Perhaps in half a century, the world will be rather more interesting than the Sino-centric one offered by Martin Jacques

In my view there is both less to Martin Jacques’s thesis and more. The reason there is less to it is that the central principle he is asserting as a new one – that modernity does not have to mean westernisation – is in fact a very old one. It has been debated ever since Japan became the first non-western developed nation in the late 19th century, shocking the world by defeating Russia in war in 1904-05. Japan’s modernisation has never been westernisation, and it still isn’t, a century later. But the point and the distinction is less notable and less interesting than it might seem. Who cares whether modern Japan should be thought western or something else? It is just Japan, and to be cherished and studied and learned from as such. The same can and will be true of China.

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Traditional ideas are combining with economic self-confidence to create a new and powerful sense of ‘Chineseness’

Martin Jacques persuasively argues that a modernising and modernised China will keep its essential and dynamic Chineseness in a new era of “contested modernity”, and that the rise of China as both a “civilisation-state” and a nation-state is ending the dominance of the west and ushering in a new era of global diversity in values and power distribution. It is hard to contradict his observation that “contrary to almost universal western expectations after Tiananmen Square in 1989, the Communist party not only survived but reinvented itself and, over the last 30 years, has presided over the most remarkable economic transformation in human history”. But his assertion that China’s age-old sense of superiority will reassert itself is more controversial.

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China has raced to prop up threatened industries and preserve jobs, but will these moves drive a global recovery?

Hope never dies, particularly not when it can give the stockmarket a boost in uncertain times. When the financial crisis rolled out into a general economic downturn last year, the theory of “decoupling” raised its head, offering the prospect that China and other big emerging economies would be able to continue to grow in such a way as to keep the global economy afloat. That proved not to be the case as the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) felt the strain of sharply falling external demand and the tightening of capital flows.

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Our myopic model of modernity means we have yet to grasp not just that the future will be Chinese but how very Chinese it will be

There is a growing recognition that China’s economic rise will change the world. But that change is still seen in narrowly economic terms. There is an assumption that the political and cultural effects of China’s rise will not be that great. This is profoundly wrong. The political and cultural impact will be at least as great as the economic.

There is always a time-lag in these matters but, as Paul Kennedy argues in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, economic ascendancy is a pre-condition for broader political and cultural influence. I suspect the reason for this tunnel vision is western hubris: a belief that our modernity is the only conceivable one, that our political and cultural arrangements will ultimately be adopted by everyone else. This is an extremely provincial mentality. Modernity is not simply a product of the market and technology, but is shaped by history and culture.

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The country’s trajectory and the change in its people’s values and aspirations are cause for heated debate. Two experts go head to head

Dear Will

It is now widely recognised that the balance of economic power is shifting from the rich world to the developing world. Indeed, the role accorded to the G20 rather than the G8 in seeking to tackle the financial crisis is a vivid illustration of this. But what is not recognised – and has been barely discussed – are the political and cultural ramifications of the rise of the developing countries. That, I suspect, is because there is a deeply held western view that they will – and should – end up as clones of western modernity: in other words, there is only one modernity and it is western. This is a fallacy. Modernity is a product of culture and history as much as markets and technology. The central question here is China: will it end up like us or will it be something very different and, as a result, change the world in very fundamental ways?

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The rise of China will consign our current western-centric views of modernity to history’s trash heap

The rise of China that Martin Jacques charts in his indispensable new book will transform global geopolitics, creating an international system in which the US is only one great power among several that are struggling for control of the world’s resources. At the same time – and perhaps even more importantly – China‘s rise is bound to change the way the world thinks. The western-centric conception of modernisation that shaped thinking and policymaking in much of the world over the last hundred years belongs in history’s trash heap.

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