Unlearning China’s Lessons
India’s leaders have instinctively looked to China for the secrets to national success. The impulse often serves them poorly.
In 2003, Bombay First, a business-backed civic group, commissioned McKinsey & Company to devise a plan to make Mumbai a more competitive “global” city. The high-profile consulting firm responded with “Vision Mumbai,” offering eight recommendations in key areas such as housing and infrastructure that it said could transform Mumbai in only 10 years.
Curiously, the study cited Cleveland and Shanghai as examples of such reinvented cities. Needless to say, Cleveland did not make much of an impression on the Mumbai elite. But Shanghai, China’s glittering jewel, resonated far beyond the city limits. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other Indian politicians frequently expressed admiration for Shanghai, especially its state-of-the-art infrastructure—bridges, tunnels, sleek new subway lines, and a thriving international airport designed by French architect Paul Andreu and served by a futuristic maglev (magnetic levitation) train. In 2006, Singh declared Mumbai could “learn from Shanghai’s experience in reinventing itself, in rebuilding itself, and in rediscovering itself.” But it is not just Shanghai that India has looked to and not just in Mumbai that it has tried to apply what it has learned. Now, it must unlearn many of its Chinese lessons.
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Xuefei Ren, an assistant professor of sociology and global urban studies at Michigan State University, was a 2011–12 fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center. She is the author of Building Globalization: Transnational Architecture Production in Urban China (2011).more from this author >>