Of course, it couldn’t resist immediately following up that statement with “China leads India in terms of military and economy”. Still, a recent article in the state-backed Global Times was rather fulsome in its praise of the way India has managed to make yoga “the staple” of its soft power abroad, and how its Hindi film industry “has truly played an important role” in stretching Indian soft power into China.
China should “learn from India, as its ways of showing off its soft power are more acceptable than some of China’s government-support programs overseas,” said Zhao Gancheng, director of the Center for Asia-Pacific Studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, told the Global Times.
The way India promotes its soft power is “more acceptable”, according to the article, because the Indian government aims to promote yoga “as a non-religious activity”, and because Bollywood “avoids exporting its values and usually focuses on social issues”, said the article.
The popularity of yoga can be gauged by the fact that over the past two years, yoga clubs have been popping up in Chinese cities “like mushrooms after a rainy day”, said the article. And this isn’t just in the big cities. Yoga has become popular even in fourth- and fifth-tier cities, said Lin Xiaohai, founder of Chan Yoga, the first professional yoga club in China, to Global Times.
“It (yoga) even has entered the public school system in some cities across China. For example, a primary school in Shenyang, Northeast China’s Liaoning Province, has included yoga in its morning exercise routines,” reported a Chinese Internet company sohu.com. In 2015, one university in southwest China’s Yunnan Province also co-founded the country’s first specialized yoga school in cooperation with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.
Another cultural export that could well become on a par with yoga in its popularity is Bollywood. In fact, currently, the Salman Khan starrer Bajrangi Bhaijaan is running to packed houses in Beijing.
“Different from American or European movies, Bollywood avoids exporting its values and usually focuses on social issues, which makes it easier for Chinese audiences to identify with it,” said Zhao Gancheng, director of the Center for Asia-Pacific Studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, to the Global Times.
Many Bollywood movies have helped change the perception of Chinese people about India, said the Global Times article getting in the obligatory reference to India’s slums.
“Chinese people’s impression of India, however, is not always that upbeat. Overwhelmed by negative news about rapes, slums and sewage, the Chinese used to see India as a dirty, disorderly and backward third-world nation. But the situation is dramatically changing, as more and more Bollywood films win the hearts of Chinese audiences and erase some misunderstandings, presenting a more wholesome glimpse into modern India,” said the article.
The fact that India’s done such a good job of exporting its soft power is even more remarkable considering its fraught relationship with Beijing due to severe border tensions, said Global Times.
“Despite the tense military and political situation along the border, India has done better work in stretching its soft power, which is partly because of their pride in their culture and their efforts in protecting their traditions,” said Hu Zhiyong, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, to the Global Times.