Friday, May 02, 2014

The (Chinese) gods must be crazy!


As a graduate student, I never said no to any fellow Indian student asking me whether I wanted to go to the Hindu temple.  Not because I was a faithful believer, but because it was at a scenic spot, and the drive was scenic as well.  And, of course, there was good food.

Not only the temple priest, but the sculptors were also imported from India.  Of course, it was not new.  That's how these things are done.  But, if Hindus could cross the seas, which was traditionally prohibited, and could thus settle down in lands far, far away, then how much are traditions, well, traditions?

In the tradition, worshiping god is not in the abstract manner but by praying to idols and paintings.  One needs to only look at abandoned temples in order to theorize that a worshiped god no longer exists in that very idol that was worshiped for years, even centuries.  The same idol when under the care of the government's archaeology department becomes a mere artful sculpture that attracts mostly only foreign tourists.


Non-believing foreigners go to visit the god-less idols in abandoned temples.  What if non-believing foreigners created images of gods for the believers to worship?

Sounds intriguing?  The Hindu reports:
Mr. Zhao’s shop, the Zhejiang Yiwu Yijie Crafts company, displays from its walls images one would not expect to find in officially atheist China: on one corner is a collection of beautifully rendered images of the god Krishna as a child. There are, on the shop’s walls, framed photographs of half a dozen gods and goddesses from the Hindu pantheon: images of Ganesha, Hanuman and Saraswathi on a lotus.
From this small shop in Yiwu, these images will find their way to homes and offices – and possibly even places of worship – across India.
More than a hundred Indian companies buy Mr. Zhao’s products, supplying and distributing them across India – often without making their customers aware of the fact that the images that adorn their prayer rooms were all put together by Chinese workers in a factory in Zhejiang province.
"Without making their customers aware."  Caveat emptor, indeed!

If the customer is informed about this, will the god become any less a god to the faithful who worships the image?  

A few years ago, Thomas "master manipulator of metaphors" Friedman noted that practically every statue of Virgin of Gualalupe that was sold in Mexico was manufactured in China.  Maybe I ought to watch out for his pointless pontificating on Ganesha from Guangzhou.

Anyway, The Hindu adds:
There are at least three other companies that have factories producing images and statues of gods and goddesses for the Indian market. Most of the factories are located in Cangnan, a county close to Wenzhou – a thriving port city in Zhejiang that is famous for being a centre of entrepreneurship. Some of the companies have listed annual sales of 10 million Yuan (Rs. 10 crore); they also render a range of Christian images for export.
Zhang Daofeng, who runs a factory in Cangnan, said his company’s “Indian gods series”, which included posters, three-dimensional images and statues, were being sold across India.
Mr. Zhang was one of the earliest producers of images of Hindu gods. Today, he estimates, there are between 30 and 40 companies in China doing the same, even as they struggle to stay competitive as wages across China rise year after year. “Many of the new factories offer poor quality, but the Indian customers are very price sensitive so business is down,” he said.
Of course, the faithful shall also be bargain-hunters!  The god-crazy India combined with the price-shopping behavior means:
“It’s still easier to order from China,” one trader said. “Everything is produced in bulk, and the trade is very organised. Where am I going to find such factories in India?”
How interesting that a country with 800 million Hindus have outsourced a good chunk of their god production to godless China!

The gods must be crazy!

1 comment:

Ramesh said...

Oh; this is hardly surprising. Lots of people here know that the idols for all the festivals are nowadays made in China. Yiwu has grown into a massive trading hub largely because of India. They sell everything ; even firecrackers for Diwali now come from China - and there are thousands of Indians who have made it their job to trade from Yiwu. One of my ex colleagues left Unilever to do this !!

What is more intriguing is that it is easier to import from China than to make it in India. Nowadays the cost arbitrage is in India's favour - its much cheaper to make in India than in China. The problem is Ramamritham. Its simply too much of a hassle to manufacture anything in India and anyway it will take a few months if not years to set anything up. Much less hassle to simply catch a flight to Yiwu. What a tragedy when there are 800 million looking for work.

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