Book Review | Beyond the Great Wall – Lifestyle News

By Uttaran Das Gupta

In 1924, exactly 100 years ago, German philosopher Karl Haushofer wrote about the ‘Pacific Age’, envisaging the economic and political rise of Japan, India and China. In his book Geopolitik des Pazifischen Ozeans, he argued that the political and economic centre of the global power was gradually shifting from Europe to the Asian giants.

Haushofer, who would later serve as a mentor to Hitler, was, in fact, drawing upon the ideas and writings of other political scientists, most notably Japanese political economist Inagaki Manjiro, who is often credited with being the first person to use the term. The meaning and use of the term have changed over the decades, depending upon the contemporary political weather, at times sparking anxiety in the colonial powers. But it has continued to be in currency, and, one might argue, proven to be true, like a self-fulfilling prophecy.Azim Premji and Yasmeen Premji: The impressive joint net worth of one of India’s most prosperous couples10 India’s royal families – The modern Maharajas and their business venturesKnow everything about Amitabh Bachchan’s Rs 100 crore bungalow ‘Jalsa’8 must-try spots for Delhi’s best street food

In 1988, when former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi met Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, the media started using the term ‘Asian Century’, projecting the dominance of Asian culture, politics and economics in the 21st century, succeeding the Pax Britannica of the 19th century and the American supremacy of the last one. Though it is nearly 40 years since that event, there is “a surprising lack of well-researched Indian scholarly material on the country (China), its history and culture,” writes Shyam Saran, former foreign secretary, in the foreword to the book.

Saran, who also wrote How China Sees India and the World (2022), argues that “China is the most important current challenge for India and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future”. Ramachandran’s book—a collection of his writings on China from 2008 to 2022—is an attempt to address this gap. Having spent several years in the country as a journalist, working for China Daily and Global Times and then as a senior editor for China-India Dialogue, he is able to provide essential context about the culture and people of China that other, more objective works, might lack.

One pitfall of publishing a collection of one’s journalistic work is losing out on contemporary relevance. Do stories from 2008, when both India and China were very different nations, have any appeal for us now? Ramachandran insures against this by painstakingly drawing parallels and continuities between current development and their origins 10-15 years ago. For instance, he writes how Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched his flagship Digital India programme on July 1, 2015, only a few weeks after visiting China’s hi-tech zone in Xi’an. He also writes extensively about how cooperation with China has played a significant part in the growth of digital inclusivity in India, an achievement that was headlined by the Modi government during the G20 summit last year.

Such nuances are often lost in the broad-stroke political rhetoric around recent border conflicts between the two nations. While Chinese funding for Indian tech firms and NGOs is reported on by the international media, the socio-economic relations between the two nations are often glossed over. For instance, China’s share in India’s imports jumped from $70.3 billion in 2018-19 to $101 billion in 2023-24, making it the top source country for goods and services. Ramachandra provides the sober context to appreciate how China will continue to play a significant role in India’s present and future.

One area of disappointment in this book is the lack of sustained engagement with border disputes, which became a flashpoint in the summer of 2020. While Ramachandran does devote several pages to provide an overview of disputes, wars, and skirmishes—from 1962 to current months, when local politicians in Ladakh have claimed that China has grabbed large swathes of land—there is really no new information for the reader. Ramachandran could have, perhaps, devoted a little more research to this area.

Having said that, one must also acknowledge that this book is imminently readable. Not only because of its accessible language but also authorial interventions with anecdotes. One section that I found deeply interesting as a journalist is Ramachandran’s recollections of working as a journalist in China. The country is notorious internationally for suppressing the free press and imprisoning journalists and writers. But Ramachandran provides a first-hand account of working in Chinese newsrooms—a rare privilege for an international journalist. It challenges many of our preconceived notions.

Read this book for a deeply researched and easily accessible engagement with a nation that might not figure in our collective imagination very frequently, but which has a significant effect on our lives.

Uttaran Das Gupta is an associate professor of practice at OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat

Book: Beyond Binaries: The World of India and China

Author: Shastri Ramachandran

Publisher: Institute of Objective Studies, New Delhi

Pp 309, Rs 450

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