Americas

When China Rules The World; The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order. Martin Jacques. Penguin Paperback. 2012. $20.

The U.S. public needs frequent reminders other places outside of the Middle East exist. Maybe I should not generalize. Perhaps I should say, “The U.S. media and news outlets need constant reminders places outside of the Middle East exist, AND will impact our lives far more than any terrorist group du jour may affect our lives.”  See, the U.S. government is too easily distracted by people and organizations who state as their goal to bring chaos and disorder to the United States. In making these comments, they actually bring chaos and disorder to the United States without really doing anything other than stringing together words which we interpret as threatening. Our politicians then dance like puppets. Jacques makes this point, sort of, very late into his 600+ page tome. While ISIS or some other organization may threaten the United States, and yes, someone might get hurt or killed, ISIS itself does not represent an “existential” threat to the United States, as Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. might want everyone to believe.

Martin Jacques brings to bear a ponderous amount evidence, insight, and a good amount of speculation to address the most important issue people are not talking about, nor is the U.S. government paying much attention to. China.

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When China Rules the World, by columnist and international relations expert Martin Jacques, was published in hardback in 2009 and has been selling like hot little pastries ever since. A new and expanded paperback edition, released by Penguin in 2012, is to be found in bookstores across the U.K. Not since Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s Mao: The Unknown Story has a volume from the East Asian section of the U.K.’s literary emporiums, usually discreetly located near the fire exit or adjacent to the restrooms, generated enough attention to claim a spot on the bestsellers’ table.

In the preface to his second edition, Jacques expresses surprise and bewilderment at the popular reception of a work that was, no doubt, initially targeted at globetrotting academics on the international relations circuit. But clues to its popular appeal can be found even in the title, which boldly tolls the death bell of Western supremacy and signals the beginning of a new age of Chinese global dominance.

The title is not just a sensationalist label added to disguise the contents of yet another monotonous account of China’s economic recovery since the opening up and reforms of 1978. Jacques’s book really does do what it says on the tin, driving home how, in the years to come, China will reign supreme not only in terms of economic influence and military might, but also in the exportation of cultural and moral values. Is your child learning Mandarin? Jacques, needless to say, has already subjected his son to the tyranny of Chinese cramming school. We are advised to do the same.

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The rise of China and the potential economic and political decline of the United States is a concern for many Americans. In When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order, Martin Jacques depicts a world in which Chinese influence is paramount. He challenges the assumption that China will adopt Western values. Chinese modernity, he argues, would be very different from Western modernity, and China would transform the world far more fundamentally than any other global power has done in the last two centuries.

Since the end of WWII, the United States has been the preeminent cultural, economic, and military power in the international system. Even at the height of the Cold War, the United States maintained its supremacy over the Soviet Union, and would continue to do so well into the 21st century.

However, since the late 20th century, a new power has risen, the People’s Republic of China, driven by annual economic growth rates of over 10% in the last three decades. China currently has the second largest economy and the fastest growing economy in the world. It is projected to overtake the U.S economy by 2020. Unlike the Soviet Union, China has emphasized a peaceful approach in its rise. However, questions remain as to what impact China’s ascent will have on the international system, once exclusively dominated by the U.S. but increasingly multi-polar.

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There are three problems with When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order by Guardian columnist Martin Jacques. The first is the title and its two central theses. The second is its length – at 435 pages before you even reach the appendix, bibliography, and end notes, it is quite a tome. And the third is the amount of economic minutiae into which the book dwells to try to prove its absurd point.

This is by no means a light read for a Sunday afternoon or for the flight from Washington to Beijing. Even for die hard historians, economists, political scientists and other academic types, this book is heavy going. Unless you enjoy picking through economic data and mulling over the meaning of the “nation-state” in Western and Eastern philosophy there are probably better books to be read.

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Writing from England with a firm grasp of geopolitical realities, Martin Jacques has thrown down the gauntlet. Those who would dispute the thesis of this book, summed up in the title and sub-title, must marshal more evidence and more convincing arguments than he has.

Simply put, he states that the dominance of the West, led recently by the United States, will soon be over, to be replaced by the pervasive influence of China. He is aware of the controversial and, for many, frightening nature of his claim, so he backs it up with an impressive array of support from history, economics, and current events.

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Have the past two centuries of a Western defined and dominated world order — the norms, rules and ways of thinking about the world — the very concept of modernity — been a historical anomaly? After all, until the early 1800s, really until the onset of the industrial age, China and India accounted for some 50% of the world economy. The list of Chinese inventions over its nearly 5000 year history is a long one, from gunpowder and the printing press to oceanic navigation decades before the West.

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I was cheering, jumping up and down with joy, when I read the first few chapters of Martin’s Jacques’ book! The start of this book is a very in-your-face observation of reality that he calls contested modernities. In short, it he tells the reader that there is a huge MODERN thing heading your way, and it is called Chinese culture–get used to it. I have been saying this for years that China is a train coming toward the West and everyone is looking the wrong way. When I tell this to people back in the West, they get offended and hold on to the idea that Western values are still the pinical of culture and Chinese are all becoming Western, moving towards the West–the dreaded world is flat idea.

Jacques has some great observational skill that aligns well with my decades of experience. There is a lot here for overall understanding of cultural assumptions and what Chinese modernity means. The analysis is more sociological and Marxist in nature, but rings true. For researchers at all interested in Greater China, this book is important because it shows exactly why all assumptions need to be thrown away. Chinese culture brings it own modernity, and that is not related to the West, no matter how many Starbucks you see in Shanghai.

Clyde Warden

Despite the unequivocal title of Martin Jacques’ large and detailed tome on China and its impending superpower status, we do not get a definitive statement of what a Sinocentric unipolar future will be like, if such a thing eventuates. Martin Jacques is too alert to the risks of prophesying to offer such a thing, at least in literal terms. But he is quite sure — and surely right — that China is rapidly becoming a superpower, and he thinks that its history, culture and unique form of modernity give some indications of what its superpowerdom will mean to the rest of us.

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Experts agree that China’s economy appears likely to become the world’s largest within two decades. But in the provocatively titled When China Rules the World, British journalist Martin Jacques goes much further.

He argues that within 50 years China will quite likely become an economic, political, and cultural colossus, displacing the United States as the world’s leading power. As a correspondent in China in the 1980s and ’90s, I learned how difficult it is to predict this vast country’s future. Anything other than short-term predictions can go badly wrong.

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Updated and expanded new Chinese edition just released.

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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