Mumbai and Shanghai

Gaurav Sabnis reports on a deluge in Shanghai. Readers of my blog will know that I am not a fan of China. From that, they could conclude that I am not a fan of the Mumbai-Shanghai comparison either and they’d be right.

Why compare with others? I can think of two reasons. One is to set a “stretch target”. If someone else has achieved something you’d like to achieve, then keeping them in mind sets a pace for you. The other case is if someone else has faced the same problems as you are facing and has gotten over it, you can study them to find out what they did right. For the second reason, New York would be a good point to compare Mumbai with – it faced all the problems and carried all the historical baggage that Mumbai did and got over the problem with some effort.

But Shanghai in particular and China in general are horrible examples for Mumbai or India to emulate. The traditional Chinese response to problems is to hide them. If anyone remembers the SARS and bird flu epidemics, that is what they did in those cases. In Mumbai’s case, the relentless focus of the media and the activism of civic groups gives us a sporting chance of something getting done about the problems. In fact, Shanghai is a very good example of sweeping problems under the carpet. Entry into cities in China is restricted. Those who are salivating at the prospect of being able to do the same in India should please come back to reality. The object of economic development is not just to build nice looking infrastructure we can show to foreigners. It is to build nice-looking infrastructure that citizens actually use.

45 thoughts on “Mumbai and Shanghai

  1. I agree,
    I think historically american cities (esp NY )are better suited for comparision.
    Mumbai like NY, is city of immigrants. This constants influx of immigrants is what provide Mumbai with its dynamic culture.

  2. That is a very interesting observation, but I doubt the Chinese indulge in infrastructure construction in order to provide eye-candy to visitors. I recently was in Bombay and the road, traffic management from the International Airport to Santa Cruz where I was going was atrocious. Delhi is far better in my opinion as regards these aspects. While India’s relative freedom of expression is certainly to be lauded that does not nullify any basis for comparision with China. The East Asian region provides a great example and a benchmark, more so due to the fact, that their level of development at the time of independence was similar to that of India, even lower in some cases.

    I agree with the basic thrust of your post – but the word ‘horrible’ was a bit too rich for me.

  3. Bravo, I say, for so articulately presenting thoughts similar to my own. The constant drum-beat of emulating China (and Shanghai in particular) usualy comes from the upper middle class “intellectuals” who are comfortably ensconced in the cities who think restricting outsiders from coming in will somehow magically improve the city.

  4. As a warning people, don’t get carried away by the last sentence of the post to read more in this than what I meant. I am saying that
    1) Building infrastructure is important
    2) Making it nice looking is important.
    3) 1) is more important than 2)
    4) Impressing foreigners is important because we can get their business and we will feel good about appreciation.
    5) But it is more important that the good infrastructure is used by the citizens than that it be appreciated by foreigners.

  5. Ravikaran, the sarcasm was intended. Anyway thanks for letting me know that infrastructure construction has the primary purpose of use by citizenry of the country !!

    However, you still haven’t addressed my initial scepticism to your post – Why not Shanghai and Why New York ?, the basis of which seems to be very general sentiments – “Historical Baggage”. Time permitting could you elaborate on that, rather could you move from generalistic assumptions to specific ? That will help me understand your point better. It would make my day to be enlightened by you, as I think you write an intelligent blog.

    My point was you dismiss any basis for comparison with Shanghai and China in general, while I believe that Shanghai, China and East Asia in general provide a great example of the scale of transition possible within a generation.

    For e.g. I believe in garbage management – the experiences of Shanghai, Beijing, Taipei would be far more relevant than any other American (or European) city due to a variety of factors – population, profusion of shanties, initial co-relation in social and economic factors, the primacy of bureaucracy etc. I select this example because improved garbage management would result in improved sanitation (improvement in living standards) for citizenry at the same time provide the eye candy which helps attracting much needed overseas capital. The state of garbage management is despicable in Indian cities, specially Bombay. Perhaps that is why I count Shillong and Chandigarh among my favourite cities where I have lived.

    I must add that I am not excluding New York as opposed to Shanghai for comparison. Far from it…. What got my goat was your outright dismissal of Shanghai, and your alluding that China in general got where it was by “sweeping problems under the carpet”. Too self-serving in my humble opinion. Kicking out beggars, street children when Clinton visits is very democratic as opposed to authoritarian I guess !

