🔌🇨🇳🇮🇳CIN #7 - 🧐Reflections and🔮 Future Musings at the end of the 2010s

Plus a gorgeous new banner + book and movie lists & YCW Pulse Survey

ChinaIndia Networked is a newsletter by me, Dev Lewis, highlighting the networked relationship between the two regions at the intersection of technology, society, and politics. I’m a Fellow at Digital Asia Hub and Yenching Scholar at Peking University, where i’m conducting research on the Social Credit System. Follow me on Twitter @devlewis18 or write to me at devlewis@protonmail.com.


Welcome to issue 7 of the CIN Newsletter and I’m beyond excited to finally share a banner for the newsletter (If you cannot see it your mail client may not have downloaded all images, move your cursor above and look for a ‘load all images’ prompt).

This gorgeous artwork is by Krish Raghav, a comic-book artist, writer, and Beijing landmark, whose work you have to check out. Here are three suggestions:

You should also follow him on Twitter @krishraghav.

Whats more, we’ve co-authored this issue.

Its follows a different format and will be the final one of the year. We’ve got lists of top China-India books and movies, reflections on the big ideas, businesses, and music that made ChinaIndia Networked this past decade, and at the end, musings on some of the key future drivers.

I’ll be enjoying some downtime before coming back to you in 2020. Thank you very much for your support as a subscriber. I dont take this vote of trust to beam directly to your inbox lightly. I have some exciting new content that I hope to share with you soon, and intend to ramp up the content & regularity. Finally, I write this as a wave of students protests break out against the Citizenship Amendment Act. If you are living outside India but want to engage with, understand and support the #CAAProtests in India from afar check out this resource.


🎄In the Christmas spirit of giving consider sharing this post on your social media or forward on to 1 friend or colleague you think would enjoy this. If you were forwarded this subscribe now. It means a lot when you do and will help me offer more content next year!

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🤓Top books (fiction & non-fiction) on China

Our (non-exhaustive) list of favorite books by Indian and Chinese authors from the 2010s

  • The Great Game in the Buddhist Himalayas: India and China’s Quest for Strategic Dominance (Phunchok Stobdan 2019)
    A riveting historical to present day account of geopolitics in the Himalayas featuring characters that make for an epic thriller: imperial China, Mao, and Xi Jinping, The Dalai Lama, Tibetan factions, The British Raj, CIA, and India. Issue #5 carried an exclusive excerpt.

  • India, China, and the World: A Connected History (Tansen Sen 2018)
    A must-read omnibus tracing the arch of exchange of people, ideas, and objects through the Millennia. A serious academic work packed with vivid stories and Chinese speakers will appreciate the use of 汉字 and pinyin alongside the English for all official names and places.

  • Chinatown Days (Rita Chowdhury 2018)
    Rita Chowdhury writes about the Enigma of the Chinese who came to Assam in the early 19th century to work as slaves and and ultimately tragic fate of the Chinese diaspora in India following the ‘62 border war.

  • The Himalayan Arc: Journeys East of South-east (edited by Namita Gokhale 2018)
    A collection of fiction and non-fiction essays from over 30 contributors.

  • The Journey of Isser Singh: A Sikh Migrant in Shanghai (Yin Cao 2017)
    A fascinating book covering the story of Sikhs emigrants in 18th and 19th century Shanghai through the eyes of Isser Singh, a constable who serviced in the Shanghai Municipal Police from 1906 to 1911.

  • IBIS Trilogy (Amitav Ghosh 2015)
    An epic historical fiction trilogy that begins during the early days of Opium trade and concludes around the time of formal British control over Hong Kong. In the midst of the US-China rivalry its worth going back to the original trade war for insights into how history shapes the psyche of Chinese society today.

    The IBIS trilogy is a popular book in translation, and is the closest young Indian and Chinese readers have to a shared narrative of historical and cultural connections that is rooted in modernity, and doesn't have to devolve into vague '5000 years of history' arguments.

  • Media at Work in China and India: Discovering and Dissecting (edited by Robin Jeffrey and Ronojoy Sen 2015)
    A collection of essays by journalists and media professionals critiquing, comparing, and reflecting on the media ecosystems in China and India.

