I played host to two friends from India during the National Day holiday. Dutifully -- and grudgingly -- I took them to the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and the Great Wall, among other attractions; cleverly telling them that the Summer Palace is best seen only in summer.
They came to gaze at the wonders of ancient China, but soon ended up gaping at the New China.
I had primed myself to be their rough guide to China but turned into a primer on the system of governance and the Communist Party of China – and how they manage to get things done.
Sure, they knew China is the fastest-growing major economy – but they were smug in the knowledge their country was just behind. China's stock market is booming, they knew -- theirs was hitting stratosphere. China's forex reserves were swelling by the minute – theirs too.
As we whizzed along traffic-thin roads (their enthusiasm might have flagged if they had been stuck on the Third Ring Road during a working day) they gawked at the 300-odd giant buildings coming up in the Central Business District alone – including the awe- and fear-inspiring CCTV Tower, the Olympic icons of the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube and the spectacular National Grand Theater.
There's more underground, I said proudly as if I had designed and were building the vast network of subway lines – just to rub it in that our city, Hyderabad, the fifth- or sixth-biggest in the country, is still looking at feasibility studies on a subway. And adding the iodized variety in, told them that Beijing would add six more lines to the existing five.
So how is it done, asked one, a builder.
Vision, I said, trying to muster the combined wisdom of the founders of Google and Gome.
The Communist Party of China has had a vision to meet the aspirations of each successive generation. Mao Zedong had his thoughts, Deng Xiaoping, his theory, Jiang Zemin, a plan for an inclusive society, and the current leadership led by Hu Jintao stress on scientific development and the building of a harmonious society.
All laudable objectives they might be for their times, but the key is they changed with the times. Many – or most – Communist parties around the world didn't – and paid the political price.
Inevitably, our conversation shifted to the Communist parties in India (yes, there is more than one).
Why does the middle class perceive it to be obstructionist and obscurantist?
The hottest debate in India now is their rabid opposition to a nuclear-energy deal with the United States. The party holds the balance of power in parliament and should they withdraw support to the Congress Party-led ruling coalition, the government will collapse.
China has had a nuclear-power pact with the US for years, thundered a vast section of the media. Indeed, Westinghouse – an American company – has recently signed a contract to build the latest-generation nuclear power generator in the country.
The litany of complaints against the policies of Indian Communists -- seen as a stark contrast to the pragmatic policies in China – ranges from opposition to foreign direct investment in banking, insurance or infrastructure to retail chains, either foreign or domestic.
The impression is that for ideologically-blinkered Indian Communists, anything to do with the West, especially the United States, is "imperialism". In the five years I have lived in China I have rarely come across the word. Nor, from what I read, in Vietnam, which has good reason to raise it.
For quite a few years now, the mantra of many Indians who have visited China was: Send our politicians and officials to China to try and learn. Of late, the cry has been: Send the Indian Communists to China to start learning.
Trust the CPC sends an invitation.
The author has worked as a senior journalist in the Asia-Pacific region including the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Papua New Guinea and India, before joining China Daily more than five years ago.