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When China Rules the World

February 5, 2010

A.C. Grayling in B & N Review:

Despite the unequivocal title of Martin Jacques’ large and detailed tome on China and its impending superpower status, we do not get a definitive statement of what a Sinocentric unipolar future will be like, if such a thing eventuates. Martin Jacques is too alert to the risks of prophesying to offer such a thing, at least in literal terms. But he is quite sure — and surely right — that China is rapidly becoming a superpower, and he thinks that its history, culture and unique form of modernity give some indications of what its superpowerdom will mean to the rest of us.

The indications in question are somewhat ambiguous ones, as Jacques himself acknowledges, though he tends towards a more rather than less optimistic reading of them. Perhaps most significantly, he does not think that being the world’s biggest state in terms of population and GDP will necessarily prompt China to exercise its dominance in military terms. On the contrary, he quotes the emollient and peaceful asseverations of China’s leadership to support the view that their country will follow what he sees as its historic example of being a benign hegemon, accepting the tribute of lesser powers and peoples and once again basking in what it has always believed to be its racial and cultural superiority. This view of China’s past and what can be inferred from it for its future — insofar as anything can — merits questioning; I return to it below.

Jacques’ account is ambitiously comprehensive. He several times rehearses the broad outline of China’s history to underwrite his judgements about it, and in particular to ground his assertion that it is a “civilisation-state” rather than a nation-state, which he takes to be an exceedingly important fact. A key aspect of his analysis is that China is developing in its own distinctive way, contrary to the over-confident expectation of Westerners that every economically developing country must inevitably become democratic and Westernised. [More]

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