The Indian/Chinese IQ puzzle
Both India and China are countries that have had the sort of moderate contact with the rest of Eurasia that their position at two extremities of Asia would lead one to expect. Both India and China have had their own sophisticated civilizations for at least two thousand years. The Chinese invented such things as gunpowder and printing. The Indians invented the so-called “Arabic” numerals that we use to this day and one of their religions (Buddhism) has been enormously influential outside their own borders. Both Indians and Chinese do extremely well economically outside their home countries. To me this is a picture of two generally intelligent populations. Yet the average IQ score for the two differs markedy. Chinese score somewhat above the Western norm and Indians score markedly below it. How come?
The usual explanation of IQ in terms of climate is straightforward. India has a much warmer climate than China and the severe Northern Chinese winter has selected heavily for ability to think ahead and intelligence generally. Consonant with that, it is only Northern East Asians (the Han Chinese, the Koreans and the Japanese) that have the IQ advantage. Southern East Asians (Filipinos, Malayans and Vietnamese) are if anything slightly below the British/American norm.
As a very criterion-oriented psychometrician, however, I am not really convinced by that explanation. I know Indians very well and I have even done social surveys in India. And I cannot convince myself that Indians suffer any real disadvantage. I am inclined to the view that the difference we see lies in the non-genetic causes of intelligence. Since a third of intelligence is NOT genetically determined, environmental factors would be well able to explain the measured IQ differences between Indians and Chinese.
So what could be the environmental factors that differ? Here we are as far as I can see entirely in the realm of speculation. The difference that occurs to me is the legendary Chinese devotion to education—which goes back long before significant Western contact. Even in the days of Marco Polo (Yes. I know that the Marco Polo tale is probably a compilation from various sources) entry to the Imperial Chinese civil service was via examination. India, by contrast, has nothing comparable. There was some stress on education during the British Raj but the Raj (or “Reich”, as the Germans would say) had nearly complete control of India for not much more than a hundred years (the Sepoy mutiny was in 1857). What DOES characterize the Indians as far as I can see is an enormous devotion to chat. The Indians are as talkative as the Chinese and Japanese are reserved. So it always amuses me to see the different contributions that the Indians and Chinese are now making to the globalized economy. The Chinese have become the workshop of the world and now supply all the widgets and gadgets that anyone could need. Our supermarkets are full of their manufactures. And what do the Indians export? TALK! They are the call-centre headquarters of the world! How fitting!
And note that verbal ability is the core element in IQ. If you want a quick index of IQ, vocabulary size is the best available shortcut measure. So that fact too militates against Indians really being dumb.
So what I think has happened is that the Indians have the depressed IQ scores that are characteristic of an overwhelmingly rural population (scores which rise with urbanization) but in China an equally rural population has overcome the rural handicap by an emphasis on education skills—and those skills help to maximize IQ scores.
The lower scores of the Southern East Asians are usually explaimed by pointing to a history of interbreeding with pre-existing indigenous populations and I suspect that the Negritos (pygmies) are the main culprit there. Filipino and Vietnamese women in particular are still often remarkably short by our standards.