Do India and China Really Understand Each Other?

Award winning journalist and author Pallavi Aiyar discusses her two books on China and India in Mumbai on January 31, 2011.

MUMBAI, January 31, 2011- Although India and China are neighbors with a long and complex history, award-winning journalist and author Pallavi Aiyar claims that the countries are far from understanding each other’s “real” people and circumstances.

As part of Asia Society India Centre’s Lunar New Year Celebration, Aiyar presented her two books: Chinese Whiskers and Smoke and Mirrors.

Chinese Whiskers presents China through the lens of two anthropomorphized cats. It sheds light on recent events such as the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and the outbreak of the SARS virus, while also depicting the many different kinds of people in China, from slum dwellers to dubious entrepreneurs.

Smoke and Mirrors alludes to red-herrings and deceptions, which Pallavi says aptly sums up the relationship between India and China. This book provides an account of contemporary China from the grassroots up.

Aiyar was raised in India and she says she always perceived a cultural disconnect between India and China. When she went to live in China, she said her notions about China were completely inaccurate.

Aiyar observed that Indians tend to look at China from the perspective of growth statistics, border issues, and the communist government. While the Chinese still think India is a Buddhist country even though Buddhism has been reduced to a minority religion, and they continue to watch 60-year-old Bollywood movies such as Awara, which were popularized in China because of their apparent socialist messages.

Through her writing, Aiyar tries to overcome such misunderstandings by reflecting on both India and China's value systems. India’s culture, for example, is underpinned by metaphysics, while China's is more rooted in a Confucian heritage.

Aiyar says both India and China have a long way to go in fully understanding one another.