Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


An India-China nightmare


Your Name:

Recipient Email:

I ENJOYED Pankaj Mishra’s well-researched episodes from Asia’s intellectual history that string together his thesis on how the East had had enough of the West’s political bullying and cultural domineering.

While he doesn’t pretend to strive for Frantz Fanon’s biting survey of the sociology of colonialism, Mishra’s assembly of historical vignettes from Tagore, Gandhi and Nehru in India; Liang Qichao and Sun Yatsen in China; Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Abdurreshi al Ibrahim at the waning of the Ottoman Empire, among the intellectuals who shaped Asia’s liberation from colonialism, make up for the unintended lapse.

From the ruins of the empire, the revolt against the West and the remaking of Asia would have made for a more solid argument, however, had India’s current search for an apparently comprador role in the regional and global power play not let down the team, particularly so in the face of a virulent neocolonial onslaught.

Take an example from last week when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s point man for China was at pains to play down his navy chief’s remarks about protecting Delhi’s national interests in the choppy seas surrounding a cluster of islands off the Chinese mainland.

The Chinese hissed a terse response at the prospect of India searching for oil in what Beijing considers its domain. The misconceived fracas flagged the question: does India have a genuine stake in the faraway region, and enough for it to be prepared to poke China in the eye?

Or is it yet another case of Indian history repeating itself — being ready to dispatch troops to fight someone else’s battles as the country did in the colonial era?

Indian troops fought in Europe and Africa. And they fought in Afghanistan for the British only to be trounced on one occasion by Malala of Maiwand, whose name the current young heroine from the Swat Valley has taken. They fought the Chinese in China.

Given the pattern of India’s comprador drift in several self-evident ways, its thinly veiled craving to be aligned with America’s naval build-up in the Pacific region may have prompted the naval chief’s comments.

One should have thought though that a surefooted option for India was to talk out the differences with China as it is in any case doing.

Moreover, the greater good lies in accepting a debate on contentions made by Neville Maxwell among others on what really transpired in the build-up to the 1962 military stand-off, rather than frowning on a keen discussion or keeping his book banned for decades.

The present Indian stance is rooted in a similar past, which is what may have partly prompted many Chinese in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, to see India as the prototypical ‘lost’ country, as Mishra observes, “one whose internal weakness, exploited by invaders, had forced it into a state of subjugation that was morally and psychologically shameful, as well as politically and economically catastrophic”.

While some of the author’s examples may not be new or revealing they do come together to explain the psychologies at work today.

“For ordinary Chinese, there were visible symbols of this Indian self-degradation in their own midst: Parsi businessmen from Bombay who acted as middlemen in the British opium trade with China; and Sikh policemen in treaty ports like Shanghai, Hong Kong, Hankou, whom their British masters periodically unleashed on Chinese crowds. Indian soldiers had done the bulk of the fighting in British wars in China for nearly a century after the first opium war in 1841. Indian soldiers from the 37th Madras Native Infantry feature in one of China’s most famous patriotic legends, the so-called Sanyuanli episode, in which the Chinese defeated British troops.”

For the better-equipped Indians winning for their colonial paymasters was a routine affair. Mishra tells us of how 3,000 Indian soldiers assisted the British annexation of Hong Kong in 1841. More men were brought in from among the Muslims of the Punjab to man British garrisons in Hong Kong and Singapore. “Indian clashes with local Chinese, which usually ended with the brutal suppression of the latter, were frequent. The biggest of these occurred in 1899 as the British moved to occupy the New Territories on Mainland China.”

Naturally, Indians were regarded with suspicion, even contempt. In 1886, recalls Mishra, one Chinese writer described the Sikhs as “red-headed flies”, an allusion to their red turbans.

There were less flattering descriptions. He quotes a popular Tokyo-based Chinese journal Jiangsu which published a short story in 1904 describing a dreamlike journey into the future by “a feckless Chinese literati” named Huang Shibiao (literally, ‘representative of yellow elites’) and a mythical old man. Walking down the streets of Shanghai, they see a group of marching people led by a white man. The description in Mishra’s book goes thus:

“Shibiao looked closely at these people, and they all had faces black as coal. They were wearing a piece of red cloth around their heads like a tall hat; around their waists, they wore a belt holding wood clubs. Shibiao asked the old man: ‘Are these Indians?’ The old man said, ‘Yes, the English use them as police.’ Shibiao asked, ‘Why do they not use an Indian as the chief of police?’ The old man answered: “Who ever heard of that! Indians are people of a lost country; they are no more than slaves.”

