The following article was published on on August 1 2018

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt visited Beijing on July 30 in his first major overseas trip since taking office. The occasion, the 9th China-UK Strategic Dialogue, is an event that has served to reinforce the ties between the two countries.

An extensive range of topics was discussed during the meeting, including the reaffirmation of the “Golden Era” raised by the previous British prime minister, the agreement to defend free trade and multilateralism, and the expectation from China’s side of the UK’s ambitious participation in the Belt and Road Initiative.

Both countries have apparent drives to deepen bilateral partnership. For the UK, the Brexit has raised many concerns about its economic growth potential, which largely depends on its future relations with the European Union.

“Brexit is hanging over everything,” said Nathan King, a CGTN correspondent based in Washington, DC. “The UK was attractive to China before Brexit because it was the door to the EU market. Now it’s less attractive.”

Other experts expressed similar concerns. Martin Jacques, a senior fellow at the Department of Politics and International Studies at Cambridge University, said that no one knows where the UK is heading to in this post-Brexit period.

In the middle of this uncertainty, the British leaders are being much more cautious towards China, whose attitude he thinks should actually be reversed.

From a Chinese perspective, the trade friction with the US has inevitably influenced its economic performance, making it important to strengthen financial cooperation with other major countries.

However, there are also concerns from experts that the UK is not as an ideal partner for China as it seems to be. “China should not rely on the UK for anything,” said Philippe Le Corre, a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.

While China wants to use WTO as the platform for globalization, Washington thinks otherwise. The Trump administration has spoken against WTO, and is in favor of bilateral deals with the EU.

Martin Jacques disagreed, saying that the EU-US deal is just a conversation, which is not finalized.

Looking forward, the UK could largely benefit from China’s strategy of reform and opening up. King suggested that the biggest export of the UK is essentially financial services like insurance, gamut, and health, which will benefit most once China opens up.

According to Peter Ho, economist and research fellow at the London School of Economics, the UK is now the second largest platform for RMB. Therefore, if the UK is able to sustain its global financial impact, it will play an important role in the internationalization of RMB.

Moreover, being the first major Western country to join the Belt and Road Initiative, the UK could act as an endorser of the initiative.

“The UK is a country with a long history of trading across a different continent, and this could help to explain to the rest of the world what the Belt and Road Initiative is and calm people’s nervousness about the rising Chinese power,” King said.

The following article by Tim Robertson appeared in the Diplomat on August 7 2018.

On July 6, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, celebrated his 83rd birthday in Ladakh, the Himalayan region in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. On the other side of the world’s highest mountain range sits Lhasa, the Tibetan capital that he fled in 1959 during the Tibetan Uprising. The Dalai Lama has never been allowed to return. His has been a life lived in exile. But even Lhasa, home to the Jokhang Temple and Potala Palace, was a world away from the place where Tenzin Gyato was born.

Takster is a small village in the far northeast of the Tibetan plateau, in the region of Amdo (these days, it’s part of the Chinese province of Qinghai). In his biography, Freedom in Exile, the Dalai Lama writes of Takster:

It was a small and poor settlement which stood on a hill overlooking a broad valley. Its pastures had not been settled or farmed for long, only grazed by nomads. The reason for this was the unpredictability of the weather in that area. During my early childhood, my family was one of twenty or so making a precarious living from the land there.

When Thupten Gyatso, the 13th Dalai Lama, died in 1933 a search party was appointed to find his reincarnation; they first reached Takster just before Tenzin Gyatso’s third birthday. Shortly thereafter, they sent word to the Regent in Lhasa that they’d found the new Dalai Lama; they then waited several months to receive official confirmation.

At the time, control of China was divided among former military cliques. Ma Bufang, the Hui Muslim warload who ruled over Qinghai, “began to make trouble,” in the words of the Dalai Lama; thus, the boy destined to become the religious and political leader of Tibet was taken with his family to Kumbum monastery, “several hours away by horse.” Two years of diplomatic toing and froing followed and eventually, with the payment of a ransom, Ma Bufang allowed the party to leave Kumbum monastery and travel onwards to Lhasa.


Takster is a footnote in the long history of Tibet; it would be all but unremarkable if it were not the birthplace of the 14th Dalai Lama.

Today, it’s still a small, isolated village. For tourists visiting China – taking in the sights of Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, Chengdu, etc. – this side of the country’s extraordinary rise often remains invisible: away from the big cities, there is still widespread impoverishment. In places like Takster it’s clear that China’s growth has disproportionately benefitted wealthy urbanities; today’s reality is the very opposite of the peasant-led revolution Mao Zedong hoped would remake China.

But Takster also tells another story of modern China, with its resurgent Han nationalism and persecution of religious and ethnic minorities.

It’s seven kilometers from Takster to the next closest village. The roads leading up the mountain from Ping’an are all relatively new up until the final village, after which they’re pot-holed and often unsealed. The villages scattered up the mountain, where the majority of people are Hui Muslims, are fairly typical of the region: there’s a small middle school, and stores where shopkeepers stare at their phones while waiting for customers. I spot a large government building with the requisite Chinese Communist Party (CCP) insignia and men work in a small square, laying pavers and planting trees.

Takster is somehow different, though. At first sight, it looks like the other villages. Vegetation is sparse, there are old cars and decrepit motorcycles parked haphazardly, and all the homes are small, one-story dwellings with large courtyards. But all the gates are closed and locked, which is unusual in a village where everyone knows one another and many people are related. It’s around 10:30 a.m. when we arrive, but there is no one around. Even the police are nowhere to be seen. We park in front of a requisitioned school desk with two police shields leaning against it, but the comically small chairs are empty.

