Tuesday, 26 May 2009

What India can learn from China - 2. To get rich is glorious

In the spring of 1992, Deng Xiaoping visited Shenzhen and uttered 9 words that changed China. “To get rich is glorious, Poverty is not socialism”, he said. The rest is history.

Remember, where China was at the end of the Cultural Revolution and the Mao era. For Deng to say that is the most visionary thing that has happened in the world in the 20th century. Some 300 million people were yanked from abject poverty to a good standard of living in a very short period. Whatever may be his other faults, for this achievement alone, he is one of the greatest leaders of that century.

In China, business and economic activity is considered glorious. There is little backlash against industry. Agriculture and industry do not confront as much as in India. The migrant labour that has enabled China’s manufacturing miracle all came from agriculture, willingly. Businessmen are not generally seen in China as rogues . The mindset of the people in China is massively in favour of economic advancement. It is not glorious to be poor.

In India, poverty is glorified. Political leaders fall over themselves to be pro poor and anti rich. Even as a society, Indians tend to be apologetic about being rich and glorious about being poor. This is extremely hypocritical; as a nation Indians are as money minded as the rest of the world, but somehow its not OK to be so overtly. Consequently industry is seen with suspicion. Much of the economic policy is therefore warped.

In China, the poor are given opportunities to get rich. In India, the poor are subsidised to remain poor. In China, policies are pro industry. In India, policies are allegedly pro poor. In China, they create wealth before they think of redistribution. In India, they think of redistribution before they create wealth. That’s partly why China runs a surplus budget and India a deficit one. The average Indian feels happy when a rich man is pulled down. The average Chinese is happy when he joins in being a rich man.

So India, adopt a new mantra. I suggest all Indians recite this every day – To get rich is glorious; poverty is not socialism.

PS : There is some doubt as to whether Deng Xiaoping actually said those words. The Chinese text (Deng did not speak English) is not widely known. But whether he actually said it or not, that’s what people believe and that’s what the government has acted on.


  1. this made nice read.. very informative..it is also a very valid view point..

    true how we try and 'glorify' poor..if only equal oppurtunities were given based on capabilities..education would be a good start i guess..

  2. China also had a short history when being poor was glorified. Deng Xiaoping was indeed a great leader. Without his vision and courage, China could still have been at the bottom of the third world.

    I agree with the above comment about equal opportunities and education.

  3. @Aparna - Absolutely. Uplift everybody.

    @Hang - Thankfully, China gave up that position soon enough. Indeed Deng was a great leader, who I believe has not been as well appreciated outside of China, as he should be, because of one incident.

  4. kiwibloke26/5/09

    The little I know of Deng, I think he was proabably a nobel laurate for economics that never was! He turned over the conventional thinking of the Keyensian economists. A man who could plan a mass migration of over 300M rural folk (without creating the urban slums that we are so familiar with in India, Brazil or even Jo'burg) and in the process lifting literally hundreds of millions out of poverty deserves much more than a Nobel Prize in economics.. Some times I wish and dream India gets a visionary as a leader rather than the petty rabble rousing crowds cutting across party affiliations we have. Price of democracy I guess!

  5. This is good example of what a clear vision, bigger dream and greater purpose can achieve. It requires one man to change everything.

    Thanks for sharing, I did not know this.

  6. Indians should start aiming and dreaming high and what you said is true, when one Indian tries big n fails others laugh instead of encouraging him to try again.

  7. @kiwi - Completely agree. Unfortunately in the West, Tiananmen Square wipes out everything Deng has done. But Deng doesn't need a Nobel prize - he's above that. After all Gandhi never got a Nobel Prize ...

    @Adesh - Yes a man of great substance can change everything.

    @rads - India needs a visionary dreamer and doer as a leader. The "real" Gandhi; not the current Gandhis !

  8. Ravi Rajagopalan27/5/09

    Ramesh - Deng Xiaoping is supposed to have said these words on a visit to Guangzhou in 1978 or so. By the time I got to China in 1992 these words were echoing around the world.

  9. @Ravi - there's some doubt as to whether Deng said this at all. But he has said something like this quite a few times. I doubt if he did so as far back as 1978, I thought it was after 1989, that he finally was able to drive the reform agenda.

  10. Ravi Rajagopalan27/5/09

    Ramesh - I have to disagree. And he did say this, to signal the end of the era of the Gang of Four. Recent history says that one of the leaders of China (disgraced in 1989 after Tien-An-Men) was the catalyst. The point is that by the late 70s, China was pretty much fed up with the collectivist cult.

  11. I'm enjoying this series of posts a lot, Ramesh. This one in particular is enlightening to me.

    Not knowing Indian culture as well as I do Chinese culture, I just assumed that Indians shared the same drive and reverence for material riches.

    To hear otherwise is surprising to me.

    The idea of this whole series is really good. Maybe I should do a US-China style feature on my blog!

  12. Thanks Mark. A US-China feature would be enormously interesting ...


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