25/10/2009 - Basil and Spice

Martin Jacques’ When China Rules The World: The End of The Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order  (Penguin Press/ Nov 2009) carries a provocative title, but it should not be a surprise. Anyone can see this outcome coming by simply projecting  economic growth in the U.S. and China at roughly their current rates; Goldman Sachs gave such conclusions credibility in 2007 when it concluded that China would surpass U.S. GDP in 2027, and double it by 2050. Jacques’ book suffers not from an overly wild imagination, but from taking entirely too long to get this already obvious conclusion, and then not exploring enough about what that means for either Britain (his nation) or the U.S.A.

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While the decades since the Vietnam War may be most known for their startling technological developments, they have also spawned a chic genre of literature: the ‘America is in Decline’ tract. What started most prominently with the work of Paul Kennedy has turned into a veritable cottage industry. Tomes in this category have included Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West, Bruce Horton’s Decline and Fall, and, most recently, Fareed Zakaria’s The End of America, which Barack Obama was famously photographed holding last summer. Some of these books argue that the decline is inevitable as a result of “cultural decadence,” others argue decline is a result of “environmental devastation,” and others still attribute the supposed decline to falling birthrates. In the 1980s and early 1990s, many of the more-economically oriented books of the genre argued that the West’s decline was partially a result of the rise of Japan. Today, many are devoted to the proposition that western decline is linked to the rise of another Asian tiger: the People’s Republic of China.

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A British journalist with experience reporting from China and Japan, Jacques explores the increasing influence of a strengthening China on international relations. Citing economic statistics in abundance, Jacques depicts China’s booming economy in relative ascendance over those of Europe, Japan, and the U.S. The author argues, however, that China’s civilization rather than its GDP will be the crucial impact on the international system, which he sees as Western-created, U.S.-dominated, and—given Jacques’ certainty that the U.S. is a declining power—destined to be modified by China.

Essentially, Jacques refutes that Western theories of modernization and democratization apply to China and predicts a Chinese style of modernity characterized by a revival of a Chinese historical sense of civilizational superiority. Delivering a tour d’horizon of China’s relations with foreign countries, Jacques envisions their future development as comparable to a comeback of imperial China’s tributary system. Jacques’ views will be discussion starters for trend-spotting students of the world scene.

– Gilbert Taylor

British scholar and Guardian columnist Jacques (co-editor: New Times, 1989, etc.) delivers a clear-eyed look at how China’s recent modernization will leapfrog Western “superiority.”

For millennia China existed in a state of “splendid isolation,” while the West, namely Britain, adapting many Chinese inventions, embarked on the Industrial Revolution funded by coal reserves and colonial contributions. Although China had the wherewithal for modernization, the author asserts, it lacked adequate sustainable resources, which Europe derived from the slave trade and colonization. However, China’s20recent transformation, in a relatively short time, “has been more home-grown than Western import.” Jacques walks the reader through the early establishment of an authoritative, rigidly hierarchical system in China, from emperor to warlord to Mao, encompassing an emphasis on education, family structure, a central bureaucracy and maintaining harmony. He writes that China is not just a nation-state, but a “civilization-state,” and is only halfway through its economic takeoff, and not yet prepared to implement a multiparty democratic system. Many will argue that China recognizes it doesn’t really need democracy, which would serve as a “distraction from the main task of sustaining the country’s economic growth.” Jacques discusses at length issues of racism, culture and language, and he examines China’s likely future impact on other emerging economic powers like Africa, Iran and the Middle East, Russia, India and South Asia. So what will Chinese global hegemony look like? Not at all like the West.

Cultural differences do matter, and Jacques ably demonstrates that China’s process of modernization derives from its own “native sources of dynamism.”


A convincing economic, political and cultural analysis of waning Western dominance and the rise of China and a new paradigm of modernity. Jacques (The Politics of Thatcherism) takes the pulse of the nation poised to become, by virtue of its scale and staggering rate of growth, the biggest market in the world. Jacques points to the decline of American hegemony and outlines specific elements of China’s rising global power and how these are likely to influence international relations in the future.

He imagines a world where China’s distinct brand of modernity, rooted firmly in its ancient culture and traditions, will have a profound influence on attitudes toward work, family and even politics that will become a counterbalance to and eventually reverse the oneway flow of Westernization. He suggests that while China’s economic prosperity may not necessarily translate into democracy, China’s increased self-confidence is allowing it to project its political and cultural identity ever more widely as time goes on. As comprehensive as it is compelling, this brilliant book is crucial reading for anyone interested in understanding the where we are and where we are going.

There has been quite a buzz lately over Martin Jacques’ When China Rules the World. I will confess, I have not had the chance to read the book, so this should not be taken as a review of it; that would not be fair to him—let alone to all of you. Still, I have had the chance to look over Jacques’ comments in an interview with Macleans, and I can already tell his thesis has problems—problems that make the entire notion of China or, to be more precise, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—running the planet to be utterly laughable.

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A few years ago, I read a terrific collection of essays — It Must be Beautiful — on the great scientific equations of modern times. I loved it, but as I meandered through the book, I was struck by an unexpected poignancy. The first essays, by and large, described breakthroughs that had taken place in the laboratories of Europe. The second half was quite different. Some time in the 1920s, the balance of scientific discovery shifted inexorably to the U.S. A small book of essays held within it proof of a profound historical change.

I found myself thinking of that while reading a new book by Martin Jacques, a British journalist turned academic. Jacques’ tome is called When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order, and his thesis, which he advances with a depth of argument often missing in similar works, is made plain enough by his title. The most likely scenario for the future, Jacques writes, is that “China continues to grow stronger and ultimately emerges over the next half-century, or rather less in many respects, as the world’s leading power.” His book is an examination of how and why that will happen, and what it will mean.

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“When you’re alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go: downtown.” So warbled the British singer, Petula Clark in the 1960s. However, today if solitude is your constant companion, I would suggest that you purchase a copy of this riveting book and read it on the bus and in airports – as I have been doing in recent days, with the dramatic words on the bright red cover of this weighty tome blaring insistently – and no doubt you will find, as I have, that your reading reverie will be constantly interrupted by a stream of anxious interlopers curious to know what the future may hold.

For like Petula Clark, the author too hails from London, though the startling message he brings decidedly differs from her melancholy intervention. For it is the author’s conclusion that sooner rather than later, China – a nation ruled by a Communist Party – will have the most sizeable and powerful economy in the world and that this will have manifold economic, cultural, psychological (and racial) consequences. Strangely enough, Jacques – one of the better respected intellectuals in the North Atlantic community – does not dwell upon how this monumental turn of events occurred. To be sure, he pays obeisance to the leadership of Comrade Deng Xiaoping, who in 1978, opened China’s economy to massive inward foreign direct investment, which set the stage for the 21st Century emergence of the planet’s most populous nation. Read more >

Here’s an uplifting read. British author Martin Jacques believes the United States will soon lose its position as the world’s dominant power to China and is totally unprepared for the change.

The provocative title of this new book conjures up visions of Asian hordes storming America’s shores. But Jacques’ thesis is far more subtle and ultimately troubling. While many Americans might be open to the possibility of China becoming top dog some day, we tend to assume that in the process, the Chinese will somehow be “Westernized,” or at least settle comfortably into the familiar Western-dominated global system.

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