  6. Sean,

    (as an aside, my previous comment was not specifically addressed to you. I want to clarify this because I hate it when people “address the audience” in response to a specific question but don’t address the questioner directly in second person. I don’t want to give the impression that I was doing that. The specific trigger for the comment was Patrix agreeing with me and quoting that sentence. I didn’t want people getting a wrong sense of my priorities)

    I stand by my claim that China is sweeping problems under the carpet. It is well-documented that villagers are not allowed to enter cities in China without special permission. It is well-documented that there is large scale unrest in the villages. It is well-documented that the Chinese government responded to the SARS and bird-flu epidemics pretty badly. So as such I cannot treat China’s cities as anything more than Potemkin villages. I do not consider the way they do things as a good guide to how we should do things. Unfortunately, I recognise that this is something where it is possible to have a legitimate difference of opinion. But if I am right, it will be clear in a few years if the predicted collapse of China happens.

    I am as opposed to kicking out beggars and street children as I am opposed to China doing things their way. Just because I think that China is doing the wrong set of things it doesn’t mean that I am in favour of things as they are in India. I just believe that we are doing a different set of wrong things. But in some cases, some of us are doing the right things. For example, Chennai has alleviated its garbage problem by handing it over to private parties. (Mumbai has done the same to one stretch – the stretch where ministers roam.) In general, I believe in reducing bureaucracy and relying on property rights whereever possible. Where property rights is not the answer, the solution is at the next lowest level, i.e. at the ward level, in the hands of citizens’s groups etc. But I suspect this is not the way they’ll do it in China – which is why I am not a fan of the China comparison.

  7. This is interesting discussion, and I agree with both sides. It is good that we feel we are better than china, lets put that positive energy in action and get iron resolve to make mumbai world class city.

  8. Shanghai is a city of immigrants.
    It is a city with an entrenched capitalism class that has outlived state restrictions.
    It is following the the very successful Japanese/Korean/Taiwanese model of development.

    In every respect it is comparable to Mumbai.

    S Korea had serious problems in its developmental phase. First it manifested as political and then economic. Been there done that.

    New York is also a good model but Shanghai is not a bad comparison either.

    Meanwhile there is unrest brewing in rural areas of India. Uprisings are happening under one political banner or the other and the underlying reason is the extreme destitution in rural areas. Happy people don’t rebel.In the context the recent labour riots are not a good sign either.

    Did you know that India’s per capita income is less than that of Zimbabwe. There are really poor people in India. Desperately poor people. It is too early to dream of New York.

  9. I agree with Yum Yum to a great degree, I am still not convinced by Ravikaran’s basis for his post.

  10. I feel Bala’s thougths are more closer to mine. We dont want to hurt people’s sentiments but we have to accept that both China and India have certain aspects to improve upon. But for China i feel sorry because the people there living whether in cities or villages are devoid of onething called the freedom of expression in the true sense as the Indians enjoy. The eye candy thing mentioned is actually correct to some extend. However on the other side Mumbaikars need to take a little more care the next time they cast their votes in the elections. I live in Delhi and I cant overlook the difference, and thats inspite of Mumbai being the Commercial Capital of India. Blame it on the political policies.

  11. “In general, I believe in reducing bureaucracy and relying on property rights whereever possible.”- ravi kiran.

    i am trying to pin down the meaning of ‘wherever possible’.
    when is it not possible?
    do you mean when it is logically impossible or when it is practically impossible(u might be thinking of controling vehicular pollution, just a guess) or when its the not the right thing to do(like doing away with subsidies to ‘really poor farmers’)

    would like to know about the ‘limitations’ of free market.

    btw i agree to most of what you have written.

    Abhishek Rana

  12. I grew up in Bombay/Mumbai during the 1970’s and 80’s and remember how at least once every year during the monsoon season the roads were so flooded that it was impossible to get to work or to school. The infrastructure of the city could’nt cope even then, and most of the city’s inhabitants who lived in slums suffered. Today is no different even if the rains may be heavier. The local authorities are just as incompentent now as before, and I find every suggestion that Bombay is a first world city (or for that matter that India is a first world country) ridiculous. The extreme weather has only laid bare the poor impoverished unprotected Indian citizen whom the middle classes do not wish to see.

