Nepali Times Asian Paints
Another Maoland


BEIJING-Here in the land of Mao, the Great Helmsman who changed the fate and face of China has been dead for more than 30 years and his body lies in a mausoleum at Tiananmen Square as proof.

Yet, very few Chinese know that Mao's disciples are still waging revolutions in his name in Nepal and some parts of India. The few here who have heard that there was an election in Nepal are the ones who watch CCTV 9 International which has covered the polls.

But even they don't know that the winning party is known as Maoists. It's an indication of how far China has distanced itself from Mao that not many people think about their great leader, and know even less about Maoism elsewhere in the world.

Even Chinese intellectuals are slightly puzzled about why a Nepali party had to name itself after Mao Zedong. "Don't you have any leaders of your own that you could have named the party after?" asked one over dinner the other day.

My joke with friends here is: "We exported Bhrikuti and Arniko to you, and imported Mao." But some Chinese have never heard of Bhrikuti, the Nepali princess married to a Tibetan king or Arniko, the master builder from Kathmandu Valley who is supposed to have brought the architecture of the pagoda (called dagoba here) to China.

China has been transformed in the last 30 years with Dengonomics and from an underdeveloped country it has become the fastest growing economy in the world and still growing. It does not mean that China doesn't have problems like the growing gap in incomes, social issues. But the government seems to be well aware of them and has the resources and the commitment to address them.

China is turning to health issues like HIV and smoking which is a major health hazard because 350 million Chinese smoke. Keeping in mind the Beijing Olympics the government is banning smoking in public places.

China is also opening up and there are debates about the cultural revolution. An artist who was labeled counter-revolutionary and not allowed to paint during the 1960s is now a celebrity.

Even in the past ten years, there has been a sea change in Chinese self-confidence. In 1995, very few would speak to us and it wasn't just a language problem. Today, the Chinese are open and confident and many speak English. Literacy rates are up, there is more exposure.

What is still the same is the lack of knowledge about the rest of Asia, especially Nepal. Not only do people here not know about the Nepali Maoists, they don't even know that Nepal is a neighbouring country. Some who have been to India have heard about Nepal and some think Qomolungma is on China's border with India .

If Nepal is to tap China's huge market for investment and tourism, our economic diplomacy here has to pick up. No more should China just been seen as a geopolitical counterbalance to India, but the other locomotive that can pull the Nepali economy. The Nepal Embassy in Beijing has a website that is still called the 'Royal Nepalese Embassy'.

Just as Nepal is now getting more and more tourists and pilgrims from India, visitor arrivals from China could boom if there was just more knowledge here about Nepal. Who knows, the familiar name of Mao may be a good way to get Chinese tourists to visit Nepal.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)