China Fears India May Be Edging It Out in Culture Battle

But more and more, the two Asian giants are also competing to project soft power — or cultural influence — outside their borders. And “Dangal” has revived concerns in China that it is falling behind.

“China’s development has been very comprehensive in terms of politics, economics and military,” said Jiang Jingkui, director of the Southeast Asian Research Institute at Peking University.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India with President Xi Jinping of China in Goa, India, in 2016. Both nations are trying to increase their cultural influence around the world.

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Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

“But in terms of soft power, India has done better than China,” Mr. Jiang said. “Although India’s economy is not as developed, they have put a huge emphasis on promoting their culture, including things like Buddhist traditions and yoga.”

China’s anxieties about India are colored to an extent by widespread stereotyping. People here often invoke India as an example for why China, with its even larger population, is not ready for democracy.

Some call Indians “a-san,” a derogatory term that was once used to refer to the Sikh guards who worked in Shanghai’s British settlement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In more recent years, the public perception of India has largely been shaped by Chinese state media, which tends to highlight stories on India’s caste system and the treatment of women in Indian society.

At times, those state media reports have taken on blatantly racist overtones. In August, Xinhua, the official news agency, released a short video exhorting India to retreat from the continuing standoff at the Sikkim border. The three-minute clip featured someone wearing a turban and a fake beard in an apparent attempt to mock Sikhs, who make up a religious minority in India.

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