In 1948, the year India gained her independence from the British empire and became an independent republic, China lagged marginally behind her continental rival by almost every yardstick of economic measurement. Until the revolution of 1949 China had also been an empire; an ancient feudal society ruled by a succession of emperors governing a vast hinterland of illiterate peasants through a highly educated and urbanised elite of bureaucrats. Fields were sown and harvested using methods unchanged over hundreds of generations and superstition and spirituality governed the lives of the peasantry far more effectively than did the remote imperial court.
Each of these Asian giants had living on their land a seemingly inexhaustible supply of labour. The population of China in 1948 stood at 540 millions, India’s was 360 millions. China’s literacy rate was less than twenty percent of her population, while India’s was around twelve percent. The overwhelming majority of Chinese were engaged in rural occupations and in India it was very much the same – some sixty per cent of the people earned their living from the land.
Both had been blessed with dynamic market places and educated public servants who functioned in a comprehensive, nationwide civil service. They each could take pride in their ancient cultures; civilisations that had wisdom and knowledge at their core. Learning from generations of accomplished rulers and spiritual masters had stood them in good stead. Then came 1948 and modernity.
These newly independent republics were intent on uplifting their rural peasantry, urbanising, educating, replicating the successes of the occidental powers and competing with them economically, militarily and technically. The gross domestic product of India was approximately $30.6 billion at independence, China’s was a little more than $200 billion. According to a report by the Planning Commission in 1956 the average income of an Indian citizen when the British left was only 220 Rupees, the Chinese citizen had 100 Yuan per annum to live on. Both India and China possessed the natural resources, the manpower and the required knowledge and understanding of the modern world that ought to have given them the all clear, full steam ahead signal that would enable them to enter the new millennium at least on a par with their western competitors.
In 2008 the average rural worker in China was earning 4761 Yuan and in the cities, 15781 Yuan. By the year 2018 the Chinese population had grown to 1.4 billion souls and according to some estimates their average income had risen to $12 470 per person. Her GDP had soared to $122376 billion and the illiteracy rate had been cut to 15 percent of the citizenry. By 2019 China had eclipsed the economies of all her western competitors with the exception of the United States. No European power could compete with China, either economically or militarily. The infrastructure of the country had surpassed that of her rivals and her population was young, enthusiastic and energetic.
During the time it had taken China to climb to within a step of the pinnacle of the pyramid of nations, India had seen her population swell to 1.34 billion. Her citizens were earning on average $2000 and her gross domestic product was up to $2.14 trillion (2017). The number of illiterates had decreased as a percentage of the population to 25 and the numbers of people living and working in the countryside had declined to 35 percent of her nationals.
Given that these two Asian powers had begun their journeys on a par with each other, why is it that the Chinese have managed to move forward into the future so much more rapidly and successfully? Moreover it has done so in spite of the significant disadvantage of not having the familiarity and the understanding of the English language that the Indians had gained over their two centuries of colonisation by the British. No doubt the homogeneity of the Chinese population has played a role in her success. Ninety percent of her 1.4 billion people are from one ethnic group, the Han. India on the other hand, is home to a multitude of clans, castes, ethnicities and races. Perhaps there is an argument to be made, that in China the people are singing from the same song sheet so to speak, pulling their motherland in the same direction, however the exposure to the European mind, methods and markets should have balanced this commonality of genetics and to a lesser extent, language.
There is an area in which the Chinese are significantly ahead of the Indians and that is in the average IQ of her people. The average IQ of the Chinese is 104. The average for an Indian is 82 and the world average is 90. Irrespective of how smart the elites of the two countries are, and no one can doubt that they are intelligent, they must govern and lead their people, and the capacity of the average Chinese man in the street is far superior to the average Indian. Good ideas must be implemented at some point but when it comes to putting into practice the well laid plans and ambitions of their educated elites, India’s quality of workmanship, discipline, conscientiousness and output is sadly lacking.
The Chinese may not be the most inventive people, the number of extraordinarily high IQ individuals possessing the necessary genius to create something out of nothing is low, whereas some Indians do have this capacity, particularly among their Brahmin populations (many of whom migrate to the west and put their minds to work there), however the high average that is attained by the Chinese has allowed them to implement the ideas, techniques and technologies of others and do so to as high a standard as achieved in the west. This has enabled them to construct some of the most awe inspiring architectural and infrastructural projects and feats of engineering in our modern age. The Indians by comparison have failed to compete. Where as the Chinese built a railroad connecting the capital in Beijing to Llasa on the Tibetan plateau, the Indians have yet to build any in any of their mountainous states, relying on the narrow gauge railways engineered by the British in the nineteenth century. The rather straightforward project of constructing a highway from Delhi northward through Himachal Pradesh to Leh in the border state of Jammu and Kashmir has yet to come anywhere close to being completed, in spite of work going on for more than a decade and a half. The sections that have opened have again had to be closed due to them being destroyed by minor landslides. Chinese cities are magnificent examples of modern twenty first century architecture, Indian cities are not. They are shambolic.
Assuming that because the brightest in a society are competitive with the brightest in another, then their end product will also be competitive is a tragic mistake. Elites don’t build societies, working men and woman do and it is to these people, the average citizen, that we must look to if we are to plot the futures for the modern nation states. If the intelligence of the lower orders of a society is limited then that country’s prospects will be too. Until the modern Indian mind grasps this uncomfortable and painful nettle then they will never attain the dizzy heights and stand side by side with China. Perhaps a good place for Indians to start could be to learn some humility and engage in some self analysis – something that the ancient ancestors of today’s Indians had mastered but sadly their descendants have forgotten.