The Dalai Lama’s former home isn’t exactly inconspicuous; the CCP have “renovated” it and you can see the gold roof as you drive toward Takster. But that’s the best view we get; the house is behind a four-meter high grey brick wall and, on the day we’re there, the wooden gate, draped in Tibetan khatags, is locked.

In lieu of people, the house is watched over by a lone security camera, aimed at the entrance. One hundred meters down the road a dog emerges from a house, then the sound of someone hammering metal begins to ring out over the village. As we make our way toward the only sign of life we’ve seen or heard since arriving, a Chinese-speaking Tibetan man emerges from a dwelling attached the former home of the Dalai Lama. Looking at me, he asks: “Where are you from?” But before I can answer he turns to my driver and, more alarmed, asks, “Are you Tibetan?” When the driver answers in the affirmative, the villager – with an obvious sense of urgency – tells us to leave quickly because the place is heavily surveilled. His voice is foreboding and his jerky, hurried gestures make it clear that this isn’t a place to loiter.

My now visibly anxious driver and I hurry back to the car, hoping that the makeshift police checkpoint is still unoccupied. Although few words are spoken in our brief encounter with the local villager, much is conveyed: Tibetans understand the reach, power, and unjustness of the CCP. They’ve spent their whole lives being persecuted because they’re Tibetans.

Beijing obviously doesn’t want Takster becoming a pilgrimage site for Tibetans; the Dalai Lama represents a challenge not to Chinese power per se, but to its national(ist) narrative. Martin Jacques, author and scholar of modern China, has argued that China is different from other nation states and is better understood as a “civilization-state.” The CCP’s claims to legitimacy are closely linked to its ability to foster an image of itself as the guardian of China’s 6,000 year old civilization. The claim, therefore, that Tibet is culturally, linguistically, and geographically distinct from China and its civilization undermines the CCP’s claims to legitimacy.

Yet, if, as Beijing claims, Tibet is an intrinsic part of China and if the emerging superpower is, as it claims, a benign force (unlike Western imperial powers), then it doesn’t make sense to ban people from visiting sites like Takster. If Takster is part of China in the same way that, say, Shanghai is, then all Chinese people (including Tibetans) should be free to go there. But, of course, Takster is not the same as Shanghai, nor are Tibetans, in the eyes of the CCP, the same as Han Chinese. There is a tension, in other words, between the myth-making that passes for official Chinese history, the national narrative that’s the basis for so much state propaganda, and the lived reality for China’s minorities.

China today is unrecognizable as the socialist utopia envisioned by Mao. Since his death in 1976, the CCP has shown itself to be flexible on matters that were once ideological imperatives. Thus, the once nominally atheist state has, in recent years, seen a resurgence in religiosity amongst its citizens. The CCP has allowed this – even encouraged it in some instances – to the extent that it remains apolitical. But if religious belief is accompanied by or becomes the basis for calls for independence or autonomy or greater freedom, then it’s ruthlessly repressed.


With each passing year, as the Dalai Lama grows older, there are whispers about what will happen when he dies: it’s unthinkable that Beijing would allow a Tibetan search party to carry out the task of finding his reincarnation unimpeded.  The Dalai Lama has made some vague comments that he may be the last reincarnation or that his reincarnation may be found outside Tibet in, say, India or Nepal. But until he passes and Beijing reveals its hand, this all remains hypothetical.

When we are a few kilometers out of Takster, my driver relaxes a bit, puts on some Tibetan rap music and we resume the conversation we’d been having earlier. “What do you think will happen,” I ask, “when the Dalai Lama dies?”

“Maybe I will have a bit more freedom,” he replies unconvincingly. He qualifies it with, “But I don’t really know, though.” He thinks it’s inevitable that the CCP will try to install their own pliant “Dalai Lama” (like it did when the Panchen Lama, the second highest ranking lama in the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, died in 1989); a figurehead the CCP can point to as evidence of its acceptance and respect for minorities, but someone who’s just an extension of its authority.

A few weeks later I am in Dharamshala, India with a Tibetan friend who’s spent most of his life in exile. When I tell him about my visit to the Dalai Lama’s birthplace and relate the conversation I had with my driver, he is dismissive of that prediction. It is impossible, he says, that Tibetans living in Chinese-occupied Tibet would stand for such an affront to their faith. If the CCP interferes with the search for the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation, he warns, it could be the fire that sparks a revolution.

These two responses are not necessarily reflective of the views of the majority living in occupied-Tibet and those in exile, but they are emblematic of the gulf between the lived experiences of the two communities. Both suffer because of China’s occupation, but they suffer in very different ways and this shapes their hopes, aspirations and expectations.

All Tibetans share a culture and history, but China, in addition to occupying Tibetan land, has driven a wedge between its people. Many of those living in Chinese-administered territory can’t leave, while many of those living in exile have never set foot in Tibet.

The on-going Chinese-Tibetan conflict is not generally treated as an urgent matter by the international community. Beijing restricts access to Tibet, so the flow of information is tightly controlled, and China is an increasingly powerful force in the world. But the longer China is allowed to remain unaccountable for its occupation of Tibet and the oppression of its people, the harder it will be to bridge the divide between a people whose lived experience of isolation, occupation, and exclusion have been so different.

Tim Robertson

The following article by Prof. N. A. de S. Amaratunga appeared on Lankaweb on July 27 2018. 

Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera,  poet laureate, who has nothing but contempt for the politics and politicians of this country and who has been exploring our past civilization in an attempt to dig out a suitable remedy for our ills, as revealed in his many political analyses such as Ganadura Mediyama…”,  has authored another book on the subject titled Sabyathva Rajya Kara” which means Towards Civilisation State”. He has in his previous works attempted to show that Sri Lanka cannot continue to have an alien political system. He has argued in his works that only a political system based on our civilizational consciousness would succeed in governing this country and bring dignity and freedom to its people. The present system has the pretense of freedom, equality, independence and human dignity but in practice the people are denied of all this basic human rights. Instead they are blind folded by a façade of democracy, franchise, human rights, constitutions, judicial independence, freedom of expression etc. Moreover, it has produced a set of politicians who are corrupt to the core with involvement in crime and vice. The divisive nature of party politics and the ensuing violence has destroyed the unity in the village. What is worse is the failure of intellectual discourse to bring forth any meaningful and effective solution. Nobody has seriously challenged this fraud and attempted to see whether there is any plausible alternative.

Amarasekera’s contention had always been that if Sri Lanka is to find a home grown arrangement of government it has to be rooted in our civilization. Amarasekera is not without likeminded intellectuals of international repute. For instance, Martin Jacques a scholar on modern China who in 2009 has published the book titled When China Rules the World” in which he has put forward the concept of Civilisation State as against the Nation State. Then there was Samuel Huntington who published his book titled Clash of Civilisations” in 1996 where he dwelt on the lasting strength of civilization consciousness and its impact on politics. Before all this Amarasekera had put forward his theory of Jathika Chinthanaya” in his Ganadura Mediyama…” published in 1989 where he describes the characteristic features of the Bauddha Rajya” that existed in this country from the time of King Devanampiyatissa until 1815. He clearly shows that those features were rooted in our civilization. Unfortunately neither Huntington nor Jacques had realized that apart from China there had been civilisation states in other countries like Burma,Cambodia and Sri Lanka. Martin Jacques’ conceptualization of the state in China as a Civilisation State has prompted Amarasekera to take his arguments further and show us that his ideas are not farfetched and are in fact already in practice and most successfully at that in China. He does this eminently well in his little book Sabyathwa Rajyak Kara”.

What is the nature of a Civilisation State as against a Nation State?  The former, says Jacques, is well integrated with the people while the latter by its very nature is not, as it advocates less government control over affairs that eventually impact on everyday life. He distinguishes between civilization and civilization state. He says there have been  many civilisations but what is remarkable about the Chinese case is that civilization” and state” largely coincide not just over a relatively brief period but over an extraordinarily long one. And he says it is difficult to think of another similar example. This is where Jacques is wrong says Amarasekera. He shows that Sri Lanka has a longer history of a Civilisation State than China.  Further Sri Lanka’s system under the kings were more democratic than in China in the sense that the king did not have unlimited power. Perhaps ironically that ancient system may have been more democratic than the present presidential system! Trevor Ling had identified three pillars which supported that ancient state; the King, the people and the Sangha. If the king was not suitable to rule the country the people can get together with the Sangha and get rid of the king.

Definitions apart we could glean an idea about this matter by looking at the spectacular advances China has made in a comparatively short period in its history. In comparison India which had a similar history in relation to culture, science and technology has badly faltered.    In the nineteen forties China was an under developed isolated country and today it is the second most powerful country in the world. India, on the other hand, which was ahead of China in the nineteen forties is still struggling with its poverty. Different systems account for the extraordinary contrast between China and India. China’s economic transformation is said to be the best in human history. Jacques says those who look at China through the Western prism may say that China’s state is its Achilles’ heel but in fact it is its strongest asset.  There is wide spread belief that modernization implies Westernization which is not the case as seen in China.

It was Joseph Needham, scientist and historian, who first opened our eyes to the wonderful achievements of China. He spent several years in China in the nineteen forties studying its science and civilization. He published the first volume of his monumental work Science and Civilisation in China” in 1954 which catalogued the scientists and their work from early times. He has clearly shown that China was several centuries ahead of Europe in science and technology until the 15th Century. He asked the pertinent question; how did the West overtake China and India which were ahead of them in science and technology. This so called Great Needham Question” has been answered by several Sinologists and the reasons given by them varied from too much state control to flawed scientific method. Needham’s own answer had been that Buddhism and Taoism had a restraining effect on scientific advancement. This point of view may not be correct particularly in relation to India where Buddhism was the catalyst for scientific enquiry and where the golden era of science coincided with the golden era of Buddhism. Leaving all this aside the fact of the matter is that China from the twentieth century onwards has risen out of the ashes like a Phoenix and advanced in leaps and bounds and may soon be the most powerful country in the world. According to Martin Jacques the reason for this stupendous transformation is the effectiveness of the Civilisation State. And failure of India to keep pace is due to the lack of such a state.

India from about the 5th Century BC till about the 6th Century AD was leading the world in science and technology. This was the Indian Buddhist era. The decline of Buddhism and the resurgence of Brahmanism heralded the end of science. Brahmanism was based on Vedic texts which exalted the virtues of sacrificial ritual, yaga homa”, super natural power and discouraged scientific enquiry. There was no scientism in the men who practiced Brahmanism. Whereas most of the scientists in India during this period were Buddhists. Indian science made radical, significant and lasting contributions to world science mainly in the fields of mathematics, medicine and astronomy. Kings who supported science and education were Buddhists. Indian mathematics is considered as the mother of all mathematics and its greatest mathematician, astronomer and philosopher Aryabhatha born in 476 AD was a Buddhist who lived in the centre of Buddhist heartland, capital of Magadha Empire, Pataliputhra. According to leading Indian scientist Dr.Neelantha Dhar progress of science in India was obstructed by the decline of Buddhism and nothing significant happened in science after the 6th Century AD. Thus India perhaps had a Civilisation State during the Buddhist era from 5th Century BC until 6th Century AD and lost it thereafter. Kings of this period were enamoured by Buddhism and based their policies on the principles of Buddhism. Civilisation and State coincided. Brahmanism and later foreign invasions caused the collapse of this State. If one were to compare the present India with China one could understand what has happened for the two countries had a similar past. Today China exports six times more than India and is the number one exporter in the world. Its GDP is 3rd in the world and is five times larger than that of India. There are only 13.4% below poverty line in China whereas the figure for India is 29.8%. Martin Jacques says comparing the economies of China and India is chalk and cheese and he says India must learn from China. With regard to poverty alleviation and employment China is doing better than USA.

