on 30 October 2012
Martin Jacques was one of the great editors. He guided the affairs of the magazine Marxism Today, despite its outmoded name and having no money, and made it enormously influential. He would get prestigious commentators to write for him for next to nothing, and then argue their copy with them line by line, getting them to justify it to him.
This very long book could have done with his editing skills.
Its basic theme is simple. China is going to replace America as Top Nation sooner than we think, and when it does we will be surprised to discover that economic success does not inevitably make countries behave like Western democracies, that China will continue to behave as it does and as it always has done, and when it is Top Nation we shall all have to adjust our ways accordingly rather than, as until now, vice versa.
He makes this case convincingly. And then he makes it again. And again.
The language is leaden. Abstract nouns once skewered are repeated endlessly, first in their natural state, then as verbs and finally agonisingly as adjectives. Clichés are solemnly trotted out. It's like something written by a politician, or I suppose a Marxist. And he is transfixed by numbers. There are endless specious surveys reporting that a certain very precise percentage of people are very happy, quite happy or rather happy with the some state of affairs or other. Towards the end he assures us in a discussion of the Chinese diaspora that there are 347,000 Chinese people in Britain. Look around. I don't think so.
I read the book because I believe that its theme is true and I am interested in what it will be like when China is Top Nation. This is where the book resorts to windy generality. Here are two examples:
We are continually told that Chinese people uniquely regard themselves as part of a `civilisation state' rather than a nation state. What does that mean? How is that different from (or as Jacques tends to put it `different to') France, for example?
Another recurring idea is that the similarities between imperial China, Maoist China and modern China are greater then the differences because of the persistence of the Confucian tradition. Again, what precisely does this mean? He doesn't tell us. Buy a book about Confucianism, I suppose.
Secretly I wanted to know if we were likely to be allowed cheese when China was Top Nation. Chinese cuisine is one of the glories of the world, but they don't really do cheese. I struggled through to the very end of the book, but I have to report that on this not unimportant point I am none the wiser.
on 15 August 2014
As a student interested in understanding China's rise, I found this by far the most informative book on the topic written in the last fifteen years. In it Jacques develops three key ideas which are not found in other recent literature on China, and by doing so he presents a clear vision of how China is likely to develop as it grows and takes its place on the world stage.
First, he puts forward the idea of China as a 'civilisation-state' (which he takes from Lucian Pye). By this he means that China is essentially different in character to the smaller, 'Westphalian' nation-states which first emerged in Europe. Chinese civilisation stretches back at least 3500 years and has absorbed a large number of smaller states into one unified socio-political entity. Jacques is suggesting that Westerners need to look at China in a very different way from the way they look at their own nation-states, which usually means (at least in the European context) discussing a history of inter-national conflict rather than the Chinese process of steady absorption and Sinicisation to create a vast country with a common culture.
Second he analyses what he calls the 'Middle Kingdom mentality'. This includes a unifying sense of historical purpose among the various peoples of China, as well as an understanding of China as being innately central, both in terms of political influence in East Asia and in terms of the long-term project of civilising the peoples of the world. Jacques connects this idea to the historical tributary system in which foreigners came to the Emperor to pay tribute and seek political and economic favours. Today we can see this tributary system beginning to re-emerge as European states send large parties of dignitaries and business people to Beijing to negotiate large-scale business contracts on Chinese terms.
Jacques' third main idea is what he calls 'contested modernity'. By this term he means that the world will no longer be dominated mainly by Western culture, economics and politics, but will increasingly be presented with alternative civilisational systems, most notably the Chinese Confucian-based one. This will produce a global sphere in which ideas from the West, the East and other parts of the world will interact and cross-fertilise, but in which, Jacques believes, Chinese civilisation will come to be increasingly predominant.
Because of these three main ideas, I would highly recommend this book to anybody interested in China's rise. The book is quite heavy going, and sometimes repetitive, but rewards concentrated attention with a wealth of detailed argument and evidence in a way that many other recent books on China do not.
on 20 July 2009
This book comprises an extended and comprehensive overview of the ascendancy of the modern Chinese state and the impact that ascendancy will have for East Asia in particular, and the rest of the world in general - including the West. The discussion focuses attention on eight central themes. First, China is characteristically a civilisation-state rather than a conventional nation-state as defined by the Westphalian system, although it possesses the characteristics of both. Second, China is most likely to conceive of itself, and be recognised by others, as a tributary-state - particularly in East Asia. It will then probably revert to the kind of relationship, with its East Asian periphery, that obtained prior to the end of the nineteenth century. Third, as the twenty-first century matures we will become more clearly aware of the distinctive Chinese attitude to race and ethnicity, which does not harmonise or fit comfortably with current Western concepts and praxis. Fourth, due to its massive land mass, China operates on a vast continental scale: when that is taken into consideration, together with its equally massive population, this fact alone differentiates China from any other nation-state. Fifth, the nature of the Chinese polity is highly distinctive, because the erstwhile imperial dynasty did not desire and was not obliged or required to share power with any other institutions or interest groups. Sixth, Chinese modernity is characterised by the rapidity of the country's economic transformation, and its recently acquired financial importance now has significant global influence. Seventh, since 1949 China has been ruled by a `communist' regime, which has been influenced by a detectable Confucian syncretism. Eighth, China will for the next several decades, probably until the middle of the twenty-first century, combine the characteristics of both a developed and a developing country.
