John Gray’s review of Pankaj Mishra’s Temptations of the West : How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond makes me very curious to read it. The book is about the fluidity of cultural frontiers, and how cultures change in response to (peaceful or violent) contact with one another, which is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Here’s a snippet:
In a brilliant chapter Mishra observes that one of the central aims of India’s 19th-century anti-colonial movements was to invent Hinduism as a religion. As part of building a modern Indian nation that could resist and overthrow British rule, the Hindu elite simplified and remoulded India’s unfathomably rich inheritance of beliefs and practices into something resembling a western creed. Like Shinto in Japan, Hinduism as it figures in Indian politics today is a byproduct of an encounter with the west. In order to resist western domination, Asian peoples have found themselves compelled to copy them. As Mishra observes, India’s anti-colonial elites “denounced British imperialism as exploitative, but even they welcomed its redeeming modernity, and, above all, the European idea of the nation – a cohesive community with a common history, culture, values and sense of purpose – which for many other colonised peoples appeared a way of duplicating the success of the powerful, all-conquering west.” The result has been to exacerbate sectarian divisions, and create them where they did not exist before.
And in an op-ed piece in the same paper, Mishra argues that China and India made important gains when they adapted parts of the free market economy and rejected others.
Economic reforms in the 80s focused on boosting export-oriented industries on the coast. They made China a huge sweatshop for the west’s cheap goods and gave it an average annual growth of 10%. It may be tempting to credit the invisible hand of the free market for this, but, as in the so-called “Asian tiger” economies, the Chinese state has carefully regulated domestic industry and foreign trade and investment, besides maintaining control of public services.