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.

Jacques doesn’t think this will happen. And in his view, it will be a double-blow to the folks who used to run things, most notably the United States. Not only will we have to accept the fact that another actor is playing the lead role in the global drama, but, he argues, the new star won’t even speak our cultural language.

China will present a very unfamiliar national model, one that is dominated by very different institutions and values.

Jacques could be wrong, of course. For all its success, China faces enormous challenges. And 20 years ago, many commentators were predicting a Japanese dominance that now seems laughable. But as Jacques also writes, China’s rise is a very different ballgame than Japan’s. As there’s a real possibility that he’s right, it might be prudent to enroll the kids in Mandarin classes.

– Ed Fishbein