  13. I live in US and visit China and India frequently. I strongly recommend Mr. ravikiran gets a chance to visit China and live there for a while before he makes any comments.

    People in China are not like what Mr. ravikiran is thinking of now. Mr. ravikiran’s images of China and its people are based on the ones 20 years ago. I would say regardless of the restriction of publicly critising the communist party. Chinese people are much more open-minded and enjoy more freedom than Indian people. And China is not a dictatorial socialistic country anymore. It’s a mix of socialistic-captalistic society and people are under a kind of “controlled democracy”.

    Quote from a financial anylyst from UK, “India has an open system but a closed mind. China has a closed system but a open soul.”

  14. I am from Mumbai and now residing in Singapore. Though I have not visited Shanghai, I know Mumbai very well. I agree with what David has to say.
    Apart from what David says, I am a proponent that we need some kind of control in regards to the migration of people from Countryside to the cities. Let people come to the cities with proper qualification to seek employment, unlike the present situation that any tom, dick and harry from the villages gets up and migrates to the city in search of employment. Finally, who is benefitting from such migration, it is the politicians who finally get a vote bank. Apart from the politicians, people in the cities get cheap labor. just imagine the amount of pressure such kind of migration puts on the cities infrastructure. The tax payer gets crowded public transport systems and the immigrants get subsidised service in terms of infrastructure usage. Who pays and who enjoys.
    Of course, most of you would argue, that this is not possible in a fully democratic country like ours. But I am sure this is the only way that the cities would improve their appearance on a fast tract and compete with other megacities. Otherwise, if we leave it to the market forces it is going to take a very long time.

    Well I would also want to add, that just stopping the migration to cities OR regulating it would not solve the problem. The government needs to generate employment in the villages. Now If I were running the state, I dont think that would be difficult.

  15. go to china for 3 months, from big cities to small town; visit india for 3 monts ,do the same thing. then, the only conclusion you can get is, india INDEED is at least 30 years lag behind China!

    this is seriouly observation after i visited india last year.

  16. First, I’d suggest that a Mumbai and Shanghai comparison is an improper comparison because Mumbai epitomizes what is wrong with the Indian big city.

    All other Indian cities (large or small) are better off than Mumbai in terms of proportion of slum dwellers, the homeless proportion, civic infrastructure etc.

    Second, there is this myth that China was as backward as India after WW II. WRONG.

    Look at some facts:

    Chinese literacy 1945: 18%
    British India 11%.

    By 1930, China had nearly twice as many universities as India and was graduating twice as many scientists and engineers.

    Poverty rates in India, malnutrition, starvation, disease rates etc were much higher than the Chinese rate

    I have seen numerous pictures of Chinese cities from the 1930s.
    They all looked more developed than Indian cities.

    India was raped by colonial rule. China was held back by European settlers along the coast, but not stripped naked like India.

    If Chinese cities look more modern today, it should be no surprise. They looked more modern 50 years ago too.

    Secondly, India’s liberal and anarchic polity would not allow the restrictions that have been placed on internal migration in China.

    Therefore – we are not comparing apples with apples.

    Having said all this, I think we could still learn a thing or two from the Chinese experience.

    India now has a larger pool of scientists and engineers than China. BUT China has more architects and urban planners.

    China has quite successfully remodelled entire urban zones that were once in a state of disarray.

    There is no harm in learning from one rivals – even enemies – if one must.

    India has simply not learnt to buld modern cities. China has.

    This is not an all-out endorsement of China – the manner in which China has propped up Pakistan against India is bound to leave many Indians with very bitter feelings towards the Chinese govt.

    I would also disagree with the contention that India is 30 yrs behind China. In some respects, it is 10-15 yrs behind.

    But in some other respects, it is actually 5-10 yrs ahead. Workers safety – mines and industries is much worse in China. Pollution, environmental damage, percentage of smokers –
    China, for instance, has the dubious distinction of having the highest number of mining and other industriali accidents per capita and per unit of GDP.

    There is more to a nation than a dazzling CBD….

    But I’d still say:

    India has simply not learnt to buld modern cities. China has.

  17. India needs to get rid of democracy.
    Dmocracy is a big burden.
    Democracy is the greatest enemy of India – not China.
    Open your eyes.

