According to even the most conservative estimates, China will overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy by 2027 and will ascend to the position of world economic leader by 2050. But the full repercussions of China’s ascendancy-for itself and the rest of the globe-have been surprisingly little explained or understood. In this far-reaching and original investigation, Martin Jacques offers provocative answers to some of the most pressing questions about China’s growing place on the world stage.
Martin Jacques reveals, by elaborating on three historical truths, how China will seek to shape the world in its own image. The Chinese have a rich and long history as a civilization-state. Under the tributary system, outlying states paid tribute to the Middle Kingdom. Ninety-four percent of the population still believes they are one race-“Han Chinese.” The strong sense of superiority rooted in China’s history promises to resurface in twenty-first century China and in the process strengthen and further unify the country.
A culturally self-confident Asian giant with a billion-plus population, China will likely resist globalization as we know it. This exceptionalism will have powerful ramifications for the rest of the world and the United States in particular. As China is already emerging as the new center of the East Asian economy, the mantle of economic and, therefore, cultural relevance will in our lifetimes begin to pass from Manhattan and Paris to cities like Beijing and Shanghai. It is the American relationship with and attitude toward China, Jacques argues, that will determine whether the twenty-first century will be relatively peaceful or fraught with tension, instability, and danger.
When China Rules the World is the first book to fully conceive of and explain the upheaval that China’s ascendance will cause and the realigned global power structure it will create.
"Delivering a tour d’horizon of China’s relations with foreign countries, Jacques envisions their future development as comparable to a comeback of imperial China’s tributary system. Jacques’ views will be discussion starters for trend-spotting students of the world scene." -Booklist
I think it’s both. Because the U.S. is such a recent creation, the American timescale is extremely short. China’s civilization goes back 5,000 years, and the Chinese constantly access very distant history to illustrate the problems of the present. Kissinger once asked Zhou Enlai what he thought about the French Revolution, and Zhou Enlai said, “It’s too soon to say.” With that mentality coupled with its size and growth, the balance of power is constantly being reconfigured in China’s favor, and they can be patient. But it’s also conscious strategy; after the “century of humiliation,” they prioritized creating the best possible circumstances for development, and they’ve tried to get on with the countries that they perceive to matter.
According to you, the rise of China will be “profoundly traumatic” for the U.S. Why don’t we hear more about the U.S.’s waning power?
It’s American hubris; 50 years of great power influence and the collapse of the Soviet Union has befuddled the mind. The greatest period of danger for great powers is when they think they’re at the height of their powers—remember that song, “Britannia rule the waves?”—they translate what is contingent into something that is eternal. The Bush administration thought that the world was going to be redrawn according to American interests, that this would be the real legacy of the cold war. And they were totally wrong; American power was actually in decline, and the reason it was in decline was the rise of the developing countries and above all, China. But the West thinks that there is only one form of modernity, Western modernity, that developing countries are on an escalator heading in the same direction toward a Western-style society, and that China’s rise should be viewed narrowly, as an economic phenomenon—not as something operating according to a different political, cultural, philosophical template.
What’s next for you?
I don’t know. This book has been a very long journey. It’s an intellectual work, but also a love story. The seed for the book was planted in 1993, and it coincided with my meeting my wife, Hari, who was Malaysian. I started the book in 1998, but 14 months in, it was brutally interrupted by her death. The book was given its power and passion by my overwhelming love for her: I had finally met my soul mate, this magical person, from profoundly different worlds from mine, and I had became enormously sensitive to race and had to deconstruct myself as a white person to understand our differences with humility. And that was a motif, in a way. To understand East Asia, I had to dump my baggage and approach these cultures with due modesty.