Saturday, December 4, 2021

"Mend or End" book review: Chinese journalist's honest description of Nepal

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After going through Zhou Shengping's book "Mend or End: Nepal in the Eyes of a Chinese Journalist", the reader arrives at the conclusion that Zhou loves Nepal. His love for the Himalayan nation has been expressed in all the pieces incorporated in the book that is divided in five chapters.

Former Kathmandu Bureau Chief of Xinhua News Agency, Zhou has travelled length and breadth of the country and interacted with people from various walks of life. A keen observer with deep analytical capabilities, Zhou has been witness to the developments in Nepal after the country became federal democratic republic.

Zhou is at pains to see Nepal failing to take off after epoch-making structural changes in the country. He makes this stern assessment, "Needless to say, Nepal is sick, like the heavily polluted Bagmati river." (Page 37). This sickness has forbidden Nepal to take advantage from both her neighbours--China and India--which are rapidly growing economies. The endless bickering among political leaders and their engagement in petty power games have meant that Nepal has been unable to take advantage of her geostrategic location.

Ironically, all leaders that Zhou has interviewed express lofty ideals while failing to walk the talk. Former Prime Minister Sushil Koirala tells Zhou that "every political leader [should] realize that we have to ensure stability to develop our country" (Page 26). Similarly former PM Baburam Bhattarai says, "If there is political stability here and if there is correct political leadership … then we can develop and realize our dream." Likewise, former PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal "Prachanda" tells Zhou that "his party and himself has a dream of making Nepal economically prosperous and maintaining political stability" (Page 6). But all these years have shown that these were mere talks.

This inability of leaders to maintain political stability in Nepal has pained Nepali people a lot who have been flocking in huge numbers in search of greener pastures abroad. As a sympathetic foreigner, Zhou shares this pain and is as angry with our political leaders as a common Nepali. In one of his hard-hitting pieces, Zhou excoriates the leaders. He writes, "Whether they admit or not, when many of Nepal's political leaders criticize each other, they more often than not put their tongue in cheek, realizing very well or very little that they are overstepping by a long stride the bounds of truth and soberness" (Page 13).

Zhou hits the nail on the head when he says that platitudes will not work with President Xi. He writes, "Please do not just say "Nepal is committed to one-China policy". These easy platitudes can't really please this innovative leader" (Page 38). Mouthing inanities while not showing enough seriousness in taking BRI projects ahead will leave a very bad impression on President Xi and the Chinese people.

While engaging with Nepali leaders, as a Chinese journalist, Zhou is always searching avenues for China's involvement in Nepal in his writings. In his interviews with top leaders, Zhou frequently asks about Nepal's commitment to Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This massive project proposed and implemented by Chinese President Xi Jinping promises to be a game changer for all the signatories including Nepal. Nepali leaders too have shown enthusiasm about the BRI while talking with Zhou. But none of the BRI projects in Nepal has moved ahead due to various reasons. One wishes that Zhou had grilled our leaders and bureaucrats why the BRI has not gained pace even after President Xi's subtle dig at Nepali leaders during his historic visit to Nepal.

Zhou hits the nail on the head when he says that platitudes will not work with President Xi. He writes, "Please do not just say "Nepal is committed to one-China policy". These easy platitudes can't really please this innovative leader" (Page 38). Mouthing inanities while not showing enough seriousness in taking BRI projects ahead will leave a very bad impression on President Xi and the Chinese people.

Different infrastructure projects in Nepal aided by China get a good coverage in Zhou's reports. He writes about China-aided underpass project in Kalanki, Kathmandu, Chinese irrigation project in Babai, and China-Nepal border port at Kodari bringing changes in the life of locals. All the people he talks to while preparing the reports have expressed deserving gratitude to China which makes Zhou's chest swell with pride and his happiness is amply reflected in his writing. Nepali people's enthusiasm in learning Mandarin at various Confucius Institutes also gets a comprehensive coverage.

Writer Zhou

Zhou also charms in describing Nepali festivals to the global audience. His sweet and simple descriptions of Holi, Teej, Father's Day, Madhav Narayan Festival and Dashain shows that Zhou revels in lively Nepali festivals.

That Zhou loves the environment and champions ecological causes is reflected in his marvellous pieces about polluted Bagmati River, garbage dumping in Mount Everest and air pollution in Kathmandu. He is of the view that Nepal government needs to be serious about curbing pollution and ensuring clean environment. This is essential for the well-being of Nepali people as well for the country's economy that thrives in attracting foreign tourists.

Nepal needs to do more on tourism sector especially to bounce back from the economic slump caused by Covid-19. A big chunk of the huge number of outbound Chinese tourists could be brought to Nepal, Zhou claims. To attract more tourists, world-class facilities must be in place at all tourist hotspots. Sadly, that has not been ensured. Zhou also describes how he and others were short-changed at Poon Hill and Mugu by the local hoteliers. This kind of unprofessional behaviour will repulse the tourists and bad word of mouth will sound the death knell to Nepali tourism industry.

Worryingly, touristic destinations in Nepal lack proper infrastructure to lure foreigners. While describing the lodgings at Talcha Airport in Mugu district in western Nepal where mesmerizing Rara Lake is located, Zhou writes, "Such poor service could easily make a foreigner traveler's jaw drop. Local staffers are really hospital to foreigners, but the dining environment is disappointing" (Page 179). Zhou's description should spur the local government to amend this shortcoming.

One is thoroughly impressed with Zhou's honest description of people, events and changes in Nepal in the book. This book serves as an eye-opener to Nepali people who need to wake up from the long slumber of political instability.

Published on 23 November 2021

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