  18. Shanghai is a city of immigrants too. It is a lot more free than people think.

    Anyone who has been to Shanghai and Mumbai can tell you without a single expression of doubt that Shanghai is superior. Shanghai has its eyes set on being the NYC of Asia. Mumbai has Mexico City to serve as role model.

  19. The residents in Shanghai also use Shanghai’s infrastructure, it’s not for eye-candy as you claim. You sound really arrogant, but I think it’s mainly because you know that Mumbai is UNCOMPARABLE with Shanghai.

  20. Who told you that “entry into cities in China is restricted”? It might be true for some Chinese cities 20 years ago. But now? Ask any Chinese, and they’d be astonished to your out-of-date knowledge of China.

    Come to China for yourself, and check to see whether you’d be stopped for permit when entering any Chinese cities. Of course, for the two Special Economical Zones, Shenzhen and Zhuhai, you still need for a permit. But even if one doesn’t, he can still get one for a nomincal charge of CNY 5 at the checkpoint. Ask the many beggars in my cities, Shenzhen, whether they’ve got a permit to enter.

  21. Democracy and “human rights” are the smartest weapons that America have. India is the biggest victim.

    15 years ago, Americans said that without democracy there will be no development. Now some of them say that Chinese development whould be contained unless China become democratic. Big joke.

  22. nice discussion, just went to google and search by keywords: “mumbai shanghai”, or “shanghai mumbai”, but I don’t see any china website having the same discussion about this? I guess those young people over there are really not a fan of the Mumbai-Shanghai comparison.

    test youself, how many china citys do you know? (name only) and guess how many India citys do china’s yong prople know?

  23. I’m working in Shanghai and see your comment by chance.I agree with your point that one city can’t be roughly modeled.Shanghai is Shanghai and Mumbai is herself.

    But I don’t agree with your other points ,”Shanghai is a very good example of sweeping problems under the carpet?”How do you know this?Of course,Chinese government is not so bright,but it turn better these years.At least Shanghai is open and no any restrict as your said.

    Hope you can get to Shanghai and you will find many difference from that you heard from Indian media.As you know ,Indian media is like China media in one thing:They very like reporting other countries’ bad news and exaggerating them meanwhile.

  24. Interesting discussion. I live in Shanghai and America and have visited Mumbai a couple of times. I’d like to add some comments.

    On restricted entry into Chinese cities. I think what is being referred to here is the ‘Hukou’ registration system. This fixes your residential area. It is very difficult to transfer one’s Hukou. Without a Hukou in the city in which you live you are restricted in the benefit you might otherwise have from city social services – health, education etc. It is this that makes it very difficult for someone from a rural area to move to a city. There are beggars on the streets in Shanghai and small pockets of rural incomers living in fairly poor circumstances, but the Hukou system (and the authoritarian government) avoids urban squalor and shanty towns.

    On the freedoms enjoyed by Chinese city dwellers. In Shanghai (or anywhere else in China except HK) there is no freedom of political expression. But the authoritarian policies that stamp out dissent are the same ones that allow the cities to be remodeled at breakneck speed. At the moment city dwellers on the whole are not bothered much about the lack of free speech. They are intent on working to make money. Maybe this window of prosperity gives the Chinese government time to moderate its position. Certainly there should be a lot more effort to provide for the rural economies – the disparities with the cities are huge and growing and already causing much unrest.

    Can Mumbai be similar to Shanghai? – possibly – after all China’s bureaucracy seemed hopeless 20 years ago. However to copy the Chinese development model I suppose would mean adopting the authoritarian approach of a Chinese government. Does Mumbai want that too?

  25. I lived in Beijing for 20 some years and 12 years in the states and now back in Beijing. As I know the infrastructure in Shanghai is in general better than those in Beiing. There is no restriction regarding peasants coming into big cities (You see them everywhere in Beijing, and of course also in Shanghai).

    Pollution, traffic Jam and huge income differences are major problems existing in big cities in China. Shanghai is more open than Beijing and citizens like to critisize the government (although not in major public places). Indian have more freedom of speech, but probably not more freedom of ways to do business.

  26. Hi,

    I am from India. I need some advice from you. I have an offer of employment from Beijing but when I was reading on the net about it, I found that it has very high level of pollution and is one of the most polluted cities in the world. I live in Mumbai now and am no stranger to pollution but I read Beijing is even worse than Mumbai, especially during the winter. I also read that you can get lung disease there.

