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NPR reports, “India’s China Envy”

All Things Considered (National Public Radio (NPR)) had an interesting report on May 20, 2010, “India’s China Envy,” expressing three prominent Indian nationals’ “envy” for China’s recent success.   India is a very important consideration in this debate about democracy.  Zhang Weiwei, former Deng Xiaoping interpreter, has postulated (and later on written an Op-Ed piece for in the New York Times), in order to fully realize “democracy”, other developments such as economic and civil reforms must precede it.  Many point to China a bigger success where China focused on economic reforms first and India given similar circumstances lagged – and if we ask Zhang Weiwei why, he’d probably argue it was due to premature and disproportionate focus on “democracy” at this stage.

For that reason, Indians views about democracy should therefore at least be more sober compared to Americans.  Are they really so?  Let’s take a look.

1. NPR on Karan Thapar, an Indian columnist:

He thought all the shiny buildings and wide, new roads were “awe inspiring.” But it was a painful kind of awe. In the middle of the last century, India and China were in the same place economically. Now China is three times richer. Its childhood malnutrition rate is far lower than India’s. Yes, Indians are free, Thapar says — free to be poor.

In this last sentence, I wonder if Thapar meant “free” in the same sense as U.S. media’s depiction of “freedom.”  By the way, we have a featured post on Understanding Democracy by Allen (with further commentary that political freedom in the U.S. today do not reside with the public).  It is interesting Thapar contrasted India’s freedom with freedom to be poor.  While poor, the first order of “freedom” one cares most is free from hunger, disease, and other hindrance to a basic life.  Is this a sober understanding of what “free” is about?  Hard to say, but I think he has the right instinct on what “freedom” really means for relatively poorer countries.

2. NPR on Partha Sen, director of the Delhi School of Economics:

Says that “democracy in an everyday sense, in terms of getting things the poor need, has clearly not functioned. Somehow democracy has failed us.”  Democracy moves slowly.  People debate things. Infrastructure — roads, water, power — remains underdeveloped.  The Chinese government doesn’t have endless parliamentary debates and legal battles.  It doesn’t ask a lot of questions. It does things — builds roads, trains, power plants. “China invests a lot in infrastructure,” Sen says. “So China, they are on the ball. We are not.”

Is he trying to say China has effective leaders and the system allows for it, whereas India’s “democracy” allows for no strong leadership and hence everything gets bogged down?

3. NPR on Eswar Prasad, economist, head of the China division at the International Monetary Fund; now advises India’s government:

“We economists think that a benevolent dictator — a benevolent dictator with a heart in the right place — could actually do a lot of good,” Prasad says.  The problem, he says, is that the economic record of dictators and single-party states is not very good. China seems to be an exception.

“very good . . . economic record” is indeed desirable.  Perhaps Prasad prizes that above “democracy.”

(Prasad’s use of “dictatorship” to describe China’s leadership is peculiar though; he used the same rhetoric as the West.  What about Japan?  Japan was governed by a single party since WW2, and only recently is the country ruled by a different party.  Is that “dictatorship? ” China’s leadership is far from dictatorship today.  Perhaps under Mao it was like one.  After that, China has changed the laws and instituted service terms and mandatory retirement ages for her leaders.)

Are Indians more sober in their views about democracy compared to Americans?  Certainly. They seem to better understand what it means to be poor.

Curiously, NPR titled this segment, “India’s China Envy.”  Is “envy” the right way to characterize Prasad, Sen, and Thapar for China’s success?  Is there American “envy” in “India’s China Envy?”

  1. May 24th, 2010 at 16:03 | #1

    I also thought funny the description of India as “freer” than China. I think that is some kind of ideological talk. Freedom without empowerment means nothing. Freedom without consciousness also means nothing. Focusing on rules like one-child policy and saying ha – China may keept its population under control but the people are not free is non-sense. No – people in China are more empowered and freer because of and not in spite of those rules.

    It’s the same with focusing on rules like the prohibition against shouting fire for jest in a crowded theater. Freedom comes with conditions – and those conditions are as much the experience of being free as freedom itself.

    Focusing on rules that prohit people from inciting social mistrust and public anger when those rules are made to ensure stability needed for social development is the same. If you must focus so much on seeing the trees and miss the forest, and do so in the name of “freedom” – I suppose that is people’s prerogative.