  • A Great Clamour (Pankaj Mishra 2013)
    Reflections and observations from travels around China like only Pankaj Mishra could write.

  • 印度走着瞧 Roaming around India - (许崧 Xu Song 2010)
    A dodgy book that was nevertheless Chinese millennials' go-to travel book for India.

What to look forward to:


🤳🏼🧘🏼‍♀️💸The circular flow of culture and technology

The Millennia long exchange between China and India of ideas, people, and goods follow a circular pattern of exchange, posits historian Tansen Sen:

The circulations of knowledge, including such wide-ranging aspects as geographical knowledge, astronomy, medicine, manufacturing techniques, market demands, and grammar and linguistics, were key components of the historical interactions between South Asia and China...the processes and mechanisms of the circulations were intensely complex because of the involvement of multiple intermediaries, varied cultural traditions and languages, diverse world views, and the changes associated with the passage of time.

I like this lens to explain the networked relationship because it takes a more holistic approach to measuring exchange. Not all of it gets captured by trade statistics, yet in many ways cultural exports can be more meaningful and powerful. Everyone in China and their uncle can recognise Aamir Khan and relate to India because of Bollywood films, while Yoga and the Indian arts are helping young Chinese better understand contemporary India. The US$ 53 billion trade deficit India has with China wont tell you that. Contemporary history between modern states, while initially promising, gave way to retrenchment and several barren decades post 1962. Its easy to forget how trade and exchange crawled to a standstill.

What a difference a decade makes.

🌏Chinese technology companies journey west:

The most remarkable and now highly contested aspect of China trajectory is how its technology companies have come of age. Within China they powered a wave of new cultural shifts, and its not surprising they began to go global. Southeast Asia is where early forays began. Alibaba bought controlling stakes in key logistics and e-commerce platforms in the region, Tencent invested in one of the largest unicorns Go-Jek
(📢 I wrote a paper about it).

In 2015 Xiaomi had its big breakthrough year in India and I wrote then that the potential for Chinese tech in India was massive and should be put on the top of the agenda. Fast forward to today, a conservative, rough estimate shows Chinese investment in Indian tech alone has topped US$6 billion, including the whose who of China: Alibaba, Tencent, Bytedance, and Meituan Dianping, followed by a stream of VCs and smaller players. One point of difference from their American counterparts is in most cases they are choosing to invest in Indian startups, infusing local startups with capital and technology to grow.
(See: OPEN SOURCE TRACKER- Chinese Investment in Indian Technology Companies. Btw, just let this sit for a moment: until about 2014 the aggregate total for all Chinese FDI into India didnt cross US$ 2 billion).

Not everything is as rosy as it looks. Alibaba’s big, early investment in Paytm has not panned out just yet, neither have may others. We’ve also yet to see a clear case of companies co-designing solutions, which is where I think the most exciting potential lies.

📱A phone for everyone

Xiaomi was founded at the start of the decade today they are the number one smartphone vendor in India. Oppo, Vivo, One Plus (all owned by the same parent company) have dominated, leaving just Samsung as the only significant other. If the smartphone was the single most revolutionary invention of the century (so far), Chinese hardware manufacturers have democratised the technology making it accessible for the masses. They also made Chinese technology cool, shedding the cheap, unreliable tag of the past. 🎧Listen to this conversation with Shenzhen Open Innovation Labs Founder David Li on the Shenzhen open innovation model for creating technology for the underserved and An Xiao Mina on the fascinating meme culture driving manufacturing culture.

🤳🏼Entertaining the next billion

Chinese companies did not invent live streaming and short video sharing but they've taken the world by storm with it, and Indians are loving it.

I wrote this about Chinese news aggregation apps flocking to India back in 2017 for Sixthtone.

Why has news aggregation in particular attracted the attention of Chinese companies? One answer is that India is the only country comparable to China in scale, financial promise, and market conditions. It is the ideal destination for Chinese companies whose unique selling points center on creating technology for hundreds of millions of mobile-savvy internet users, many of whom use budget Chinese-made Android smartphones and have limited access to fast and cheap Internet…The successes and failures of Chinese companies in India’s technology space may blaze a trail for future partnerships and usher the India-China relationship into a new era.

In just two years we're already in the new era.

