We had a large group of Chinese students from Malayasia and Singapore in engineering school. Highly clannish, they rarely mixed with the rest of us. We had Arabs too and lots of Sri Lankans. The Arabs and Lankans were fun, not the Chinese. Slit eyes puckered under frowns, almost perfectly round faces, close-cropped spiky hair, they really were something else. The backs of their heads were a bit flattened out, so that they blended without even a little concavity, with the backs of their necks.
If they didn’t have a choice, like if you landed up face to face, they’d give you a fleeting, mirthless smile. Otherwise, they’d stare right through you. You didn’t mess with them. They didn’t look it but they were extremely agile and wiry. You wouldn’t find them stoned or drunk or babbling to nobody in particular. They appeared perpetually on guard, in control. One of them, a guy called Bo, seemed like the go-to guy, the leader. Yeah, get a group of Chinese together and they’ll quickly organize themselves, appoint a leader and fall in behind him. All in all, the bunch looked like an official delegation of some sort, not naughty teen students.
If you happened to get close to one, or brushed against him by accident in the lab or lecture hall, you might feel the flawless, soft skin the color of Milkmaid condensed milk, devoid of hair. It was impossible to estimate their ages even. The one called Bo was said to be around 30 at the time, though he looked just as young or old as the others. Palniyappan (Pal for short), told me he saw Bo’s birth date on his passport which was lying on his desk when Pal entered to get his Vibrations notes back. Pal was the closest that the Chinks got, to having an Indian friend. Tough for Pal, because we immediately started calling him ‘CBC’ (Chinese Ball Carrier) or ‘CG’ (Commie Groupie). Of course, these guys were from Malaysia and Singapore and couldn’t possibly have been commie (though they did have extensive family in mainland China, as Bo let slip once).
On hindsight, it is possible that we might have let them feel isolated, making no effort to invite them in our midst. It was chicken and egg, whether they were the ones who wanted to be left alone or we, who didn’t want slit-eyed aliens crawling all over us. A little of both, I guess. Or maybe the memories of 1962 were still fresh inside us all.
But I personally feel that they were just made that way, living inside a world of their own. After all, the isolationist ethos that drove them to build a 6000 mile long wall, runs pretty deep in them, as history makes quite evident. For thousands of years, the Chinese simply never thought that anyone else could be better than them in anything, nor that there could be something which they might be able to learn from others. Times have changed though. While other civilizations might have flickered out over time, the Chinese have survived. Back in the BCs, the world imitated the Chinese. And now? They copy everything, in a frenzied desperation to get ahead.
What struck us the most in the Chinese students was the complete lack of any sense of fun, even within themselves. If they cried or felt homesick, they did it in private, but they just didn’t seem capable of any emotion at all. There was no dating and no peccadillos with Sarayu Hostel girls. Perhaps it was the communist mindset then. These guys were like machines that had been programmed to succeed at any cost.
I recall that once, I had in my hands the only copy of a tutorial that was sure to have questions for the upcoming exams. I was holding the paper up for anyone who wanted it as I was done with it. One of the chinks literally tore it out of my hands and without a word, spun around and left for his hostel room hurriedly.
A Chinese will be prepared to do just about anything to get ahead, trust me. I now have Chinese colleagues. Same thing. Utterly driven, with no pretensions of looking out for the others in the team. To them, a team only constitutes a group of Chinese. Sweeping statement that, but when the percentage of conformity to it is high, I’d leave the statement undisturbed. Remember the Chinese infantrymen in 1962, shouting between bursts of Brengun fire, ‘Hindi Chini bhai bhai’ across the line of control? You don’t really think they saw us as brothers, do you?
You’ll rarely find a loser or even a wimp who is Chinese.
Trust you’ve been following the saga of Bo and Gu?
Bo Xilai and Gu Kailai till recently, were a power couple in Dalian, the principal city in the Chinese province of Liaoning. Bo Xilai was the provincial governor and Gu Kailai ran a highly successful law firm that every foreign business was coerced to retain if it wanted to do business in there. Both were born to influential families within the communist hierarchy and at one time, Bo was thought to be in the running for the top job in China, the Premiership.
Until their world suddenly imploded in 2011 when all the frogs’ legs came to roost. Like politicians all over China and indeed all over the world, they had been busy transferring massive sums of money from inside China to safe havens abroad. For this, they had a middleman, a Britisher with a Chinese wife and extensive business connections, Neil Heywood, who set everything up so that the transactions couldn’t be traced directly to them.
Middlemen exist all over the world and in advanced nations, they even enjoy an exalted legal status. In America and Canada, these forms of low life are called ‘registered lobbyists’, through whom you can get just about anything done and without whom you can get just about nothing done. They are out there in the open and everything is set up to be so transparent that the rest of the world thinks of these nations as models of probity and transparency. It is the reason why these countries seem so lily white in corruption indices that are periodically published by list-makers in Fortune and Forbes magazines. Lobbying is what politicians in North America gravitate to after they retire from politics.
Like India, China too is riddled with red tape and corruption and perhaps at the same extreme levels. China has its own Kalmadis, Pawars, Reddys, Rajus and Marans, without whom it is impossible to do business there. Neil Heywood was one, till he was poisoned to death a few months back. It is believed he had demanded a larger cut from the illegal transfers that he was facilitating for Bo and Gu.
The similarity with India ends with the corruption. The Chinese have this strong streak of nationalistic fervor that is very similar to the one that we see in Americans. It helps them put astronauts in space with effortless ease, build massive nuclear powered aircraft carriers and stealth fighter aircraft that might give even the F35 Lightning a run for its money. The same patriotism brings its populace firmly together, bursting with pride at their nation’s achievements.
Where I work, we import varieties of extremely critical aircraft engine parts and I never fail to admire the consistency in the quality of their products, the sheer speed with which they develop them and the unbelievable ease with which we, sitting half a world away, can deal with them. In order to make us comfortable in our interactions, they go to the extent of adopting Christian first names. Its more comfortable to talk to a ‘Dave’ than a ‘Xao Ling’.
This China is skillfully camouflaged by the other one, that fills dollar store shelves the world over, with plastic toys that break in no time, mixes toxic chemicals in baby formula, sells dog meat as mutton and spreads all kinds of infectious flu epidemics.
Together, the two Chinas are kept firmly under the thumb by a tight group of politburo elders that brooks no nonsense from anybody anywhere. Any dissent is put down very swiftly. Perhaps that is another form of governance and apparently a more successful one, than the quagmire that we have in India.