  2. May 24th, 2010 at 22:48 | #2


    ” If you must focus so much on seeing the trees and miss the forest, and do so in the name of “freedom” – I suppose that is people’s prerogative.”

    所以我觉得西方的 “人权活动分子” 大部份都是为自己想的. “人权” 只是一个借口. 🙂

    Thus, we write: “Western human rights activism, where is the real humanity?

  3. colin
    May 26th, 2010 at 17:17 | #3

    For each of these guys who has china-envy, there are 100 million indians who believe that democracy is a pure and absolute end in itself, damn wealth and well being. I really don’t think indians as a whole are
    “sober” about their democracy. If anything, they are more fanatical than the US about it, cause at least with the US, americans can point to their wealth to justify their democracy. Indians cling to democracy without having seen much economic benefit from it.

    Philosophically, a benevolent dictator is what everyone wants. No one wants to make decisions that could backfire. That’s why man created “god”.

  4. Wei
    May 26th, 2010 at 19:07 | #4

    I really angry at people that goes around and use China as some kind of model to compare in a debate about some weakness in their nation’s democracy. It just keep on reminding of Asian as model minority in US. I just don’t feel comfortable with it.

    I don’t look down on India or their nation’s democracy, I just wish people wouldn’t look down in China when they are defending India’s democracy, that they make it sound like you have to look down on China because they are a “dictator” in a classic sense, in order to love your nation and its democracy you have to look down on them and their government.

  5. May 26th, 2010 at 19:33 | #5


    “If anything, they are more fanatical than the US about it, cause at least with the US, americans can point to their wealth to justify their democracy. Indians cling to democracy without having seen much economic benefit from it.”

    Very interesting perspective.

    Interesting to note though, India usually vote the same way China does in the U.N. on “human rights” issues.

  6. May 26th, 2010 at 19:45 | #6


    I think I understand your sentiment. That’s a really good point. But I would ague to some extent, that is very human nature to do that. I see people on the “pro-China” side some times disparaging another country when defending certain situations in China.

    BUT, of course, your point is that some people do that due to their prejudice.

    AND, yes, indeed, I find it fairly shocking that a former China division head at IMF – yes- IMF – referring to the Chinese leaders “dictators” – and as you say, perhaps in the classic sense. Sure, it was casual, but perhaps I am reading too much into it – there could be a healthy dosage of disrespect in my opinion.

  7. Wei
    May 26th, 2010 at 23:24 | #7

    Why is it when I say something, people always point to Chinese that also say it as well?

  8. John
    May 28th, 2010 at 23:43 | #8

    quote: “(Prasad’s use of “dictatorship” to describe China’s leadership is peculiar though; he used the same rhetoric as the West. ”

    actually, he said dictatorship AND single party states. read it again. he was characterizing china as a single party state NOT a dictatorship.

    and btw, singapore is a dictatorship is no one argues it’s not a very successful society.

  9. George Monser
    June 4th, 2010 at 19:02 | #9

    @Wei, @YinYang

    The criticisms that people make against other countries may be due to either misunderstandings (like having a different ideas of the word ‘democracy’), or just meanness of spirit. I like this quote in Anu Garg’s web site (A Word a Day):

    “Patriotism is proud of a country’s virtues and eager to correct its deficiencies; it also acknowledges the legitimate patriotism of other countries, with their own specific virtues. The pride of nationalism, however, trumpets its country’s virtues and denies its deficiencies, while it is contemptuous toward the virtues of other countries. It wants to be, and proclaims itself to be, “the greatest”, but greatness is not required of a country; only goodness is.” -Sydney J. Harris, journalist and author (1917-1986)

    I want to be a patriot, not a nationalist…

  10. June 5th, 2010 at 00:17 | #10


    Agreed. And thx for sharing that quote.

    Mean people equate other’s patriotism with nationalism.
    And, I’d also say, the U.S. media is extremely mean.

  11. February 15th, 2011 at 18:01 | #11

    While the West was eagerly predicting the coming Chinese Real Estate Bubble burst, they have neglected (perhaps purposefully) to mention the Indian Real Estate bubble, which now is officially popping, quite loudly.

    Major cities in India reported property prices may decline 15% in the next 9 months.

    But these properties are at peak at only $55 per sq ft, much less than the prices in even many Chinese cities. Popping at such low prices?

    Reason: the average Indian is still far too poor afford them.

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