Can India help Shibiao wake up from his dream to a more agreeable reality, bereft of his recourse to easy conclusions rooted in inverted racialism, a Chinese hallmark? It could start by remembering that the India-China border, trigger of their more recent misgivings is not located in the South China Sea.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (40) Closed

Krs Dec 13, 2012 09:07am
1962,1904,1886,1841 - is this a story on a night mare or a regression into history . Much water has flown under the bridges of Yamuna and Yellow River since and the concept of a geographical boundary is getting enmeshed in a spiders web while safeguarding economic assets of nations is getting the clicks on the electronic web. Japan , Australia , S.Korea , Philippines ( not to forget Taiwan ) and Vietnam are seeing the scourge of Chinese imperialism ( or what ever the new age world shall coin for the 21 st century ) is raising its head and plans to counter the same are also getting their due.
Prem Dec 13, 2012 05:31am
Do you agree with the Chinese behavior towards its neighbors in the South China Sea? Don't you see any problem in the way they are dealing with their ethnic minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang? For all the negatives that you have pointed out in the Indian policy, you should have realized that China is already playing the game of encircling India or do you think somehow that Gwadar & Hambantota are on the Chinese border with India? You talk derisively about the participation of Indian Soldiers in conquests of the west - but you fail to acknowledge that they were in the army raised by the British; they were professional soldiers and don't have the benefit of your hindsight to see the larger picture of colonialism. Why this affection for China sir & why the derision for India & its government? Criticism is good but not derision.
Malik from Australia Dec 13, 2012 11:11am
What's wrong with the Indian readers? Don't they like to look in the mirror? Jawed Sahib's piece is a critical analysis of India's indulgence in areas beyond her province. It is about time someone suggested to the Indian government to behave. This is what Jawed Sahib is doing. Keep at it Jawed Sahib. God bless you.
Labad Dec 13, 2012 12:11pm
How come these powerful, mighty Chinese are terrified of a homeless, exiled, peaceful, Buddhist monk? Is it the same way the British were terrified of Gandhi? Do they sense their future? China will implode soon.
raika45 Dec 13, 2012 01:17pm
If an Indian journalist stationed in Pakistan were to write such an article putting Pakistan in such bad light,he would be most probably be lynched by the "patriotic" Pakistani's by now.
Raveesh Varma Dec 13, 2012 01:20pm
Well done, Mr. Naqwi! It is not very often that I agree with your points-of-view, but this time you have hit the proverbial nail on its head.
Chanakya Dec 15, 2012 12:55pm
To know as much as possible, and try to find out what is right what is wrong is that's sign of wisdom or narrow mindedness?
Robert Suting Dec 13, 2012 03:46pm
When I first learnt that Mr Naqvi was an Indian belonging to a rich and well connected Shia family many of whom are journalists I was taken aback by the ill will with which he writes about his country on any conceivable subject. To him everything about his country is fit to be mocked at. He earns his keep by maligning India week after week. His is a classic case of 'Jis thali me khana usi me chhed karna" The only saving grace is that he has no journalistic talent whatsoever. So it does not really matter what he writes. He is a poor specimen of the Muslim community in India and he represents but a tiny minority of them.
Hmm Dec 15, 2012 06:11pm
Its a good thing you wrote 'probably' in your comment.
nitindivekar Dec 15, 2012 02:08pm
Mr.Jawed, Wake up! its 2012.
Vedic Dec 15, 2012 04:51pm
Excellent analysis Robert!
vivek Dec 13, 2012 04:26am
One sided analysis.Auther ignored the fact that India is not in South China sea to claim any area or domain. India is just managing diplomatic and business ties with Vietnam ,Phillipines and other ASEAN countries which is India's right( or any country in the world).China is doing the same thing in Indian Ocean like in Sri lanka,Pakistan and Maldives. A well-expected article from a leftist auther in favour of China.
Ashoka Dec 13, 2012 03:42pm
Is the author dreaming of shaping India's foreign policy vis-a-vis a third country, (China here)? Indian think tank has much larger considerations to factor in before deciding matters related to international fora. One thing is definitely sure, these matters are less of emotional stuff (as displayed by the author's week citings) and more of serious stuff. If this is just for mass public consumption , then its fine.
John Martin Dec 15, 2012 01:55am
Indians read papers from all over the world. is there a problem ?
Chanakya Dec 16, 2012 04:59pm
