Reading against type

One of the enduring stereotypes in popular culture, lazy as all stereotypes are, is that of the inscrutable Chinese. In this storyline, Chinese people are often seen as stoic and less expressive by people from other countries, who regard China as an exotic, impenetrable land with strange customs and traditions that will remain hopelessly opaque. This stereotype may even have been deployed by the Chinese to their benefit. Beijing is certainly not unaware of this perception, it seems, as its initiative to "educate" Indian policymakers on its recent political transition shows.

China will send five experts to India later this month to explain the intricacies of the new regime under the leadership of Xi Jinping. This might be a good move diplomatically, but it does take some of the mystery, imagined and real, out of the India-China relationship. The low-key but constant tension that runs through all of Delhi's interactions with Beijing will probably ease just a little with the better understanding engendered by China's initiative, and perhaps India should respond with a similar visit. Though, of course, explaining the mechanics of this country's complex politics is easier said than done.

The official perception of the Chinese might change somewhat, but those who want to continue to embrace the stereotype will still find plenty of fodder in Indian and American pop culture. India is, after all, the country that made a movie where Akshay Kumar went from Chandni Chowk to China and randomly located his paramour's amnesiac father at the Great Wall. And Hollywood is a fount of stoic-but-wise Asian characters who obligingly help the hero along in his quest by dispensing enigmatic pearls of wisdom, from Mr Miyagi in The Karate Kid to decidedly Asian Yoda in Star Wars.

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