Chinese apps are co-designing the internet for newly online, mobile first users, who are mostly from a distinctly lower socio-economic background, writes digital anthropologist Payal Arora in her book The Next Billion Users (🎧 Use Case podcast with Payal). Initially this began through utility apps, like ShareIt, and browsers, like UC browser, built for low-bandwidth and storage capabilities. Now its content. Payal says the internet is the leisure economy of the world’s poor and they want fabulousness. You don’t need to look any further than AI powered video creation phenomenon Tik Tok— which by now everyone and their aunty knows about, even if they don’t understand what the hell the app is about.

Infographic Source: The Ken

Snighda Poonam in her new book Dreamers chronicles several Tik Tok celebrities across the country, as well as the dark side, how it can enable the worst impulses in Indian society from religious violence to spread of child pornography.

India is now Bytedance's most important market outside of China, recently launching a new music streaming service, and in general pouring a vast amount of resources towards getting India right, such as trying to use its platform to draw attention to important social issues. 👇🏽More on the bigger implications in the ‘Future Musings’ at the end.

🎛Music and underground electronic music:

The Short-lived Sino-Indian Music Alliance (SIMA) kickstarted a steady wave of Indian artists touring China, and Chinese artists touring India. SIMA put out one compilation album featuring Indian and Chinese artists and since then, some of the best electronic musicians in both China and India have toured the other side. The brilliant Howie Lee played at Magnetic Fields. SHAO, one of Chinese techno's breakout stars and the first Chinese artist to be signed to the influential Berlin label Tresor, played a three-city tour (he loved Kolkata the most).

On the Indian side, LIFAFA played a series of shows in Beijing, including one in the beloved Sanyuanqiao underpass that was the hub of the Beijing experimental scene. Nucleya was part of the bill at the Concrete & Grass Music Festival, and multiple members of Bangalore's 'Consolidate' label have toured China, including Disco Puppet.

The truest sign of deepening musical links, of course, is influence and you can hear snatches of south Asian musical traditions in the works of many contemporary Chinese musicians. The most overt example would be Beijing club musician Guzz, who actually traveled to Tamil Nadu to record samples for his 2016 album An Elephant in the Jungle.

On the classical front, this decade has seen a significant uptick in interest in both Hindustani and Carnatic forms. There's a Bharatnatyam school in Beijing, a regular Hindustani performing troupe consisting of Chinese and Indian musicians, and regular events organized by various cultural collectives featuring visiting musicians from India. T.M. Krishna was a guest of Peking University just in December 2019!

🎞Bollywood + Aamir Khan go mainstream:

Bollywood is officially mainstream lead by the "三大汗 Thee big Khans", although theres little doubt Aamir is King with his influence in Chinese society being compared to Rabindranath Tagore. The best part of his movies is that they're not deliberate plays to succeed in China. Instead they are films that highlight (in a serious or humorous way) pressing issues in Indian society—from pressures of an archaic education system to deep seated gender discrimination, that also happen to resonate deeply among Chinese people. Historically Chinese films have played the role of critiquing society and politics but these days the space for this type of local films is diminishing. Indian movies are pushing forward in a small way national discourse on domestic issues. Indian film makers eying the a piece of the pie should be aware of this fact.

印度飞饼 Indian Feibing

The closest China has come to responding to India's own Gobi Manchurian, the "Indian feibing" is available in 10 flavours (including beef 🙃). They’re at tourist markets, from Xi'an to Shenzhen, and even as popups at non de script restaurants in Shanghai. One theory is that its actually an import from Southeast Asia (see: Roti chai in Malaysia) rather than India directly, which goes back to the circular exchange framework!

🧘🏼‍♀️Yoga and mindfulness for the urban over-worked

High stress, over worked urbanites of China who make up the 10 million+ people who "actively practice Yoga".

The Taiwanese edition of an Indipop 'classic'

🎞Top 10 China-India Films

Not necessarily the 'best', but the most interesting.

  • Kung Fu Yoga
    A horrific cringe-fest that highlights all of the problems with potential Indo-Chinese "co-productions" and honestly should have immediately put an end to the whole practice.

    It's meant to be a take on Indiana Jones, whose track record at capturing India is um...not great. Kung Fu Yoga not only manages to successfully retain that series' colonial gaze and terrible gender politics but adds to it an India of snake charmers and 'exotic' princesses that seems straight out of the 90s. The 1890s.