In Sri Lanka too during the period of Buddhist influence science, medicine, agriculture, building of tanks, stupas and irrigation canals, architecture, metalogy etc.  developed in pace with India. The first hospital in the world was built in Mihinthala in the 4th Century BCE. Buddhism which encouraged scientific enquiry was the life blood of this civilization. Thus developed the civilizational consciousness which is entrenched in the minds of people, which attaches them to their language, religion and country and make them strive for its advancement and protection. The Civilasation State, if it is to survive and succeed, must have this binding consciousness. It had been the case in China which enabled it to bounce back after every fall. And it was not so in India which seems to have lost its civilization consciousness and not found it yet.  Thus as Amarasekera cogently points out in his book Sri Lanka has the potential to find its consciousness and develop its Civilisation State.

In Amarasekera’s opinion Sri Lanka is caught up in the trap of democracy” designed by our colonial masters whose aim was to continue their hegemonic grip on the country. The slavish attitude of our leaders towards the Western powers and their life style no doubt had helped the imperialists to keep hold of that grip. This was evident soon after independence which made national leaders like Anagarika Dharmapala leave the country in disgust. It is evident at present also when our leaders seem to collude with the Western powers to subvert the independence and sovereignty of the country. The colonialists have left behind their legacy and their servants to ensure their hold on the country and pursue their agenda. It is a sad commentary on the intelligentsia of the country that we have failed to escape from this colonial yoke. Amarasekera attempts to address the intelligent people of this country and to make them understand the damage that has been done to the country due to the divisive nature of party politics which is an inherent feature of the Westminister system of parliamentary democracy. This system of democracy is divisive by design and a divided nation is an open field for the marauding imperialist.

Amarasekera asserts that we must find our own political system based on our civilization consciousness. Prof.Weiwei Zhang of Fudan University, China in his book titled The China Wave – Rise of a Civilisation State” says the story of China is not about the rise of an ordinary country but a different type of country. Therefore, we cannot emulate China just as much as we should not ape the West. But we could adopt the concept of Civilisation State. Our aspirations, believes, values, religion, morals, desires and attitudes are different. These are the factors that had moulded our consciousness over thousands of years. These factors provide the basis for the civilization the Sinhalese built in their history of more than 2500 years. The consciousness we harbour of these factors is our civilization consciousness. It is the guiding light and the driving force of our lives without which we are lost. Amarasekera shows us why the ruins in Anuradhapura are not ruins for us as they are etched in our consciousness. Amarasekera describes how we have lost our way and how we have arrived at our pathetic state and the peril the country faces today.

A governing State which is closely integrated with the civilization consciousness of its people and is designed to function on the basis of those factors and deliver on them could be termed a Civilisation State. Therefore, we have to develop our own system. According to Amarasekera we had ventured into such a project in 1956 when we elected the SLFP Government, not by accident but because we were driven by the civilization consciousness. That phenomenon was a political manifestation of that consciousness.  Mr.S.W.R.D.Bandaranayaka succeeded in tapping this consciousness so to speak but he could not develop a civilization state. Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranayaka perhaps did better in that regard. In this respect the most successful leader was Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa. Hence Amarasekera at the end of his monograph suggests that Mahinda Rajapaksa must jettison the SLFP which has seized to be the political arm of the civilization consciousness of the people and find a new party to fill this void and continue the effort to build a Civilisation State. The task of course is not easy given the complexities both inside and outside the country but to remain silent is to court disaster.

Prof. N. A. de S. Amaratunga

The following article by Martin Jacques was a contribution to the debate on the Economist website on the themeShould the West worry about the threat to liberal values posed by China’s rise?’

For long the West has thought that history is on its side, that the global future would and should be in its own image. With the end of the cold war and the implosion of the Soviet Union, this conviction became stronger than ever. The future was Western; nothing else was imaginable. Of course, already, well before the end of the cold war, in 1978 to be exact, China had started its epic modernisation such that, in the annals of history, 1978 will surely prove to be a far more significant year than 1989. During China’s rise, hubris continued to shape the West’s perception and understanding of China. As the latter modernised it would become increasingly Western, it was supposed: Deng’s reforms marked the beginning of the privatisation and marketisation of the Chinese economy—its political system would in time become Western, otherwise China would inevitably fail.

Read the full article here.

Earlier this year, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography published its entry for Stuart Hall, written by Martin Jacques. The entry is reproduced here with kind permission of the ODNB and the OUP, and can also be accessed through their website.

Hall, Stuart McPhail (1932–2014), cultural theorist and political commentator, was born on 3 February 1932 in Kingston, Jamaica, the son of Herman McPhail Hall, accountant, and his wife, Jessie. He was of mixed African, Scottish, and Portuguese descent. He had a brother and sister, both of whom were older than him.

Kingston, Jamaica

Hall grew up in Kingston. His brown-skinned father rose to become the chief accountant of the Jamaican subsidiary of the American giant United Fruit. His fair-skinned wife (Hall’s mother) never worked outside the home but treated the family as her personal fiefdom. Hall, for his part, had by far the darkest skin in the family. The family was relatively well heeled, with servants, a large bungalow house, and an ample-sized garden. His parents strongly identified with the colonial system, looking down upon the lower classes and those of darker skin. Hall’s sister, Pat, who was five years older, became a victim of her mother’s outlook. Pat had a black boyfriend, a medical student at the University College of the West Indies: her mother ordered the relationship to end on the grounds of his colour and origins, and, as a consequence, Patsuffered a serious mental breakdown from which she made only a fragile recovery. Hallwas traumatized by what happened to his sister.

