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Shanghai Diary: Miracle within a miracle

By B Raman
Last updated on: May 19, 2008 18:29 IST
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B Raman was in Shanghai from May 6 to 9 for a discussion on 'Beijing Olympics and Security'. This is his second visit to Shanghai. The first was in May, 2002, to attend an Asia-Pacific conference on terrorism in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist strikes. This is the first of a three-part series on his impressions of China.

Growing, growing, growing and still growing. That is the only way of describing this city of which the Chinese are rightly proud of. Shanghai of May, 2008, is unrecognisable from the Shanghai of May, 2002. It has developed horizontally and vertically and continues to develop.

Statistics are irrelevant with regard to Shanghai. The statistics of today will become outdated next week and so on. That is the pace of its development. Shanghai is proud that every important country of the world is represented there -- in its industries, in its business world, in its financial centres, in its architecture and in its arts and culture.

Shanghai is a miracle within a miracle. If China is rapidly overtaking the rest of Asia -- even the rest of the world -- in its economic development and modernisation, Shanghai has already overtaken the rest of China many times over in every aspect.

The Chinese without any exception and without any hesitation give the credit to the late Deng Xiao-ping, the father of modern China, for the economic miracle achieved within a short period of three decades in the country as whole and even a shorter period of 16 years in Shanghai.

He not only liberated the Chinese economy from the stranglehold of the state, but more important, also simultaneously liberated the Chinese mind-set from the stranglehold of past prejudices, suspicions and outmoded thinking. He made the Chinese overcome their traditional suspicions of foreigners and welcome everybody -- whatever be his or her nationality -- who wanted to contribute to China's development.

Without the liberation of the mind-set, the liberation of the economy alone may not have achieved the kind of miracle, which the world has witnessed. That is the point which is stressed repeatedly by one's local interlocutors.

Another point which is equally stressed is that India is still far from achieving a similar miracle because the liberation of its economy has not been accompanied by a similar liberation of the Indian mind-set from the stranglehold of its past prejudices, suspicions and ways of thinking. As an example, a reference is made to its inability to get over the memories of the Sino-Indian war of 1962 and move ahead in developing co-operation with China much more rapidly than has been possible so far.

At the same time, one finds an inability even in the Chinese mind to rid itself of its ancient thinking in matters such as recovery of territory, which they look upon as rightfully belonging to China.

Arunachal Pradesh -- particularly Tawang -- is a glaring example. Why such rigidity on Tawang?

"Because our Tibetan people would not let us accept Indian control of Tawang," one is told. Why the Tibetans would not agree? 'Because Tawang is of religious and emotional importance to them. Tawang is as sacred to the Tibetan Buddhists as Jerusalem is to the Jewish people. One of the past Dalai Lamas was born in Tawang. Recognising Tawang as Indian territory would amount to recognising that he was an Indian citizen. How can the Tibetans do it?"

It is recognised that the sensitivities of both the countries are involved in Tawang. India cannot agree to a change of the status quo.

China, it is said, cannot accept the status quo. A possible solution could be status quo plus with both the countries sharing the responsibility for the administration and development of this area, it is said. It is pointed out that China and Japan are attempting a similar solution towards the East China Sea islands, which both claim.

What strikes one during a short stay is the tremendous national pride of the Chinese people -- pride over their past, pride over their present, pride over their achievements, and pride over the policies of their leadership, which have produced the miracle. One can discern this pride everywhere and in everyone -- young or old, man or woman.

One cannot dismiss this pride by calling it simplistically as narrow nationalism, as many sections of the Western media try to do.

China's greatest strength is not its military power or economic muscle, but this national pride. This pride has been hurt by what is perceived as the attempts made by some sections of the international community to tarnish China's image on the eve of the Olympics. Next to this national pride, the emotion which strikes one is a mixture of anger, sorrow and suspicion due to the recent events in Tibet and in some Western cities during the passage of the Olympic flame.

Part II: Why the Chinese are angry

Part III: Why the Chinese are unhappy

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B Raman