China has been the tiger economy to watch for close on two decades now. While India was always making strides economically, it was never placed alongside China, except for the clumsy reference “Chindia”.
India does one of two things to people; you either love completely or reject it. For me, it is thoroughly the first of the two, I have spent a lot of time in the country as a traveller and also professionally, and every time, I am profoundly changed by the experience.
The richness of India and its diverse community has produced outstanding music, literary work, and film. However, more recently it has been the nation’s penchant for creating tech startups that has Tim Cook, and the rest of the world noticing. It appears an area, where all India’s human competitive advantage is coming together to create something of a revolution.
At this time, it seems appropriate to discuss possible lessons China can be drawing from India – a country of similar size, that is undergoing the same unique historic transformation from tradition to modernity, and beyond.
Lesson One – Let Tech Free
Every second article I read on India is exciting news of a new, super practical tech startup. This is happening in many different areas of India, not such the traditional tech city, Bangalore (Bengaluru). It seems that India may be going through a seemingly cultural renaissance to what inspired the rise of Silicon Valley, and the generational icons born of this time. It is spontaneous, unique, and organic local tech culture, built on meetings of entrepreneurs determined to create the ‘next big thing’.
In China, the environment is far less dynamic. My sense is everyone is modelling themselves on Xiaomi (a local phone company) or is simply trying to recreate themselves as Alibaba founder Jack Ma. While a cultural proclivity to copy could be a lazy explanation here, it feels it is more systemic.
If the ‘little guys’ are not given the chance to develop, China will become a market dominated by tech monopolists – who will not provide the economy with a sufficient amount of innovation. In part because of market share, but also because they do not face truly competitive markets.
Quite simply – China needs to create a more conducive environment for startups, and protect them from being controlled or overtaken by tech giants. India’s scene is closer to ‘perfect competition’ – so is thriving as a result.
Lesson 2 – Create Genuine Local Film Content
Much has been made of China’s increasing amount of local film content – but do any of the people claiming this, actually watch it. What is behind this ‘localisation’, is essentially a ‘Hollywoodization’ of Chinese culture, where style, genre and even narrative, and reproduced without shame.
This trend in the industry is strengthening as an increasing amount of investment is channeled into film – with an understandably narrow focus on box office numbers as all costs.
However, looking at India industry, often referred to as Bollywood, the content is culturally specific to India. It does not necessarily travel, but it dominant locally. So much so, that Hollywood has struggled to gain even modest success at the local box office.
It feels at this early stage in the commercialisation of Chinese film, that Bollywood provides an appropriate cultural model for China, in terms of producing a cultural specific material, that creates a provides the local industry protection over the long term. It feels China’s film industry is currently losing its local soul, under pressure to earn guaranteed box office in the world’s fastest-growing movie market.
Lesson 3 – Pride in local cultures
As interest and travel to China continues to grow, people are naturally looking beyond China’s major cities such as Shanghai and Beijing. However, it feels that people to not really have any sense of the diversity and different cultures that exist within the country.
India has done a superb job of showcasing the different communities and regions of the nation, such as Rajasthan, the Punjab, Kerala etc. While Chengdu, a city in China’s West, has successfully created some level of awareness, the rest of China, is only ‘discovered by accident’. While regionalism is somewhat naturally under-communicated in a country focussed unifying everyone through nationalism – it is now increasingly important to allow the ‘different cultures’ of China to become known to an international audience.
While regionalism is somewhat naturally under-communicated in a country focussed unifying everyone through nationalism – it is now increasingly important to allow the ‘different cultures’ of China to become known to an international audience. This is essential in shifting the perception of China as a monolith, to a more realistic and modern reality of richly diverse nation.
As with the two points above, this is another that China could take from their Western mega-neighbor.