Key Arguments & Synopsis

Key Arguments

1. There is not simply one western modernity, instead we are witnessing the birth of multiple modernities

2. Chinese modernity will be very different from western modernity

3. We are moving into a world of contested modernity

4. China will become the largest economy in the world within less than two decades and then proceed to rapidly out-distance that of the United States

5. China’s impact on the world will not simply be economic; it will also have profound political, cultural and ideological effects.

6. For thousands of years, China was at the centre of the tributary-state system in East Asia, which only came to an end with the arrival of European colonialism at the end of the nineteenth century

7. As the East Asian economy is rapidly reconfigured around China, we should expect elements of the tributary system to reappear

8. At its core, China is a civilization-state rather than a nation-state, a fact which will become steadily more apparent

9. The Chinese state is very different from the western state: it has existed for over two thousand years, for over a millennium it has had no competitors (eg, church, merchants) nor limits to its power; it is regarded with reverence and deference by the Chinese as the guardian and protector of Chinese civilization

10. The Chinese have a deep and living sense of their own culture and civilization which they regard as superior to all others

11. 92% of the Chinese believe that they are of one race, the Han Chinese, unlike the other most populous nations such as India, the United States, Brazil and Indonesia, which recognize themselves to be highly multi-racial and multi-cultural

12. The similarities between the communist period and the Confucian era are more striking than the differences


For over two hundred years we have lived in a western-made world, one where the very notion of being modern was synonymous with being western. The book argues that the twenty-first century will be different: with the rise of increasingly powerful non-Western countries, the west will no longer be dominant and there will be many ways of being modern. In this new era of ‘contested modernity’ the central player will be China.

Martin Jacques argues that far from becoming a western-style society, China will remain highly distinctive. It is already having a far-reaching and much-discussed economic impact, but its political and cultural influence, which has hitherto been greatly neglected, will be at least as significant. Continental in size and mentality, and accounting for one fifth of humanity, China is not even a conventional nation-state but a ‘civilization-state’ whose imperatives, priorities and values are quite different. As it rapidly reassumes its traditional place at the centre of East Asia, the old tributary system will resurface in a modern form, contemporary ideas of racial hierarchy will be redrawn and China’s ages-old sense of superiority will reassert itself. China’s rise signals the end of the global dominance of the west and the emergence of a world which it will come to shape in a host of different ways and which will become increasingly disconcerting and unfamiliar to those who live in the west.