    What has been your experience? My office will be in the Haidian district. Is it true that it is very polluted and congested? Please reply soon as I have to reply as soon as possible. This is a very important decision of my life so please help me.

    Aryan Khanna

  27. If beijing is discribed as what you are reading on net,why it is elected as a city to host olympic games?
    Just come to beijing to have a look, if you do not like this city,go back to continue your indian life, do you care about the air tickt fare and time less than 5 days?

  28. Sour grapes. Pure and simple. Forget Shanghai, you should compare Mumbai with Kuala Lumpur first. That’d be somewhat of a realistic target for Mumbai (although I won’t be holding my breath for the day Mumbai comes close to Kuala Lumpur). As for setting sights on Shanghai or NYC as “stretch” targets, they are indeed too much of a stretch for Mumbai to match. Funny how some in India cannot stop comparing India with China. I’d say these people need to save some energy on the comparison and instead devote it to building a better India. Start with reducing child malnutrition, for a start.

  29. I think those Chinese guys are arrogant. When Chinese development establishes on the expense of the majority weak parties. When Chinese economy hits its end, there will be probably a revolution, but if indian’s has a problem, they can vote for another party. In the long run, which one will be better? God knows.

  30. A himalaya separate not only geology but also the understanding between the people of India and China. Why compare cities? I think the only criteria to evaluate a city is that most of its citizens feel rich and happy. In my point of view ?I’ve been living in both cities?, most people in Mumbai are happy but not rich, while most people in Shanghai are rich but not happy….thus we should learn from each other instead of attacking each other here

  31. Most Indians I encounter in my country are systemic liars . The only thing they are good at is to cheat through the system by badmouthing other pacific people. I can smell bad curry in the air miles away. This whole comparison bluff and “reasons” are no more than pathetic sour grapes/

  32. OMG. will peple please actually go to these two cities before forming a opinion or making a judgement?

    Media lies, ALWAYS. Western or Communist, likewise.
    When it doesn’t, it presents partial facts to influent your judgement.

  33. First of all, I want to introduce myself briefly that I am a Chinese living in Shanghai now(but I am not native) The most interesting thing is that our country has the same discussion on our website. But ,sorry to say that, many Chinese belittling Bombay as a city of huge chaos with slums everywhere. And we even think the comparison of the two cities as one slapstick origin from India. Of course, I can see that ,in Bombay, there would be some places better than Shanghai. But I don’t agree with the words that many things are only for showing up. Maybe the EXPO2010 is for tourists around world and the other parts of China, but ,at the same time, many civic resident sbenefit from the renewal of the city. Because in China, the central gov control the whole budget and the city should apply for its own share for the construction. EXPO2010 is really a great oppotunity-or we can say that is one excuse-to do the whole vast project. Now Shanghai has a network of subway with more than 400km and two modern airports which is very helpful to ease the inconvenience of transportation. And many residents who used to live in slums around the downtown city have transferred to the new houses. So, that is the real Shanghai

  34. although Ihave never been to India, I already see lots of pictures on internet and TV. India is one potential country in my opinion. However, the low efficiency of your govenment has impressed me deeply. I just wonder why your government put so many emphasis on the weapon and militarization. Why not spend more budget on the facilities which would improve the quality of lives. Some times, maybe autocra

  35. tic management is not a bad thing in some way. And I think, Bombay and Shanghai are two totally different types. So, there is no comparison-although they are port cities and the economical centrals of the two huge countries.I think, Bombay should has its own path of progessing.

  36. Namaste & Nihao,

    I live in Shanghai, Been 6 Years now, I love the City. Its no point Comparing this city to Mumbai or any other city in India.
    How can you even think about comparing it. They Guys Who have ever been to Shanghai will never compare it.
    Shanghai is the Future City of this World. I am already viewing the Future every single day by living here.
    BTW, I am From Mumbai. Was Born there, Lived 20 Years in Mumbai. I love it & very proud of the city.
    I just want Mumbai to become Bombay. The Real Bombay, Thats it. Something Like Marine Drive or Worli .
    Give us Our BOMBAY Back. Thats all we want.


  37. hey,i’m from arunachal pradesh(india).i don’t agree with our indian brothers or sister comparing india with china. China is farmore developed in every we comparing shanghai with mumbai is act of childish.u know it very well.

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