At the age of eleven Hall won a scholarship to Jamaica College, one of the top secondary schools in the colony, where he received an overwhelmingly Anglocentric education containing no Caribbean literature. He became increasingly ostracized from his family and what he describes as ‘their cringing display of a desire for social recognition’ (HallFamiliar Stranger, 51). As he grew older he became increasingly aware that there were two Jamaicas, that of his family who owed allegiance to the colonial order, and that of the overwhelming black majority who lived in abject poverty. In 1938 the ‘other’ Jamaica rebelled in a major uprising that was to spell the beginning of the end of the colonial era. At home this Jamaica was never allowed entry, apart, that is, from the servants. But at Jamaica College and through his journeys around the Jamaican countryside Hall came into growing contact with the other Jamaica. Like many of his background he came to reject the colonial system: at home he felt an outsider, unable to accept the values of his mother, who continued to think of England as her home even though she had never lived there.

Hall was chosen as Jamaica’s Rhodes scholar of his year and won a place at Merton College, Oxford. In 1951 he left Jamaica and set sail for Britain, believing that once he had completed his studies he would return to Jamaica. Independence, meanwhile, was still some way off: it was not achieved until 1962Hall, thus, was a product of colonial rather than post-colonial Jamaica. He was already troubled and perplexed about his identity: the conflict between his pro-colonial family and the growing rejection of colonialism by his peer group at Jamaica College, with many of his generation from such élite schools subsequently becoming key figures in the fight for independence and later in the newly independent country, provoked much reflection on his part. Who was he? How to place himself? He went to England hoping that he might find some answers.

Oxford and the Universities and Left Review

Almost on arrival Hall realized that he was not English and never could be. He found Oxford an alien environment. He was the only black student at Merton and there were precious few in the university. Initially he experienced no overt racism; ‘there were so few of us’, he wrote later, ‘we were regarded as oddities, quaint, rather than embodying any kind of threat … But I was conscious all the time that I was very, very differentbecause of my race and colour’ (HallFamiliar Stranger, 158). The situation changed later, by which time he had become a graduate student, when West Indians—the Windrush generation—began to be employed on the buses in Oxford in large numbers. One day, not long after arriving in England, Hall saw large numbers of West Indians at Paddington Station. They were too poorly dressed to be tourists. Who were they and what were they doing? They were, of course, early migrants. From that moment, he recalled, everything looked different. He and they were from very different backgrounds, ‘but’, as he wrote later, ‘we belonged to the same historical moment’ (ibid., 44).

Hall read English at Oxford. As a boy he dreamed of being a poet, then later a novelist, though that idea rapidly faded at Oxford. He graduated in 1954 and stayed on to work for a DPhil degree, choosing Henry James as his doctoral subject. He had always had eclectic tastes in the visual arts, music, and literature, spanning both cultures and centuries. He went to the cinema several times a week and played piano in a jazz band. He became increasingly interested in British politics and in culture. He never completed the DPhil. In 1957 he moved to London. Oxford was never his kind of place: too white, too stiff, too establishment, too upper-class, too ‘English’. Oxbridge held no attraction for him, then or subsequently: for him they were places to avoid rather than be attracted to. His new locales of Brixton and Soho were far more to his taste. The move, more or less coinciding with his editorship of Universities and Left Review, was to mark the beginning of a major turning point in his life.

In 1957 Hall had become the joint founding editor of the Universities and Left Review, soon to be renamed the New Left Review. In the aftermath of the convulsive events of 1956—the Hungarian uprising, the Suez débâcle, and Khrushchev’s revelations about Stalin’s crimes at the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party—a new space opened up on the left based on the rejection of both the American and Soviet camps. He went on the first Aldermaston march in 1958 and became extremely active in both the ‘new left’ and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, devoting most of his time to them. He taught English at Stockwell secondary modern school and later was a lecturer in film and mass media studies at Chelsea College, part of London University. A major preoccupation of the Universities and Left Review (and the New Left Review) was how to understand and analyse cultural change, and especially popular culture. Hall later described this period as the beginning of cultural studies, a discipline in which, from the outset, he was to play such a decisive role.

Another of Hall’s great concerns also began to take shape during this period. In 1958, exactly ten years after the arrival of the first West Indian migrants on the Empire Windrush and seven years after Hall’s own arrival in the UK, the white riots took place in Notting Hill and Nottingham, a response to the growing presence of West Indian migrants. The overwhelmingly dominant British response to colonial migration had been one of incomprehension and ignorance. As Hall wrote: ‘Their histories, and their long historical entanglements with Britain, disappeared from daily consciousness. Who are these people? Where are they from? What language do they speak? And, above all, what on earth are they doing here?’ (HallFamiliar Stranger, 185). He argued: ‘Post-war racism in Britain begins with … profound forgetfulness … The history of empire really does seem … to have fallen out of mind. It is judged impolite and faintly anachronistic even to mention it’ (ibid., 186, 195).

In 1963 Hall met Catherine Mary Barrett (b. 1946), a young Yorkshirewoman about to go to university. After a number of unsatisfactory relationships, he was at a low ebb. He fell for Catherine immediately and, notwithstanding their age gap of fourteen years and the fact that he was black and she was white, which was most unusual at the time, they married on 15 December 1964. In his autobiographical Familiar Stranger (2017), he touchingly recounted: ‘She must have understood something about me. Early in our courtship I kept her waiting for nearly two hours outside a West End cinema to see Antonioni’s L’Avventura while I was at a CND committee meeting. When I finally arrived, she was still waiting’ (HallFamiliar Stranger, 268). Theirs was a lifelong union of almost fifty years. Family—they had two children, Becky (b. 1969) and Jess (b. 1971)—was very important to Hall. He took immense pride in Catherine’s later emergence as a distinguished historian and the fact that in their latter years together she knew more about Jamaica and slavery than he did.

Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies

In 1964 Hall was invited by Richard Hoggart to become a research fellow at the new Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University. In 1968 he became its acting director and from 1973 to 1979 its director. He was now an academic, a description he always eschewed. He was indeed no ordinary academic. In almost every sense, the centre was highly original and unconventional. It was run on a shoestring. Although it made Birmingham University famous, the university authorities were seemingly embarrassed by it. Its intellectual output was prodigious, pouring out a succession of books, papers, monographs, and articles. Hall, of course, was at the core of everything, the éminence grise, except he shunned the limelight and his own writings invariably took the form of collaborations with others, mainly his graduate students. This was Hall’s preferred mode of writing. Extraordinary as it might seem, though there are many books that bear his name—and of which he was the architect—there is not one single book that carries his name alone. Inspirational as he was, he was ever supportive, approachable, encouraging, sharing, sympathetic, open, and democratic.

The Birmingham centre became synonymous with cultural studies. Before the centre existed, ‘culture’ was a somewhat rarefied term that was relatively seldom used. More than any other institution the centre was responsible for changing that situation. The term ‘culture’ became ubiquitous: seemingly everyone began to use it. Hall held that culture was fundamental to an understanding of everyday life, societal change, and politics. He saw it as an overarching concept, multidisciplinary in nature, and in popular rather than élitist terms. In that context, he was influenced by Raymond Williams and especially the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci. Following Gramsci, he was above all interested in culture because of its crucial relationship with politics and power rather than culture in the abstract or cultural studies for their own sake. For this reason, indeed, he became increasingly critical of much in the discipline of cultural studies in the latter phase of his life. Such was the success of Hall’s cultural studies that it not only embraced other disciplines such as sociology, politics, literary theory, and cultural anthropology, but also partially displaced at least some. He respected other disciplines but also maintained a not misplaced scepticism. He said, ‘We … live in a period when many of the existing paradigms established … within traditional intellectual disciplines either no longer in themselves adequately correspond to the problems we have to resolve, or require supplementing from other disciplines’ (Hall, ‘Through the prism of an intellectual life’, 276). Tellingly, he added, ‘I have never been able to be satisfied with working from within a single discipline’ (ibid.). He became a hugely influential figure in cultural studies, not only in the UK but around the world, his name almost synonymous with the field. To name but one of his multitude of articles, his essay on television—‘Encoding and decoding in the television discourse’, which was originally given as a paper at a conference at the University of Leicester in 1973, and subsequently published by the Birmingham centre the same year—was to enjoy a huge impact. In this, taking issue with the prevalent mass communications model, he argued that the meaning of a message is never fixed or transparent, and that the recipient ‘decodes’ the message according to his or her personal background, social situation, and frame of interpretation. Moreover, he underlined the ‘performative’ nature of media messages, such that through repeated retelling, socially and culturally specific interpretations have the ability to become dominant, widely accepted, and hegemonic.

Of the centre’s vast output on youth culture, crime, the media, gender, race, the post-colonial, and much else besides, its most important publication was Policing the Crisis, published in 1978 and, typically, with five authors including Hall himself. It began by analysing the moral panic in the 1970s around the mugging of white people by young black men, showing that there was actually no rise in such crime. It explained how this provoked social anxiety about how communities were changing, strengthened the view that Britishness was synonymous with whiteness, and convinced many of the socially excluded that the cause of their deprivation was race not poverty. It traced the central place of race in the rise of the ‘new right’ and the other issues that helped to shape it. In its wide-ranging character, its ability to articulate the various elements that were together shaping a new political conjuncture, it was a profoundly important book.

In 1979 Hall was appointed professor of sociology at the Open University. His choice was unsurprising. He was attracted by the possibility of teaching those who otherwise, as often older and working people, would probably never have had the opportunity to embark on a university education. But there was also another reason. Hall was a brilliant communicator: a wonderful lecturer, a mesmerizing speaker, and a natural on television. The Open University used television as one of its modes of communication, something that attracted Hall, as did the summer schools and the creation of the study guide books that were typically creative and collaborative. He eventually retired from this, his last academic post, in 1998.

Marxism Today and Thatcherism

In the autumn of 1978 the editor of Marxism TodayMartin Jacques, approached Hall to write an article on the rise of the new right. The resulting article, ‘The great moving right show’, was published in the January 1979 issue. It was to prove one of the most important and influential articles written on British politics since the Second World War. It broke the established mode of political writing. Drawing on his work at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies and in particular Policing the CrisisHallargued that the aim of the new right—in the article Hall used the term ‘Thatcherism’ for the first time, over four months before the election of Margaret Thatcher—was to break the impasse in British politics that had endured throughout the 1970s. More fundamentally, he contended that the new right was a new kind of political formation that was determined to undermine the social democratic consensus that had prevailed since 1945, and which was now historically exhausted, and replace it with a very different order. He recognized the populist appeal of the new right’s themes: the efficacy of the market, the inadequacy of the state, law and order, a growing reaction against the unions, the appeal of individualism as opposed to collectivism. It was politics of a new type that widened and transformed what was meant by the political and that was to leave the left on the defensive and increasingly beleaguered. These themes were to become the new common sense but when Hall wrote the article at the end of 1978, they were, from any viewpoint on the political spectrum, breathtakingly novel. Nor should the opposition on the left to Hall’s arguments be underestimated: indeed it took the left most of the next decade and longer even to begin to understand what Hall was trying to say.

