when we hold their systems of government constant, China still bursts ahead of India. We have evidence of this in the fact that the world’s cultural heritage of Ancient Chinese provenance is richer and more extensive than its heritage of Ancient Indian provenance. Ancient China gave us gun powder, the compass, paper, and printing; she also gave us The Art of War, Chinese Medicine, and Chinese martial arts. Ancient India for her part gave us Indian cuisine, Yoga, the Buddha, and the Kama Sutra. Clearly, Chinese dominance began in antiquity, and the fact that the landmark products of Chinese civilization came to the world in the days when we all shared the same totalitarian system of government means that it is to Chinese social culture that we must look if we are to explain China’s edge over India—and the rest of us.
(Author-poet Agona Apell is the author of The Success Genome Unravelled: Turning men from rot to rock)