This review of Martin Jacques’ book ‘When China Rules the World’ was written by Iftikhar Ahmed and published in the Daily Times on 31 March 2019.
In his researched and far-reaching book when China rules the world published in the United States of America in 2009, Martin Jacques argues that we have only barely begun to understand what life will be like when China rules the world. Being modern is not necessarily being Western. Based on his extensive research work focused on Chinese history and comparative studies in Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and some Asian study centres and his experience of writing columns for The Guardian and The Times of London, etc, Martin Jacques developed an insight into a frame of reference and a vision of the end of the western world and the birth of a new Global Order. He has been visiting senior fellow at the London School of Economics (LSE ideas) a centre for the study of international affairs, diplomacy and grand strategy. Martin Jacques has been a visiting professor at the Renmim University, Beijing, the International Centre for Chinese studies, Aichi university and Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, and the senior visiting research fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore. “When China rules the world” is the first book to explain how China’s meteoric rise will extend far beyond the economic realm, unseating the west and creating an entirely new global order. The role of economic and cultural relevance will, in our lifetimes, begin to pass from New York and London to cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. The West is deeply mistaken in believing that China is becoming more like the west. And increasingly powerful China will seek to shape the world in its own image, believes the author of this book. In a way Martin Jacques book is a groundbreaking investigation of how China’s rise as an economic superpower will alter the cultural, political and ethnic balance of global power in the 21st-century.
“When China rules the world”, an important book, full of historical understanding and realism, is about more than China. As suggested by the author, the ideas and assumption will be different, unlike that of the north Atlantic power. And that difference will define the influence of the expected new world order. The book is a look beyond China: full of bold but credible predictions. Only time will tell how prophecies pan out. Food for thought is plenty and hence the credit goes to the author for the foresight and insight. There is, however, need to follow the lines and accept the challenge to go in for serious research-based studies to formulate propositions and hypotheses that follow objectivity, data and assumptions that could be scientifically tested for unbiased and realistic workable conclusions. If assumptions are wrong, we can not arrive at objective, workable and realistic conclusions. The taste of pudding is in the eating. The end of the western world and the birth of the new global order depends on the quality of the world leadership and their concern for the people and the need for security, peace and justice, over and above basic human needs.
It is important to seriously attend to the content of the book to get a real feel of what the writer intends to communicate to the reader. One must get knowledge of major periods in Imperial China. One must understand the meaning of China’s Ignominy. One must grasp the concept of “contested modernity”. That mostly covers what the author has to communicate on the changing of the guard. Theme then takes the reader to the age of China :i.e, China as an economic superpower; the civilization-state; the middle kingdom mentality; China’s own backyard; and China as a rising global power. Systematically proceeding the next theme is the main idea- when China moves the world. Questions like “how sustainable is China’s economic growth?” and “what is the environmental dilemma?” have been discussed in the book.
The reason for China’s transformation has been the way it has succeeded in combining what it has learnt from the West, and also it’s Asian neighbours, with its own history and culture, thereby tapping and releasing its native sources of dynamism
There are many differences that define China. Economic change, fundamental as it may be, can only be part of the picture. This view, blind as it is, to the importance of politics and culture, rests on an underlying assumption the China, by virtue of its economic transformation will, in effect, become Western. Consciously or unconsciously, it sounds like Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’ view: that since 1989 the world has been converging on western liberal democracy. The other response, in contrast, is persistently sceptical about the rise of China, always half expecting it to end in failure. In the light of Maoism, the collapse of the Soviet union and the suppression of the students in the Tiananmen square, the argument runs, it is impossible for China to sustain its transformation without fundamental political change: unless it adopts the western model, it will fail. This book is predicated on a very different approach. It does not accept that the “western way” is the only viable model. It should be borne in mind that the West has seen off every major challenge it has faced, culminating in the defeat after 1989 of it’s greatest adversary, Soviet communism. It has formidable track record of growth and innovation, which is why it has proved such a dynamic force over such a long period of time.
The reason for China’s transformation has been the way it has succeeded in combining what it has learnt from the West, and also it’s Asian neighbours, with its own history and culture, thereby tapping and releasing its native sources of dynamism. We have moved from the era of either/or to one characterized by hybridity. Central to the book is the contention that far from there being a single modernity, they will in fact be many. Over the last half century we have witnessed emergence of quite new modernities, drawing on those of the West but ultimately dependent for their success on their ability to mobilize, build upon and transform the indigenous. These new modernities are no less original for their hybridity; indeed, their originality lies partly in that phenomenon.
The problem, as Paul A Cohen has pointed out, is that the Western mentality- nurtured and shaped by its long-term ascendancy- far from being imbued with cosmopolitan outlook as one might expect, is in fact highly parochial, believing in it’s own universalism: or in other words, it’s own rectitude and eternal relevance. If we already have the answers, and these are universally applicable, then there is little or nothing to learn from anyone else. While the west remained relatively unchallenged, as it has been for the best part of two centuries, the price of such arrogance has overwhelmingly been paid by others, as they were obliged to take heed of Western demands. But when the west comes under serious challenge, as it increasingly will from China and others, then such a parochial mentality will only serve to increase its vulnerability, weakening its ability to learn from others and to change accordingly.
Most of what is China today –it’s social relations and customs, it’s ways of being, its sense of superiority, it’s belief in the state, its commitment to unity– are all products of Chinese civilization rather than its recent incarnation as a nation-state. On the surface it seems like a nation state, but it’s geological formation is that of a civilization state. As China once again becomes the centre of the world, it will luxuriate in its history and feel that justice has finally been done, that it is restoring it’s the rightful position and status in the world. China is increasingly likely to conceive of its relationship with East Asia in terms of Tributary state, rather than nation state, system. The Tributary state system had lasted for thousands of years and finally came to an end at the conclusion of the 19th century. The rise of the developing world was only made possible by the end of colonialism. For the non-industrial world the colonial era overwhelmingly served to block the possibility of their industrialization. The land of colonialism was a precondition for what we are witnessing, the growth of multiple modernities and the world in which they are likely to prove at some point decisive. Chinese modernity will be very different from western modernity, and that China will transform the world far more fundamentally than any other new global power in the last two centuries. The West End powers cannot, however, comprehend that the change is on its way. On the other hand, what looks obvious also needs to be researched and subjected to scientific investigation. Facts must be identified and verified, and sociology of science must be understood.
The writer is a former director, National Institute of Public Administration (NIPA) Government of Pakistan, a political analyst, a public policy expert and a published author. His book “Post 9/11 Pakistan” was published in the United States. His latest book “Existential Question for Pakistan” discusses a large range of important issues related to governance and policy, having importance and implications for a variety of professionals, policymakers, academics, politicians and administrators.
The writer is a Formerly Director NIPA, Govt of Pakistan