The article proved remarkably prophetic, anticipating not simply Thatcher’s ten years in power but more importantly the neo-liberal era that was to last well over thirty years. What lay behind his insight? Hall drew heavily on the work of GramsciHall’s central concepts in this context were ‘conjuncture’ and ‘hegemony’. The central theme of his political writing, and much of his cultural writing too, was conjunctural analysis. Heavily influenced by Marx as he was, his main argument with much Marxist writing was its belief in the inevitability of history, or politics with guarantees, which served to downplay greatly the role of politics, culture, and much else, in contrast to the economic. He rejected the idea of certainty and placed great emphasis on the role of contingency. He wrote: ‘I shifted from thinking of theory as the search for the certainty of all embracing totalities … to the necessity of recognising the power of contingency in all historical processes and explanations’ (S. HallCultural Studies 1983: A Theoretical History, 2016, 76). It was impossible in his view to understand the nature of a conjuncture narrowly in terms of politics, but rather the latter had to be seen in terms of its articulation with culture, race, gender, sexuality, identity, the environment, and law and order, to mention a few. He saw Thatcherism as a hegemonic force which successfully addressed the new political conjuncture that had been evolving for over a decade and, as a result, was able completely to redraw the nature of British politics.

From 1979 to the magazine’s closure at the end of 1991 Hall wrote many articles for Marxism Today, the majority of which were concerned with the nature of Thatcherism and neo-liberalism. The fact that Marxism Today became the most influential political publication in Britain in the 1980s owed a very great deal to Hall’s writing along with that of the historian Eric Hobsbawm. At the many events organized by the magazine, Hall was always a star attraction. He was a quite brilliant speaker, engaging, conversational, witty, and always intellectually stimulating. During this period he also co-edited two books with Jacques, with whom he enjoyed an extremely close relationship, that were based on articles that had appeared in Marxism Today, namely The Politics of Thatcherism (1983) and New Times (1989).

When New Labour came to power in 1997Hall had no illusions about what it would be like. In April 1997, just before the election, he and Jacques wrote an article for TheObserver arguing that:

[the] fundamental point of departure [of New Labour] is that the last 18 years of Conservative government constitute the new natural law. The Tories’ philosophy, their dynamic, their logic, their legacy are regarded as untouchable and unquestionable. It has become New Labour’s common sense.

(The Observer, 13 April 1997)

In other words, even by the turn of the century, the left had still failed to grasp the import of Hall’s ‘Great moving right show’ published eighteen years earlier. There followed in the autumn of 1998 a special issue of Marxism Today, revived for this one-off occasion, and containing a withering critique of Blair and New Labour, in which Hallwrote one of the major articles.

The black arts movement

Hall had always been interested in the arts in the broadest sense of the term, from high culture to popular culture, and, of course, most importantly, from a multicultural perspective. After his retirement from academic life in 1998, he became increasingly committed to the black arts movement, which brought him into conversation with new generations of black artists, photographers, and film-makers. There followed a whole series of new articles and papers in catalogues, journals, and anthologies. He became the central figure in the creation of Rivington Place in Shoreditch, east London, which opened in 2007 as a centre for public education and exhibition in the contemporary visual arts around the themes of multiculturalism, global diversity, and black identity. He chaired both Iniva (the Institute of International Visual Arts) and Autograph (the Association of Black Photographers), which were the two commissioning bodies. He was the moving force in the project, which cost £8 million to complete and was the first publicly funded new-build international art gallery since the Hayward Gallery more than forty years previously. Designed by David Adjaye, the RIBA award-winning building became home to the Stuart Hall Library.

In 1995 Hall became one of the founding editors of Soundings: a Journal of Politics and Culture, which he continued to write for until his health would no longer allow. In the mid-1980s he was diagnosed with kidney disease which eventually resulted in dialysis and, towards the end of his life, a transplant. He was enormously energetic and prodigiously hard-working but, as his health gradually deteriorated, he was obliged to slow down and eventually forced to retire from public life. He bore his ill health with great courage and determination and until his last days was still writing. He died on 10 February 2014, of renal failure, at St John’s Hospice, Westminster, London.

Hall and Britain

Hall never regarded himself as English. Indeed he was to think himself less and less English as the years went by. But nor did he think of himself as simply Jamaican, for he had left the island when he was nineteen, never to live there again. He came to think of himself as being of both and neither, of being ‘here’ and ‘there’, of being diasporic. He rejected the idea of identity as fixed, arguing that it was always in a process of constant change. In his own words, ‘identity is not settled in the past but always also oriented towards the future’ (Hall, ‘Through the prism of an intellectual life’, 274). He was a colonial subject (he left Jamaica eleven years before independence), a post-colonial, and a long-term resident of the imperial metropolis where he made his home, his family, and his career. This mobility coincided with a world increasingly characterized by globalization. The very quality of being an outsider, from the colonial world rather than the imperial heartland, offered him a vantage point and enabled insights into Britain that were denied to insiders, who believed that by virtue of birth and the longevity of their belonging (not to mention their whiteness) they somehow understood. That is why he was able to make sense of Britain in a way that was denied to its inmates. He saw it all in a very different way. He could write ‘The great moving right show’, for example, precisely because he was an outsider.

Hall was always pessimistic about Britain and its ability to transform itself, which he regarded as crucial to its future. At the heart of this lay race. Hall wrote that ‘though vigorously disavowed, race has played a historically determining role in the self-definition of Britain as a nation’, arguing that Britain could ‘never think afresh unless it understood its history’ if colonialism and slavery (HallFamiliar Stranger, 180). But when it came to empire, Britain chose amnesia rather than historical engagement. In an interview with Caryl Phillips in 1997, he said:

Britain is drawing the horns in more and more around little England …This is not a climate which encourages openness to new experience. It’s a very defensive climate which sees everybody and any kind of difference as a fundamental threat to the whole history of British culture.

