I first heard it as we passed a Buddhist temple en route to the Forbidden Palace in Beijing. The guide was a very talkative cherubic lady, named Ta-ta. She was well informed about most things Indian, including her namesake Ratan. And amongst various statistics and facts that she rolled out, she mentioned that a little over 90% of Chinese don’t have a religion. The others are split between Taoism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and even Maoism. Most of the atheists do go to pray – largely at Buddhist temples – when they are afraid or need hope – exams, relationships, and business success but there is no doctrine that guides them in the name of one religion or the other.
[It’s the second time in a year that I had heard the shunning of religion by a rebooted economy. The last was in Estonia, where similarly, Signe, a friendly startup evangelist had a meal with my family over summer. She said young Estonians didn’t see how religion helped at all, when the Russians ruled them – it seemed futile to them. The only religion they wanted to have was ‘enterprise’. A segment of young Estonians actually think software is the way for them to make a dent in the world – and their role models are emerging – I’m predicting that they will continue to create many more beyond the clichéd Skype example.
The significant difference is of course size! Estonia has all of 1.3 million people, a good chunk of them in the capital Tallinn whereas China is India plus some more]
Then, I heard it again and then a third time in Shanghai – the 90%+ (statistic) of the population who cited no religious preference. Coupled with this was the oft-repeated and fabled work ethic of the average Chinese – we had witnessed it even back in India – day of the week and time of the day have no boundaries for them – they are ever-ready to take a meeting that furthers business.
And then, that Sunday afternoon bus ride in Shanghai suddenly built on this theme. I said it aloud to a few of my fellow India tech-trekkers over a bus ride or two and it became very clear suddenly!
The single-minded purpose and FOCUS towards income generation, wealth creation, prosperity, quality of life – all as a surrogate to achieving “happiness” is the core driver of the nation.
It’s much easier when one is stripped off of all “distractions”. And that’s what the Chinese have gradually moved towards. Here you go:
(The word “No” below is intended for dramatic effect and not for debate on what is the scale and % of each of the deviances from “No”)
– No religion – they’ve just make it redundant and irrelevant at scale
– No politics – at least not of the divisive kind – the people have ceded control to the state, even more over the past 25-30 years, the tradeoff between democracy and the state delivering the promised improvements in quality of life seems like a compromise that the Chinese have (somewhat) happily made. As someone put it, they’ve learnt to trust the single party government to take care of their well being as a people.
– No organized crime and limited or reducing petty crime / corruption – fear of the government and its scrutiny keeps them at check
– No Bollywood or other such ‘woods – film-making is driven by a cultural or political agenda or simple action stuff or import of foreign films without an agenda. There is not much need or room for silly romancing or silly ideals.
– No cricket – I’m simplifying the notion to contrast it with a nation obsessed by cricket. India has many other emerging sporting passions and the Chinese follow international sport and play to win in many others but there is no comparison in how many man-days we would spend/waste on cricket as a nation compared to all their sports fandoms.
– No language barriers – the state has directed the centralization of Mandarin gradually to drive out the differences of multiple language variants
– No chaotic large families – Two week-long breaks in the year mean that families throng to reunions from across the country and shut the country down in more ways than one. So, there is chaos – but it’s somehow incredibly packed into those half-year windows. The single child policy (now relaxed back after 40+ years) has also meant cousins and families are somewhat controlled in size. Family roles across generations are fine-tuned to meet the economic purpose and stability of a household. Mothers earn, grandmothers take care of children and parents take care of the grandparents economic well-being.
– No biases towards domestic products – unlike most Indians, who would happily pay for overseas products but undermine local brands, the Chinese are proud champions of their own products
– No infra bottlenecks – of course, they have massive traffic jams, but everytime they see a bottleneck, they ruthlessly keep eliminating them with newer spends.
– No fear of new cities – India needs to build large long corridors of rail and road infra and build a handful of mega cities alongside each of them – there is no way to rebuild our large cities or expand them effectively much more. “New” is the answer as the Chinese keep finding for themselves – not adding to creaking older infrastructure.
One can debate state intervention and control of people’s lives for weeks together. One shouldn’t forget that China has been obsessed about this level of discipline and single mindedness for much longer than almost anyone else in the world. One just had to take a glimpse of a km stretch of the Great Wall, be told that it was 10000’s of kms long, and your heart instinctively feels the weight of the deep rootedness of this obsessive alignment between a 1.3 billion population. This is very different from the large set of fragmented princely states that was the basis of modern day India during the same 2000+ years.
I’m not going to explicitly spell out the differences on each of the above points relative to India. The differences scream out of the unwritten sentences.
This FOCUS, seldom seen in most other countries, added to their fearless forays into the rest of the world means that they can become a world power like none other. They are unafraid of winning over political ground with business and economics as the primary driver and have no baggage in terms of biases. They will, in my opinion, overtake American capital in a very short period of time in Indian tech and startups. They see the opportunity with far more clarity than most others in the western world.
The Chinese are very proud and jingoistic and have been pronouncing the one country, one people mantra for millennia. It’s not a new found post-1947, post-independence phenomenon such as modern India. Coupled with the above characteristics, despite being a nation of its size, the conditions suddenly create an unparalleled juggernaut. They are going to be driving a lot of the world economy across our lifetimes at least.
This piece is featured in the The Little Blu Omnibus – a compilations of articles and notes authored by the team and our founders. To read the rest of the articles, go ahead and download the e-book via this link.