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China, India Can Learn a Lot from Each Other
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Several Indians were very excited on last Wednesday's evening flight from Beijing to New Delhi. They were talking so loudly that a Dutch passenger had to ask them to be quiet.

"We Indians sometimes are too noisy," Dr Arvinder Singh, resident economist at the Center for the Study of Developing Societies in New Delhi, told me.

And so are the Chinese so much so that a code of conduct for Chinese tourists asks them to refrain from talking too loudly in public.

This is arguably one trait shared by Indians and Chinese, at a time when many are trying to fumble out answers as to how much China and India differs or shares in common.

Singh, who is also honorary fellow at the Institute of Chinese Studies, said it is hard to avoid a comparison between the two when they are constantly featured in the international media for their growth or problems.

People may take the two countries' similarities for granted, such as their big populations or long histories. Even the differences in their political and administrative structures or growth models seem obvious.

But even when we have come up with some comparisons, does it mean that we really know and understand each other?

Hardly, as I have been discovering during my current trip to India. The Chinese who work and study here in India feel frustrated that there is still a lack of knowledge about China in India and that the local media have not helped matters.

Their reporting of China is often negative, a Chinese student and a Chinese businessman both told me.

They also noted that the Chinese media are comparatively more positive. But does positive reporting mean that we Chinese know the Indian people and its current society better?

Not at all. Singh observed that the library in the India Study Center at Sichuan University, Chengdu, does not have extensive collections on India. China's senior India scholars invariably studied Sanskrit, which is hardly of practical use in understanding contemporary India.

Meanwhile, very few students study Indian languages. At Peking University, its Hindi language program enrols about 10 students every four years "because of market reasons, perhaps," Singh noted and they end up as interpreters for multinational or Indian companies or with the foreign affairs ministry.

Moreover, both of our peoples have preconceived notions that are difficult to change in the short term.

But as the world gets smaller and smaller with the advent of globalization, we two peoples can no longer ignore and only find fault with each other, as Dr Swaran Singh, associate professor at the School of International Studies at Jawaharial Nehru University, indicated when we chatted together about China-India relations.

It is good to see that quite a few people scholars, professionals, businesspeople are shaking off prejudices and working towards enhancing mutual understanding between Chinese and Indians.

Through my talks with quite a few Chinese, as well as Indians, I have found that they have gone beyond scratching the surface and have begun to dig deeper into each other's good qualities so that we can really learn from each other and find solutions to our differences.

(China Daily November 23, 2006)

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