This book is of essential reading for those who take a keen interest in the progressive and rapid development of the Chinese state and its economy, which already has had far reaching consequences, particularly as it progressively displaces the United States of America a the world's hegemonic power: an event that is likely to occur during this century. I can well remember an `amusing' recommendation made during the early years of the Cold War: "Optimists should learn to speak Russian, while pessimists should learn to speak Chinese." It would now appear that the pessimists would have made the right choice, although there are no obvious signs that the Chinese ascendancy will necessarily have a malign effect on the West, or on those nations which embrace the prevailing Western ideology. Stuart E Hopkins
on 19 June 2012
In a rapidly changing world where there seems to be nothing but bad news, it is great to read a book that is well researched and clearly written that analysis the worlds economic and political map in the context of China's phenomenal political, economical and cultural growing influence. This book is a must read for anyone trying to make sense of the contemporary world order. Jacques style is easy to read and is well iiustrated by graphs and statistics that add substance to the narrative. I have just returned from a visit to China and found this book fitted perfectly my appetite for a comprehensive but readable analysis of the Chinese enigma
on 21 November 2014
China is on the rise, we all know it and in a few years it will be a major, major player in the international realm. Martin Jacques produces here a very convincing account of just how big China is going to become, and at the same time emphasises how it will not necessarily 'Westernise' whilst doing so. He concentrates on China's history, culture, race, politics and also the fast growing economy as an explanation. He concentrates on China, China and... again on China.
Jacques begins by highlighting how China, Japan and the West were at the same level of economic development at the start of the 19th century. At this point Europe, especially Britain, was to benefit from an abundance of raw materials available from the New World which enabled it to grow beyond its means. This was something denied China at this time. So, it appears Europe's rise was by pure luck then ?? The author builds on this narrative by pointing out just how Japan modernised without actually 'Westernising' internally. From here we get the message; China will grow and it will challenge the domination of the West.
Jacques continues with his analysis of how China is becoming the huge force it's predicted to be, by highlighting how some perceived 'Western' influences are in fact Chinese in origin. This goes on with a description of how China is in fact not a nation-state but a civilisation-state !! Cue 5,000 years of Chineseness which highlights China's superior racial beliefs, Confucian thinking, belief in the power of the state... it goes on. The point; China is an identity based on race, politics, Confucianism and cultural identity which the Chinese take very seriously and believe in very deeply. It will not 'Westernise'... I did enjoy this book and Jacques' knowledge of China is second to none. If you wish to know about China, then this is the book for you.
However, I think the author overlooks a few issues. Firstly, he treats 5,000 of Chinese history as a block solid and not a porous entity. He ignores the fact that over this time, China has evolved and adapted and absorbed ideas and peoples. Whilst this doesn't mean he's wrong about Westernisation, he ignores the possibility of its influencing, however insignificantly, Chinese thought. The Chinese population is now experiencing a level of prosperity it has never had before. This creates disposable income and this creates consumers. Jacques doesn't cover how this will affect the current Chinese regime and their decisions or plans for the 1.5 billion population. Secondly, he acknowledges the growth of nations such as Brazil and India, but doesn't cover how they could challenge China's growth in the future. This is an important factor as it could lead to a new cold war between two Asian powers.
My final issue with the book is that he paints a very, very bleak future for nations like the US and Europe. Apparently, the West is now doomed with China's rise. And there's no way back. Quite frankly, he's incorrect in my opinion. The West may soon no longer dominate, but it will still be a factor, especially from a security perspective.
China's future power is probably inevitable, but without major internal reforms which are desperately needed and a serious and professional military capability (something which, it's suspected, the Chinese leadership currently fears; a powerful professional army) China's rise will not be as easy as Jacques claims. The author imagines China's rise in a perfect world and there are factors which he either ignores or dismisses. China needs to reform or the economy will not be as powerful as is currently imagined. A strong economy requires a stable country. China does not have this security... yet.
I'd still recommend this book as it provides a fabulous insight into China and the Chinese mind.
on 2 December 2012
An initial reading the title of Martin Jacques's study may give on the impression that this is to be yet another work in the continuing cliché over the decline of the US, and the rise of the rest, specifically China. This book, however, is more than that.
When China rules the world is in fact a broad based study that covers many aspects, political, economic, and sociological. The sociological study very precisely and elaborately pins the case that Chinese culture, in both a societal and political manner, is very resistant to change, and even when change comes, it does so on Chinese terms. Jacques, at some length, uses the example of Japan, which, despite it's modernity, has retained it's cultural and societal norms in a very complete sense.