    Why is it on this list? Because it's a Han chauvinist fever dream so laughably bad it swings to being hugely entertaining. Many people, at many levels, thought this was a good idea - and that should serve as a warning sign if not anything else

  • 我不是药神 Dying to Survive
    A rare story of Indians (or Indian generic drugs to be precise) to the rescue of poor Chinese cancer patients getting a raw deal from the authorities. Issue #2 of this newsletter covered Indian pharma in China.

  • Tubelight
    A Salman Khan starrer about the Sino-Indian war which is remembered (if at all) for stalling rising Chinese actress Zhu Zhu's career in the mainland.

  • Bahubali

  • 寒战 Cold War
    A Hong Kong cop drama from 2012 that eerily presages some of the arguments around police brutality in the city today. It has a subplot involving South Asians of indeterminate nationality that is troubling, and worth watching as an example of the low base for on-screen representation in broader Chinese cinema.

  • Dangal

  • Three Idiots
    Technically a 2009 film but it only released and went viral in China in 2011. Ranked no.13 in the all-time list on Douban (China's IMDB ranking) I challenge you to find someone in China who has NOT seen it.

  • 相爱相亲 Love Education
    Cultural divides between three generations of woman in a family, a story that resonates on either side of the border.

  • People’s Republic of Desire
    A documentary following the equal-part heartwarming and depressing lives of China’s live streaming celebrities.


🔮Future Musings

How do we think about the shifts over this next decade?

The background plot is a transformation in the very global structure of the world, what philosopher Benjamin Bratton calls a mega structure of planetary-scale computation comprised of The Stack of six interdependent layers: Earth, Cloud, City, Address, Interface, and User.

With significant exceptions, the web has largely been developed through technologies and protocols of British, European, and American origin, with many of the most powerful governmental and economic players still located there (though it is certain that Chinese and Indian counterparts are at least as important in engineering The Stack that most people will ultimately inhabit). Its global growth could be read then as the creeping spread of cyber-empire and part of a larger superpower monocultural campaign, starting in Silicon Valley and Washington, DC, and spreading to world capitals like an invasive machinic species…

For now, we observe the metalegal acquisition and cultivation of Cloud territory by state and nonstate platforms but understand that the depth of that territory guarantees its ongoing malleability and resistance to full capture.

China first called it Internet Sovereignty, India now calls it Data Sovereignty. Its long overdue that countries are rethinking existing practices and outgrowing the American Internet architecture. Its natural that as these shifts take place the more we have the ‘China Stack’ interacting with ‘India Stack’( as theorised above by Benjamin not a reference to the IndiaStack of APIs) we’ll see clashes, from data protection to the build out of 5G, two name just two.

Chinese companies are now joining the likes of Google and Facebook lobbying to influence regulations and staying onside with the Indian government—Nobody understands the importance of being on-side with the government better.

This has implications for Indian democracy but I think framing the risk around Tik Tok being a Chinese company and beholden to the CCP is not useful and is a red herring at the moment. Its not irrelevant but first India must articulate its own data protection framework for its citizens. More pertinent right now is how platforms, like Tik Tok, moderate content. Whether its dealing with internal or external sources of disinformation or playing moderator on thorny political, social, and religious issues. A potential nexus between the ruling BJP government and content platforms, effectively importing the censorship techno-regulatory stack from China to India, will have a chilling effect on the internet as a space for dissent and non-mainstream views. I cant help but wonder how Tik Tok might approach content moderation if its platform became a part of the information war in a period of protracted protests against Modi and BJP, whether in Kashmir (if they ever get their internet back again) or elsewhere.

We need to better understand how the “China Stack” actually works and develops, in order to formulate flexible policy and manage inevitable differences, rather than resort to chest bumping and unhelpful bans. So stick through this Newsletter as we attempt to navigate through it all!

See you in 2020.


🔌Get Networked

CONTRIBUTE TO YCW Pulse 2019 [Deadline Dec 31st, 2019]
Young China Watchers (YCW) invites you to participate in our second annual YCW Pulse survey—an examination of views from a global community of young professionals engaged in China. View the 2018 report here.

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