Narain is the founder & CEO for 360 Degree Interactive, a web services firm based in Chennai, India. This blog is about his personal views on Web 2.0, RoR, Social networking,Digital media, interactive advertising, SaaS, Service Oriented Architecture, India Inc, rural education, Web standards, mobile 2.0 and more.

Thursday, February 17

50 Years - Revolution Vs. Democracy

This article is from Business world magazine in India. In one of the expert column, well known author Kamini Banga ( Wife of Mr. Vindi Banga - The Super Boss at HLL) analyses the impact of change in India & China. She is a well-known consumer & brand consultant and managing director of Dimenstions Consultancy Pvt. Ltd.

This text is from Businessworld Magazine all content & information owned by them only. I am featuring it here as an information ref. only.

Fifty years of revolution vs fifty years of democracy

"So much has been written about China that I am wondering what I can say that will be different. I had first been there in 1996 -- in Guangzhou after a two-hour train journey from Hong Kong. When we disembarked, there were unfriendly, gun-toting cops everywhere. I stood in a long queue, and the immigration officer spent a good quarter of an hour looking at my passport.

The station looked straight out of George Orwell’s 1984, or just as I had imagined it. It was certainly very different from Hong Kong where I had just spent two days. Already Guangzhou had skyscrapers disappearing into the clouds, departmental stores with imported brands. It was impressive, but did I see today reflected somewhere? Perhaps not. I was conducting a workshop among young Chinese professionals then. It was done with the help of an interpreter. I took twice as long and when it came to translating neuro linguistic programming, I just gave up.

On my recent visit to Beijing, I walked into a spanking airport, the immigration officer smiled, took 45 seconds to clear me and my baggage was there before I reached the baggage claim area.

In a manner of speaking, both China and India were born around fifty years ago. One went through a revolution for its genesis and the other won its independence after 250 years of colonisation. One took the road to communism and the other to being a socialist democracy. The revolution and one-party rule have resulted in the economy growing at 9 odd per cent. But the democratic route is not too far behind with 6 odd per cent.

As one lands in Beijing you can see the 9 per cent-odd growth in the economy all around you.

In Shanghai, it hits you even more -- with state-of-the-art infrastructure. It is an architect’s delight and an urban planner’s dream with flyovers and freeways, not that they can prevent traffic choking the streets. While China’s place under the sun cannot be doubted even by the worst of sceptics, India’s growth rate is not that far behind. However landing in Mumbai or in one of the major cities, that does not become so obvious. On the contrary, lack of infrastructure, slums and poor housing makes one wonder if the figures are right. So what accounts for the growth in India? Perhaps those millions of entrepreneurs making up 55 per cent of the service sector. They certainly add up to make the country good, but great?

Despite the numbers and obvious successes, there are some details that make me think hard about the wonder that is China.

Where has the past gone
In the two cities I visited, the past has truly gone. To see the Chinese way of life, one would have to visit perhaps the provinces or Hong Kong or Taiwan or even one of the other South East Asian countries with Chinese diaspora. Maybe, Chinese authorities have not realised that tourists from all over the world come as much to see The Forbidden City, as they do to see a country hungry and in a hurry to grow. When we visited the famed palace, it had all the appearance of a derelict heritage site. We had James Bond booming through the headphones guiding us through the labyrinthine bastion of the Iron Curtain. Nothing could have been more ironic than a British icon showing off the treasures of the converted.

Embracing change
Our young guide was called Anita Zhang. She explained that her Chinese name was Yanyi, but since most westerners had difficulty with Chinese names it was seen practical to adopt a Christian one. This was interesting because one can understand this change amongst immigrants to western countries, but to do it on your own turf smacked of colossal confidence and an attitude of can-do-will-do to get there. I thought of good old Warden Road becoming Bhulabhai Desai Road and Victoria Terminus changing to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. Were we making it a point of reminding ourselves and the world of our heritage or just getting stuck in irrelevant details?

All (wo)men are equal
Mao believed “Women hold up half the sky” and his biggest legacy has been an equal participation of women in the workforce. China scores there while the rest of the world operates with half of their potential workforce with women voluntarily or otherwise staying away from work and involving themselves with home and children. During Mao’s time, the blue Chinese jackets and blue pants was ubiquitous for men and women alike. The same spirit prevails even today.

The speed and scale
In Shanghai, we heard stories of how Shanghai looked so different only three years ago. We went for a hutong tour -- small alleyways and courtyard houses, a thing of the past. One such hutong has been preserved for tourists next to The Forbidden City and will soon be razed. These are, as the name suggests, rooms built around a courtyard much like what we saw in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Infrastructure, manufacturing facilities are built to take care of the coming years. The international Pudong airport in Shanghai belies description in terms of scale. But when we boarded our flight, it was pretty much empty. So were the highways that we took to get out of Beijing. And it is not all hard work and no play. Shanghai is rocking -- all young people joining the workforce today want to be in China. And this is really not stretching it. Shanghai has become the new London, Paris and Manhattan combined. That is where the centre of gravity of the world will be, and a walk down Xin Tian Di at night will tell you why. Foreigners love Shanghai.

Faking it
What can you say about a country that prides itself in making the best fakes, and is getting better and better at it. Hopefully, they will not need to make fakes any more with Chinese companies buying global companies and brand names, IBM being a case in point.

Citizen versus consumer
The young lady taking me around worked in a large multinational company with her husband working in an equally large global IT company. They had just bought their new 1500 sq.ft flat and done it up. The flat cost about Rs 75 lakh and had been taken on mortgage. They had a brand new car. People are happy, she told me -- new flats, cars, refrigerators, cell phones, etc. Their salaries were multiples of 20-30 what their parents earned. Could there be a repeat of Tiananmen Square? She looked shocked when I suggested it. Moral of the story: people as consumers are far happier than people as citizens making up vote banks.

Finally, China is second only to the US in Olympics medal tally. They seemed to have found the golden mean of State intervention with consumer-driven economy. "

I will post my opinions on this in few days.


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