Research Proposal

India-China Relations in a Microcosm: Ethnographic Study of the Environment in an Indian Restaurant in Beijing

China and India, world’s two most populous nations, are gaining influence in today’s global politics and international affairs. In fact, China and India are quite similar: they are both driven economically and are growing nations in terms of science and technology. China recently said that bi-lateral ties between China and India is the most important partnership of the century. Previously, relations between China and India were focused around border disputes, but they have moved on and have established diplomatic and economic ties. During my study abroad in China, I will be researching how the Chinese view Indians and their opinions on the bilateral trade. I find that the best place to research such questions is at an Indian restaurant in Beijing. The questions I will be answering throughout my research are why there are so few Indian restaurants in Beijing and if the answer can gives an idea into the relations between India and China. I hope to understand how the general Chinese public views Indian presence and business in China.

Indian Embassy restaurants

The red star represents the Indian embassy and as you can see, there are multiple Indian restaurants surrounding it.

In a city of over 20 million people, Beijing has only about 200 Indian restaurants while Washington D.C. (with a population of little over 150,000), has over 1500 Indian restaurants. Why is there a difference between these two capital cities? Right next to Tsinghua University is an Indian Restaurant called X Indian Restaurant. The manager has opened five branches of the X restaurant brand all around Beijing. Unsurprisingly, most of the other restaurants are within a three mile radius of the Indian embassy. The restaurant’s website offers information in English and in Chinese, providing phone numbers, addresses, and even information to give to your taxi driver if you don’t speak Chinese. The website also offers photos of the restaurants. The restaurant ‘chain’ has been in Beijing since 2005 and has grown since. It has even won many awards by expatriate magazines in Beijing as “Best Indian Restaurant.” The Haidian branch was the first of the X restaurants to open by Tsinghua University and this is where I will be doing my research.

The types of methods I will be using for my research are interviews, observations, and surveys. I hope to interview visitors, staff, and head of the restaurant. I hope to observe the interactions the waiters and staff have with the customers regardless of race, gender, or age. Because I have not yet met the staff at the restaurant, I do not know if they are of Indian origin or native Chinese. Being of Indian or Chinese heritage does make a difference in how customers act and I want to observe the cross-cultural interaction. Some of the interview questions I will be asking if given the opportunity, are:

  • Interview Questions: What is one word or activity that comes to you first about India?
    What do you know about Indian culture and food? Did you learn more from reading in books or through the media?
    In general, how would you describe relations between China and India? What is you opinion of India and its growing economy?
    I see that Indian businesses in China as a sign of strengthening relations between India and China. What is your opinion of the growing number of foreign business and firms in China? Le Ke qiang recently went to India in May to discuss economic ties between the two countries. What issues do you think are most important between these two countries?Do you see a large inflow of Indian immigrants? Why or why not?
    Where do you see the future of India-China relations going?

    The goal of these ten questions is to allow people to analyse and state their viewpoints of the China-India relations.
    Data will be analysed by looking for key terms repeated or commonly used to describe China-India relations and comparing responses among interviewees.My survey questions will also be similarly stated as I try to assess how customers feel about not just the restaurant, but their general opinion of Indian culture and the country itself. I also, if possible, want to intern at the restaurant as a hostess or waiter. I won’t be seeking a wage, but I feel the first-hand experience will give me a better view of the interaction between the restaurant and the customer.

What I find most interesting of this project is that I, as someone of Indian origin, will able to see and research this project first hand and will have my own anecdotes to share. I am passionate about both China and India and I feel this project is a perfect way to address both topics. During this project, I will able to practice my Chinese, and use my knowledge of English and Hindi.