Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Age of ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China- book by Evan Osnos

Evan Osnos, who lived in China as correspondent of New Yorker and who speaks Chinese, gives a fresh perspective on the multidimensional and rapid transformations taking place in the Chinese society. He does this through the narration of his encounters and interactions with individuals who are entrepreneurs, company executives, party leaders, government officials, workers, peasants, artists and dissidents. He describes how the people try to make sense of the new dawn of China from their own point of view and advance their careers and goals. Some of them are lucky to hit the jackpot while others struggle and fail. Some entrepreneurs succeed in becoming billionaires legitimately as first movers. But there are also lot of corrupt officials, party leaders and those close to power who also become rich quickly.

The journalists, artists and activists play a cat and mouse game with authorities all the time. Each side tries to push the boundaries of freedom of expression and state control of thought relentlessly moving back and forth. The authorities sometimes resort to ridiculous methods such as banning jasmine flowers in the market to prevent them from being reminder of Jasmine revolution in Tunisia which brought down a dictatorship. 

The authorities do not have fixed doctrines except for the determination to perpetuate their own power and control. Confucius was persona non grata at one time. But later the authorities changed their mind and rehabilitated him. They have even gone to the extent of using Confucius name as soft power diplomacy by opening Confucius Centres all over the world.

Osnos has not come to any conclusions or given the readers any clue to the future of China. But after reading the book, one gets the impression that the process of reforms and transformation of China are likely to go on for a long time. What is clear is that the Chinese have a remarkable capacity and hunger to learn, adapt, improve and excel themselves quickly with resilience and determination. So there is no point in gloating over the Hongkong protests, the economic slowdown and corruption scandals.

The absence of democracy is not going to stop the country from becoming more prosperous and be a global leader. Look at Singapore. It is respected as a role model for good governance, development, cleanliness, efficiency, least corrupt and globally competitive. But it is not a democracy. China will go the Singapore way. So will Cuba and Vietnam.

Osnos confirms my own impression after my visit to China last year. As an Indian, I saw a lesson and inspiration for India from the Chinese success and achievements. I admire the way the Chinese have transformed themselves within a generation. I have nothing but admiration for the way in which they have become global leaders in areas such as high speed trains, electric vehicles and renewable energy, overtaking US in such a short period. 

India has to manage the relationship with China smartly given the complex role of China as a threat, competitor, collaborator, trade partner and global leader in manufacturing, trade and technology. The US-China rivalry offers opportunities for India to play one against the other and get the best from both the great powers.