When China Rules The World: The Rise Of The Middle Kingdom And The End Of The Western World 

The less-than-subtle title of this thought provoking book almost guarantees it will be read. Some will be drawn to it because the idea of China ruling the world — or, perhaps, the United States losing global supremacy — is what they want to hear. Others will be attracted because the book spells out what they fear (we all secretly enjoy the thrill of a good horror story at times). Martin Jacques has both bases covered. Quite clever, really.

The central premise to Jacques’ 550-page warning-red tome is that China’s rise is assured and the Western world, which has been top dog for more than two centuries, should be worried sick. The British journalist and author argues that the West’s conviction that all developing nations aspire to one universal idea of modernity, and that Western civilization (popular representation, rule of law, free markets, etc.) reveals human achievement at its most admirable, is flawed or, at least, outdated.

Jacques also argues that the West is too complacent about China’s ascent, its politicians, academics and tycoons believing that if they don’t rattle the Middle Kingdom’s cage too aggressively and continue to buy its cheap consumer goods, the Eastern giant will turn out to be friendly after all, one day becoming a modern (read Western-style) democracy at the geopolitical top table.

China is unlikely to follow that course, Jacques insists, but will change the nature of the world — politically, economically and culturally — in profound ways. “There is still a widespread view in the West that China will eventually conform, by a process of natural and inevitable development, to the Western paradigm,” he contends. “This is wishful thinking.”

Jacques goes further, insisting that China could not meet the Western concept of a modern nation (and the writer includes Japan, which modernized along Western lines while retaining its Japanese-ness, in that camp) even if it tried. China is too “different,” Jacques believes. Its “genetic structure” as a “civilization state” defined by the extent of cultural influence, rather than as a “nation-state” demarcated by physical borders, is too entrenched. And global economic realignment could result in China’s fusion of autocracy and capitalism becoming the preferred template for other developing nations.

China’s size, the re-emergence of Confucianism (if subverted for the times), its historical treatment of neighbors as tributary states required to pay cultural obeisance, and China’s long and continuous history as a polity, add weight to Jacques’ case. “As [countries] become hegemonic powers — as China will,” Jacques writes, “they seek to change the world in the light of their own values and priorities.” China’s world leadership will result in a “cultural and racial reordering of the world in the Chinese image.”

Jacques suggests, in fact, that the West might be too politically correct to broach the taboo but important subject of Chinese racism and how it might dictate China’s use of coming might.

The Chinese, he opines — while sensibly avoiding any talk of a new “yellow peril” — have historically considered themselves superior to other races. Jacques writes that, in ancient China, “those who did not follow Chinese ways were considered as barbarians … [who] were typically divided into two categories: ‘raw barbarians’ ( shengfan ), who were seen as savage and resistant, and ‘cooked barbarians’ ( shufan ), who were regarded as tame and submissive.”

Indeed, for the West, at least, this is sobering stuff, but one can’t help suspect the writer might be cherry picking in making his case. As editor of the Communist Party of Great Britain’s Marxism Today journal from 1977 to 1991, Jacques has long explored beliefs that the Western system might not always be the ultimate way. Could he, in fact, be indulging in a little of the “wishful thinking” he mentions?

– Gary Jones