To China, With Hate

02 Jul,2020

 

By Avik Chattopadhyay

 

China is a baaaaaaaad word nowadays.

 

Dare anyone say even a neutral word about the country on the streets and that person shall be neutered. Those “chinkies” are evil. And all that needs to happen to them is be banned. A couple of days back I attended an international webinar on “dealing with the dragon” with powerful people from the EU and US deliberating on how to create a Trans-Atlantic team to counter and control China…over Zoom!

 

Geopolitics and socio-economics are strange bedfellows. They end up quarrelling much more than making love to each other. Throw in the aspect of a country being a “brand” and the entire relationship gets further muddled. And, if you add individual brands from that country into this pot-boiler in the form of people and products, then it is as complex as a Manmohan Desai movie plot.

 

A country as a brand is like a public transport map of a metropolis. There are arterial routes, stops, diversions, multiple modes, peripheral connectors and lots of lights and signages. A country as a brand is made up of its history, its culture, its celebrities, its political system, its political leadership, its thought leadership, its products, its view of the world, its view of your country and of course, its football team! In the timeline of the country, certain aspects come to the fore, either by design or by chance. And the world, at different stages of her larger timeline, looks at that country through different lenses.

 

My father’s lasting memory of China points to the silk traders in the 1940s in the streets of Calcutta [then] saying “Tek tek o notek notek…ek baar to chi” which actually meant “Take, take, or no take, no take… once at least see”. He remembers the Chinese as industrious and practical people. But China is not to be relied upon as a country as “Chou stabbed Nehru in the back after Panchsheel”! For my mother, China is all about 1962 when she donated her gold earrings to the cause as a student. But the Chinese are all about exquisite handcrafted shoes, terrific cuisine, China Town and an extremely proud people when she interacted with them in business delegations.

 

My first exposure to China was my grandfather’s Hero fountain pen… dark maroon, gold cap, with a golden arrow at the writing tip. It was far superior in design and finish to the Indian options of a Wilson or Ratnam, and far more affordable than a Parker. As a student, I was elated when my parents got me a Wing Sung with that incredible wraparound golden nib. We never wanted a Chelpark or Chairman or Bittoo as they were much inferior. As a professional, in a meeting with a Chinese delegation, I noticed most of them having a Gold Leaf, Hero or White Feather in their pockets while we proudly displayed our Parkers, Sheaffers and Pilots. On asking one slightly friendly counterpart as to why they did counterfeits of Mont Blancs and Parker Duofolds, he said: “Those are for you people. We have our own.”

 

China for me is a myriad of images, concepts and contradictions.

It is an oppressive authoritarian expansionist state. Yet it is also Hiuen Tsang and Fa Hien.

It is an open aggressor conspiring with Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka to destabilise India. Yet it is also amazing advancements in technology and open consumerism.

It is the terrible Cultural Revolution and Tiananmen Square. Yet it is also Yao Ming, Li Ning and Lin Dan.

It is a subversive surveillance system that plans to digitally control not only its own citizens but all users of its software and digital products. Yet, it is also the enterprising little mom-and-pop food outlet in every corner of the world, shouting aloud with a smile as you enter, “Wayyycom…wha you have today ah!”

 

When Germany finally capitulated in 1945, did the world throw out Bach, Beethoven, Kant and Marx along with Hitler, Himmler and Goering? Did the world ban Mercedes-Benz cars and Grundig radios? If the football teams were banned, West Germany would have never won the 1954 World Cup under Fritz Walter!

 

When you talk of Italy, do you remember Mussolini, the Mafia or Maserati?

When you talk of Japan, do you remember Tojo, tofu or Toyota?

 

Similarly, when we shall talk of China, shall we talk of the Communist Party, Chairman Mao or Chinese Cuisine? It depends very much on what China wants us to remember them by. It is a result of what aspect of the country is more enduring… its negatives or its positives. It is an outcome of what legacy the Chinese people want to leave their future generations and the world at large.

 

We could very well be sipping some amazing jasmine tea in an open café on Tiananmen Square listening to an openly political poetry recital. Or we could be blindfolded and put in a car to be taken to a hospital for an unscheduled and unplanned emergency. I leave it to the Chinese to decide.

 

Avik Chattopadhyay is a senior marketing and strategy consultant. He writes a fortnightly column for MxMIndia. His views here are personal

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