Mishi Saran in The LA Review of Books:
THE WORD “FASCISM” has been doing the rounds in India and China.
The first time I heard it, I was at a small, polite dinner in Shanghai a few years ago. At least I thought it was polite; I should have known that behind closed doors, Chinese intellectuals let opinions buzz, as fast as flies over summer watermelon. China’s President Xi Jinping was newly in power.
“I’m reading Mein Kampf,” said a frail woman with tidy, grey hair sitting opposite me.
I sat a little straighter; I’d never actually heard anyone say that.
“I’m recognizing that the Chinese Communist party uses the same tactics. They unite people with hate; love is not a uniting factor. They give the people slogans.”
Her declaration seemed to loosen lips in the room, and others chimed in, with reports of how anyone writing a thesis now had to submit an abstract to the Party chief stationed at whatever institution.
“I never really like Wen Jiabao, but at least we could speak then,” a man said. “Now, under Xi, this kind of tightening, I don’t know …”
The next time I encountered the word — or more accurately the allusion — was in relation to my homeland, when Indian Prime Minister Modi stormed to a landslide victory in the country’s elections in May 2014, and a magazine called Open put Modi on the cover with the title, “Triumph of the Will,” a nod to a 1935 Nazi propaganda film. I wasn’t paying attention at the time, busy packing up house, saying goodbye to Shanghai after eight years of living there. I had to find a place to live in our new home, Hong Kong, and settle our little girl into a new school routine.
A year later, when Modi was due to visit China in May 2015, I accepted an invitation to come to Shanghai to hear him speak. The Indian Association based in Shanghai, loosely affiliated with the Indian Consulate, had contacted Indians living in cities across China and in Hong Kong too.