Research Update #2

After six weeks into research, I have interviewed over 20 participants about their views on India and Indians. Overall, the results from the interviews have varied from a participant having a positive, well-read view of Sino-India relations, to a participant having a negative or even no view of Sino-India relations. These interviews have been a sufficient method of gathering data, but my experiences in China also contribute to observational data for the research. One of my strongest observation of Indian culture was in Inner Mongolia, especially in the Muslim themed street in Hohhot. The Islamic influences in the city reminded me of Hydrabad’s Charminar and the food stalls on the side of the road resembled New Delhi’s streets. The mosque in Hohhot, while in a Han Chinese styled building, still was painted green and gold.

Performance in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia

Performance in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia

The rest of the buildings resembled Arabic/Mughal architecture. The Hui men wore Taqiyahs and the women covered their heads. I was able to watch a performance┬ánear the Great Mosque, about the story of Aladdin. In one scene, they had a performer who was the Islamic princess from India with the background of the Taj Mahal. I was honestly very surprised by this. Of all the places in China, I was not expecting to see Indian culture represented in Inner Mongolia. The performance was very culturally diverse and included princesses from other nations. I am not sure why the performance was catered to so many nationalities especially when Hohhot is a small capital city with an infinitesimal population of foreigners. Their viewer base (from looking at the audience members) was mostly Chinese or Mongols. Because China, to me, is a very homogeneous nation, I was surprised to see other countries represented in this performance. To me, this performance signifies the global view the director of the performance has- he realizes that Aladdin didn’t originate in China and has done his best to show the audience a global perspective. This liberal, secular view really does show that there are parts of China that are more aware of what is going on outside the Middle Kingdom.

The usual interviews have taken place at the Zijing Cafeteria and here is an example of an audio I captured from one of my participants. She reads each question and answers it and with the help of my language partner, I was able to transcribe this audio. The first word that comes to her mind about India is rice and the idea of eating with your hand. Most of what she knows about India comes from the movies she has seen and the soap operas. She finds the relations between India and China, ‘Good’ but she unfortunately does not elaborate on her answers. She finds the development of the two countries very similar in that the gap between the rich and poor is growing. Although the presence of foreign companies is a good thing, she thinks that China shouldn’t become reliant on them. She finds herself not being able to answer the question about Indian immigrants in China, as she hasn’t seen an increase or decrease. But she does hope that the relations between China and India stays friendly. This participant is a good representation of the majority of the interviewees I have interviewed. Most of them know enough about India to identify it as a ‘good’ country or a ‘bad’ country. They unfortunately don’t know much about India other than the obvious (curry and rice, bollywood, etc.). The reason for this is how India portrays itself in the media. The Chinese citizens read about India through these media outlets that very rarely say much more than the popular things in India. Very few of my interviewees knew more than this participant, and those who did definitely added more dimension to this project. But not knowing about one of China’s closest neighbors shows a different perspective as well. It goes to show that the Chinese are indifferent to India. China and the Chinese are interested in economic gains and are focused on the Western nations. A Chinese student is well-versed in the culture of America, whereas, they know little about one of their closest neighboring countries. As long as India is not a threat to China, in terms of economics and growth, China does not feel a need to prioritize this relationship. On the issue of border issues, China and India are in a very tense relationship, but unfortunately, the majority of the Chinese citizens are unaware of the gravity of this situation.

I ended up conducting research when I least expected it. One of the participants who I interviewed on the street had been to India. She recently graduated from a Beijing university and is coming to the United States. She went to India for one month where she traveled around to many cities in South India, which is where I am from. She, compared to my other participants, loved India. She showed me her pictures and could not stop talking about her trip. Her perceptions of Indians were that they were very welcoming, nice, and extremely helpful. She gave multiple anecdotes of how Indians would help her book her bus tickets, and help her with food and directions. She would talk about her host family in India and the different experiences she had. She commented on a lot of the Indian traditions like the way women dressed, with flowers in their hair, and the way temples were decorates, the India dances she saw. She felt that the lack of communication between the two countries has obviously led to misconceptions about them. From a political standpoint, she said it was sad that the government of China isn’t more interested in the culture and people of India and vise versa.

The second impromptu interview was also at a coffee shop where I interviewed an Indian businessman who was sitting next to me. I noticed that he was watching an Indian movie on his computer and I decided to interview him. He currently works for a Indian company based in Beijing and learns Chinese on the weekends. He was one of the more interesting participants because I was getting an Indian perspective on China and Chinese. He also learned about Chinese culture by watching Chinese movies and shows and he had thought about learning Chinese for a long time. He believes that in terms of business relations, China and India are on a good track. He says that both countries are providing jobs and businesses are going to both countries to do work. He says that Indians don’t think about coming to China because Chinese and Indians want to go West. He mentioned that the gap between the rich and poor is getting larger and both Indians and Chinese are not interested in learning about each other. Politically, he believes that India and China are in a very bad position; he says war in not possible, but frictions on border issues and Pakistan have caused tensions. He, surprisingly, also mentioned that he faced racism in China. Maybe I haven’t been here long, but I haven’t faced any sort of racism in China. I asked him what are some of the significant differences between India and China. He said that while the crime rate is really low because of capital punishment in China, the access of information to people is not there. Whereas in India, people have the right to express their views and they can access information about the government anytime. He mentioned that one thing these two countries have in common is the high levels of corruption in the government. He believes that the future of India-China relations is dependent on the future of the leader. Although he didn’t know much about Xi JinPing, he believes that that Narendra Modi, who has been the Chief Minister of Gujarat, can lead India to have better relations with China. Modi had lead the state of Gujarat to have exponential growth in the last decade and his administrative success can definitely be useful in forming stronger ties with China. One thing my participant mentioned was that the unity among the Chinese is much stronger than in India. Both have multiple ethnic, religious, and regional groups, but China’s CCP puts in great effort in bringing unity, while the Indian government has a hard time unifying the southern cities with the northern ones. One last thing that this participant said was that the Chinese government offers 400 scholarships to Pakistani students every year but only gives 10 scholarships to Indian students. Why? Maybe the strong relations between Pakistan and China are holding back the relations between China and India. My participant’s explanation for this was, “An enemy’s enemy is your friend.” He was very open about his views on China and his interview answered my questions but also gave me more questions to think about. My participant left me with one final statement, “China needs India.”