When asked why he wanted to climb The Mount Everest, Edmond Hillery replied'" It's there". And it's should be matter of pride for all the freedom loving people that we have the opportunity, and freedom f the press to read and express our opinions. It's better to exchange our views than slit each others necks. Be happy, these are just comments. Thanks to The Dawn for providing that facility.
Cynical Dec 13, 2012 10:55am
Never mind Prem, deriding India in every possible way is his favourite pastime. And in a free world no one should be denied of their little entertainment.
Prakash Dec 13, 2012 04:36am
India is in south china sea because of its agreement with Vietnam for Oil exploration,if that is wrong what China is doing in India's backyard in Indian ocean.It is highly inappropriate to blame independent India for any wrong doing by British India and their forces,-which were always opposed by general Indian population and why Author forgot to mention the humanitarian works of Indians like Dr Kotnis in China on which a movie"Dr Kotnis ki amar kahani" was made.
Logic Dec 13, 2012 06:52am
The point being? Why does Dawn give space to this man' s irrelevant rantings Spare us this nonsense. You have plenty of other columnists whose articles are well researched and written
Mike Dec 13, 2012 06:48am
Keep on dreaming and using your dark brush. India and China will be close friends very soon, just like India and USA.
TrollyMcTrollton Dec 13, 2012 01:59pm
Love Jawed Sahib, a real talent at stirring the pot... Truth stings, eh? xD
Anony Dec 13, 2012 08:06pm
cant handle the truth?
Anony Dec 13, 2012 08:03pm
I agree
Jennifer Dec 13, 2012 11:54am
Do you expect. Mr.Jawad Naqui to give the positive picture of him with a pinch of salt..
Anony Dec 13, 2012 08:07pm
A well written article sir.
Pradip Dec 14, 2012 01:12am
Thanks Jawed, for letting me know of an interesting author. I never heard of Mishra until I read your article and now I have asked for the book at my library. In fact, last night I saw him on Youtube discussing this specific book with Ian Buruma where Nirad C Chaudhuri's name came up. I was not really aware of the Chinese view of India as a lost country even though, when I visited Hong Kong, I saw plenty of Indians but did not know the historical baggage Indians carried by being the puppets of the Brits in suppressing the Chinese. Thank you for enlarging my panorama.
Sudheer Dec 13, 2012 03:52pm
Please don't worry sir, we Indians readers know what is wrong with us and what is wrong with Jawed Sahib! Just be happy and take care of Australia!!
NORI Dec 13, 2012 03:05pm
Criticize India when it's a really fit case. you say, Indian indulgence in areas beyond her province ? Do you know the facts or the complete picture or Supporting Naqvi because of any bias ? India's Oil company (ONGC) formed a business alliance with Vietnam's Petro Vietnam and together they were exploring for oil in international water near Vietnamese coast. The problem arose when China claimed the whole of South China sea as its own and wanted India to get out ? Can India claim whole of Indian Ocean on similar lines and ask China to get out ? If you say yes, I wasted 10 mins of my time.
SHRi Dec 13, 2012 03:37pm
Bbbb Dec 13, 2012 11:19pm
Hahahaha, not according to the teachings of Chanakya.
Bbbb Dec 13, 2012 11:18pm
Some of us, do like to know what is going on in the world. You also read the article, and took time to comment.
Bbbb Dec 13, 2012 11:11pm
Dream on.
Dr Khan Dec 13, 2012 10:25pm
Agree with you totally Malik sahib!
Dr Khan Dec 13, 2012 10:24pm
Why do these Indians spend all their time reading our papers? Don't they have lives?
Rajesh Dec 13, 2012 05:55pm
Yes, Javed Naqui's writings are generally negative about India. I don't trust what this man says.
v Dec 13, 2012 06:49pm
Excuse me Malik from Australia, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you.
kris Dec 13, 2012 08:51pm
It is amusing to me to read all these comments; each one of them are more intellectual and make sense. Never read a columnist who is consistently prejudiced..
Garib Manus Dec 13, 2012 08:38am
The Indian Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, has a 45 percent interest in exploration with Petro Vietnam, a Vietnamese oil company. These two companies jointly explore oil and natural gas in the area claimed by Vietnam, and in the undisputed waters in the South China Sea. Chinese ships have cut the exploration cables of Vietnam's oil-exploring ships (most recently in early December 2012). Both China and India are busy trying to find new sources of crude oil and natural gas supply to meet the exponentially growing demand for these fuels. As you might be aware, Vietnam's economy itself is growing at a rapid pace.
Chanakya Dec 16, 2012 03:32am
Exactly,he is just stirring the pot,and the pot is empty.
Chanakya Dec 16, 2012 03:33am
I wonder if the bridge is"The Brooklyn Bridge".
Chanakya Dec 16, 2012 03:37am
To know oneself,know your enemy first.