This paper seeks to summarize, analyze, and compare the books Street of Eternal Happiness: Big City Dreams Along a Shanghai Road by a well-known Shanghai correspondent for National Public Radio Rob Schmitz and The End of Karma: Hope and Fury among India’s Young by the award-winning Indian-American journalist Somini Sengupta. In particular, the paper will compare Sengupta’s and Schmitz’s views on India and China respectively analyzing important cultural and social aspects and their connections with people’s aspirations from different perspectives.
Both authors address the demographical challenge and problem of overpopulation in China and India, which considerably influence worldview of people and attitude to women, specifically. These countries are among the world demographical leaders; however, each of them has its own peculiarities. For example, Sengupta states that in India, there is a great disparity between the number of girls and boys claiming that “according to the 2011 census, for every 1000 boys that are born, there are only 919 girls.” The gender imbalance can be explained by the degradation of female babies in the wombs of their mothers that the social structure of the Indian society causes. The disparity can be also explained by the place of women in the communities. Families consider them burdens since they do not bring money home but only take them from the budget for food, clothing, education, entertainment, and medical services.
At the same time, Schmitz points that demographic situation in China was challenging to the extent that the government had to introduce planned birth policy in 1979. The Chinese society, similarly to the Indian one, is very patriarchal; therefore, a man plays the key role in a family. Beating of a woman in case a husband is not satisfied was considered a norm. In the rural areas, in both countries, parents still arrange the marriages. Often, a woman does not have a real choice since she does not control her own destiny. What is more, in India and China, a family unit is considered to be the highest cultural and social value of the society. Therefore, the divorces are highly discouraged at both official (legal) and unofficial (social) levels. On practice, it means that there is a high probability that a person from a divorced family will be blamed in all possible social institutions starting from educational establishments as well as workplaces and finishing by neighborhoods. Definitely, the situation is much worse in the rural areas as compared to urban ones since there, people are more conservative and closed to changes. However, it is important to mention that today, due to the processes of the globalization, integration, and spread of capitalism, this state of things started to alter gradually making people more open towards new transformations.
The demographical challenge significantly influences the economic situation in both countries as well. In particular, in India, due to the fact that the economy cannot handle such a large population, nearly 30% of children under the age of 5 are considered clinically malnourished, 1/4 of Indian citizens live in the conditions of extreme poverty (on less than $1.25 a day), 1/3 of all Indian children are not immunized against the simplest preventable diseases, and the majority of women suffer from anemia. What is more, even despite the economic growth, the unemployment in the country is increasing, and every year India must create minimum 10 million workplaces for people, which is quite difficult and complicated task.
In China, the situation was similar since there were “as much as the 800 million Chinese – roughly two-thirds of the population – who lived on less than $2 a day.” It is clearly visible from the book that the characters of Schmitz do not really enjoy the economic situation in the country since the functioning of the “system” was far away from perfect. In particular, the educational system, employment opportunities, and social conditions that the Chinese people had were depressive. They did not promote development, progress, and happiness of the individuals. The popular Chinese greeting when people meet each other “Have you eaten?” partly reflects the economic situation, in which the society was. Obviously, it is difficult for the westerners to understand it since they did not really experience the same social conditions as the Chinese did. At the same time, it is important to mention that there is a huge gap between poor and rich people in both countries while the middle class is truly struggling to remain at its place. In its turn, India has a cast system that was, is, and will be functioning in the future due to orientation to the traditions of the society. It is hard to believe that in the modern age of opportunities, the label of the cast, which a person belongs to, defines his/her destiny.
Both readings show the role of urbanization in the development of a country and describe the living conditions of the simple citizens. For example, Schmitz stated that nearly half of Shanghai residents (10 out of 24 million people) were the workers “outside people,” who had recently moved from poorer parts of China in search of better living and working conditions. However, it is very difficult to accommodate everybody in one city and ensure smooth functioning of the infrastructure as well as decent conditions. The life in the countryside of India and China did not really change. People are still involved in agriculture and hold farm animals.
Both Schmitz and Sengupta show that despite the fact that today the world lives in the progressive and capitalistic 21st century, the social traditions in China and India are very conservative and connected to the past. They represent the societies, in which parents control the decision-making for their children almost throughout the whole duration of their adulthood. In both communities, the students are taught never question their teachers’ words, and people learn not to hesitate over their leaders’ decisions who often rule using the methods close to tyrannical ones. Today, the above-mentioned countries try to find the balance between old and new, traditional and progressive reexamining their values, habits, customs, and traditions.
In addition, India and China live in a great social illusion. According to the words of their citizens, the governments only seem to care about people, sustainable development, higher social standards, and improvement of infrastructures; however, in reality the system does not function. Therefore, people are puzzled and confused about the future and prosperity of their families. Their aspirations in terms of economic, political, and social life in both countries are quite positive since people believe that the future should be better than the past and the present.
Another connecting point between the countries in terms of books by Schmitz and Sengupta is their poor ecological situation. In fact, fast economic development of India and China, low ecological legal standards as well as salary level contribute to it. Severe pollution of air, water, and soil can be considered truly dangerous for the ecology of both countries. More and more citizens of India and China are suffering today from a wide range of ecology-related diseases or are even born with disabilities. People in big cities are forced to wear masks to avoid breathing polluted air. Less resources and natural places are left for the future generations in China and India.
Talking about the distinct features between the countries that the books present, it is important to mention that China and India are very different in terms of ideology. China is a communist-oriented state while India claims to be the democracy. It is considered that there is freedom of speech in both countries; however, the law of China is much stricter towards journalists while the press is under strong censure. The situation with freedom of press is better in India but still, it is far away from being perfect. The religion is another distinct point between the countries. There are the Chinese folk religion in China and Hinduism in India. Definitely, other religions are also practiced within these countries and are considered allowed but it is important to remember that China is less tolerant towards other religions and consider them a threat to the national culture, traditions, and even security while Indian government is more open-minded towards other religions and confessions. According to Schmitz ’s and Sengupta’s readings, even though China and India are two industrially developed nations, the Chinese are largely free from poverty, hunger, and illiteracy. It is undoubtedly that both countries face the above-mentioned problems; however, their scope and scale are totally different. Many scientists claim that it is quite surprising that the dictatorship of China outperformed the democracy of India.
In conclusion, it is important to state that both books – Street of Eternal Happiness: Big City Dreams Along a Shanghai Road and The End of Karma: Hope and Fury among India’s Young serve as wonderful insight to the social, political, economic, and cultural lives of China and India. Comparison between them allowed finding a range of common and distinct features as well as advantages and disadvantages of each. One may see that even though China and India are very different, the researches, which Sengupta and Schmitz realized provided the possibility to find many common characteristics between them, for example, in the level of development, classes, and cultures. Finally, it can be states that nowadays China and India are facing a serious social test: how to build a happy and democratic republic from hungry, feudal, and fractured society. Time will show whether these countries will be able to move ahead optimistically, overcome the barriers on their way, and transform challenges into opportunities.