(Phillips, 41)

He added that the retreat into ‘heritage England’ was the ‘worst sort of mixture, the combination of a deeply rooted, closed conservatism around a tiny myth of a nation with a homogenous culture’ (ibid., 40). Bleakly, he suggested that Britain might well be incapable of changing itself by its own efforts:

National states and national cultures are now exposed to difference and the impact of difference from other places that they cannot insulate themselves against, and it’s more likely to come in that way than it is from any self-transformation in which the British do it themselves.

(ibid., 42)

Hall wrote later that ‘recognising myself as a colonised subject meant accepting my insertion into History all right—only backwards, upside-down, by negation’ (HallFamiliar Stranger, 21). Miserable and downgrading as that was for the colonized peoples, it gave Hall a highly original and remarkably perceptive view of an imperial power trapped in a seemingly endless process of decline. In denial of its most important achievement (a huge empire) and therefore unable to draw the lessons of that experience, it was unable to rethink itself in order to live in what was becoming a very different kind of world.

The following article by Martin Jacques appeared in Gulf News, 27th February 2018. 

The Belt and Road Initiative marks a new stage in China’s rise. Launched in 2013, it built on China’s going out strategy which took shape around the turn of the century. If the lines of continuity are clear, the differences are even starker. The going out strategy saw China developing closer relations with Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America, to name the most prominent. In contrast, the BRI is an overarching project designed to transform the Eurasian land mass, presently home to around two-thirds of the world’s population.

We have never seen the like of it before, a project on the grandest of scales and in that sense consonant with China’s own traditions.

Although Europe is part of the Eurasian land mass, the central aim is the transformation of the developing countries that comprise most of the continent. The developmental logic runs roughly as follows. China transformed itself — the most remarkable transformation in human history, one never likely to be repeated — by massive investment, in which the state was instrumental and which was largely directed towards infrastructure.

The result was spectacular economic growth and a massive reduction in poverty. If it worked for China, then why could it not for other developing countries? China doesn’t see itself as a model, but it does believe that these lessons are of more general application.

Spectacular though Belt and Road maybe, it would be wrong to underestimate or dismiss its chances of success. After almost four decades of continuous growth, China has a formidable record of delivery. Belt and Road should not only be taken seriously, it should be assumed that it in the long run it is likely to be largely successful.

By 2050, Eurasia will surely look very different, growth will have taken root in many countries and Eurasia will have moved to the centre of the global economy and geopolitics. For the more sceptical, it should be born in mind that by 2030 the Chinese economy is projected to be twice the size of America’s.

For various reasons, most importantly the closeness of the US’s relationship with the Middle East, China has moved relatively cautiously in expanding its ties with the Middle East. But the pace has quickened since the Western financial crisis.

The most important single aspect of China’s relationship has been its dependence on the Middle East for half its oil imports. But the Chinese approach has consistently focused on the need to establish a much broader economic relationship. In this context, the Middle East countries have shown great interest in the Belt and Road Initiative.

All the Middle Eastern states, bar five, are members of the Asian Infrastructure Bank, and three of the 12 directors are from the region.

Apart from the obvious economic importance of China to the Middle East, there are two key reasons why the latter is showing such interest in Belt and Road. Firstly, these countries — and perhaps most notably the Gulf states — occupy a key strategic position with regard to both the land and maritime routes.

This lends their ports an obvious significance and enhances the potential of their accompanying economic zones. The second is that with the decline of fossil fuels now firmly on the agenda, they need to diversify their economies with some alacrity, Saudi Arabia being the most compelling example.

The UAE has been well to the fore in broadening its relationship with China. China is the UAE’s second largest trading partner while the UAE is China’s second largest partner in the Gulf region.

The Khalifa port is one of the fastest growing in the world and, with Cosco’s decision to establish its own container terminal, is set to almost double in size. The Kamsil industrial zone is expanding rapidly with major Chinese investments.

A UAE-China investment fund was established in 2015 and the UAE sees itself as becoming a major financial hub. Lying on the key trading routes to Africa, Europe and the Indian subcontinent, the UAE is well-placed to be a major beneficiary of the BRI.

The following article by Martin Jacques appeared in China Daily, 20th January 2018.

As momentous historic events go, China’s reform period was relatively unheralded. Little did anyone realise at the time – probably no one, in fact – that 1978 would enter the history books as one of the most important years in modern history.

We should not be surprised. At the time, the Chinese economy was a mere one-twentieth of the size of the US economy, with a per capita GDP roughly on a par with that of Zambia, lower than half of the Asian average and lower than two-thirds of the African average. China’s impact on the world was very limited, even in East Asia.

Read the full article here.

The following is an English translation of an article by Martin Jacques that appeared in People’s Daily, 9th January 2018

The 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress marked a new moment in China’s arrival on the global stage. Congresses of the Chinese Communist Party, even in the modern era, have invariably attracted little attention in the West. They have been regarded as neither particularly relevant nor important, rubber-stamp occasions that were difficult to understand or decipher and best left to the China experts. The 19th Congress broke the mould. It was widely reported and recognised in the West as an event of major global importance. Instead of treating the Congress as a somewhat bizarre tribal occasion, some of the coverage displayed a greater sense of seriousness and inquiry. It was widely acknowledged that this was one of the most important political events of 2017. The coverage was further evidence that China has moved to the centre of the global stage. 

Read more >


Updated and expanded new Chinese edition just released.


Turkish edition just published!

When China Rules the World is the first book to fully conceive of and explain the upheaval that China’s ascendance will cause and the realigned global power structure it will create.

New edition available now from:

Amazon UK
and all good booksellers.

US second edition is available now via: 

Amazon US