Five years ago, Martin Jacques published When China Rules the World, followed by an extended paperback version in 2012. Perhaps only second to Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World, published a year earlier, Jacques’ book became a symbol of the global hype around the decline of the West and the “rise of the rest”, which was fuelled by the financial crisis in the United States. China, as a ‘civilization-state’, Jacques repeated in interviews across the world, would rise on its own terms. Its impact would be not only economic but also cultural and political, leading to a global future of ‘contested modernity’. Martin Jacques’ TED talk, which summarizes the main arguments of his book, has been watched over 2 million times over the past years, becoming one of the most popular International Affairs-related presentations on the online platform. The book has been translated into eleven languages, and sold over a quarter of a million copies worldwide.
Why was When China Rules the World such a massive success? After all, the chapters that deal with the West’s, Japan’s and China’s history (2, 3 and 4) hardly reveal anything new and can safely be skipped by those familiar with the subject, even though he rightly criticizes historians who regard the rise of Europe as an endogenous phenomenon. More importantly, however, his gentle treatment of Mao is somewhat disturbing, as is his explicit admiration for China’s Communist Party. In addition, Jacques’ thoughts on the future of global order and the recreation of the tributary system are both shallow and ill-conceived.