With this precedent already established, Jacques examines how China has had a missionary or mother civilization approach to it's region, and how, even in the course of the 20th century, Confucian norms and approaches continued, even under the reign of Mao, a self declared opponent of Confucianism.
The book is as much about how China sees the world, and it's own views on relations between nations. This points to a possible return to the Tributary system in the future, rather than the Westphalian system of today.
The author makes no naïve assumptions about China's views on it's status in the region, regarding itself (perhaps rightly so) as the mother civilization.
The sections examining China's economy could have been due some more introspection, as they appear somewhat one sided. Jacques moves the date at which China surpasses the US in economic strength forward to 2018, taking into account the Western Economic Crisis. However, Jacques does not consider the weaknesses in the Chinese economy, something that is being talked about more openly, in editorials, academic circles, and regular people. For Economic studies on China, it is worth examining Red Capitalism or Chindia, which paint a far less grandiose image of China's economy.
Regardless of particularly slanted views in some sections, one cannot help but admire the breadth and scope of Jacques's work. This is by far the best analytical study on Chinese culture I have yet read, and is highly recommended.
on 1 January 2011
I read this book because I'm spending much of he next two years working in China, and felt I should have some idea about what the country was like. In this regard, the book is informative. It gives you a potted history of the country, how they see themselves and why they are how they are. If I had actually read this book before I arrived, I would probably have been better prepared for what I experieced here.
The strengths of the book lie in the explanation of the Chinese psychology. Their history and "distinctive beliefs" are explained pretty well here, and help me understand them much better. Should I ever have to deal with the "coming Chinese" when I move back to the UK, I think this book will help me understand them.
The weaknesses of the book lie in its' tendency to be slightly repetitive. Certain ideas (like Chinese conviction of their own superiority and their belief in Confucianism for example) get talked about repeatedly (and not just in the sections where they are rightly discussed). The first couple of times they are repeated you might find the idea useful (and allow it to stick in the memory because of that repetition). After that, you'll start thinking that he's mentioned this before and start wanting him to move on.
In addition to the weaknesses of the book, their are a couple of other problems that I had with the book's contents. First, I don't think that it will tell anything new to someone who knows a lot about China. Maybe this isn't the aim of the book, but I don't view myself as a Chinese aficionado, and I found myself thinking "Come on I knew that" a fair bit.
The other thing is that I found it depressing. I'm proud of being English. The book, however, made me more concerned that the Chinese aren't going to change. Their convictions about their skills and their premier position in the world, has made me more hawkish about China and globalisation. I am now extremely wary of what the Chinese are up to, and I think that probably wasn't the point of the book.
on 30 August 2013
Martin Jacques' book is an extremely well researched and well written piece. Its breadth of discussion is vast and little is sacrificed in the way of depth. The piece is divisible into three distinct sections.
First up is an outline of the rise of the western world and its values. Alongside this is an elucidation of the position which China occupied during this period. Second he covers what makes China distinctive in several respects. Thirdly is a set of predictions regarding how China will use her hegemonic power in the future.
I found the first section to be great exposition of the argument that Western values are the opposite of universal. Rather they are a product of a very specific circumstance. Jacques focuses on how the West became the dominant global player-starting with the Industrial Revolution and then outlines the development of western value systems and the context of this development. He moves to Japan which people often cite as the example of the requirement of ascension to Western values in order to achieve development and modernity and refutes this argument seeking to mark it out as distinctly Asian. He then moves to China who experienced a `century of humiliation' and outlines how this impacted upon the national psyche. He highlights what makes China unique and tells of how its' culture resisted the Westernisation that the other Asian `tigers' underwent.
Where I think this book is most valuable and original is in its second section. The section in which the author demonstrates what is distinctive about China. He tells of Confucianism and its integral role- even today- in Chinese society. There is an exploration of a different category of state. Incidentally I found this of little interest- it seems to be a requirement of international relations books to refer to nation states etc. Most fascinating however was the Chinese worldview which Jacques splits into two: the tributary system and the middle kingdom. Both fascinating concepts. His exploration of Chinese economic growth is thorough without being overwhelming. The amount of tables and citations is mind boggling, I can only imagine how much research went into this book.
The final section attempts to predict how China will act when it wields hegemonic power. This is where men such as Martin Jacques make their crust so I can see why he included it. However a lot of what is included are speculative predictions. This is not a criticism of Jacques- rather his genre. However he goes to excruciating lengths to show you why he might be correct and in some regards he has been proven correct. I enjoyed this section but I did not dedicate as much to it as I felt it more speculative than educative. This is in marked contrast to the earlier sections.
The book itself is mammoth and one criticism I had of it was that it repeated itself a bit. This is especially so in the opening sections where Jacques repeatedly asserts that China is different without ever explaining why. This explanation comes later, and it is more than adequate. However the book itself could easily have been cut down by 100+ plus pages. All in, I thought it fantastic, a totally different viewpoint to the dogma held in the West that we are all waiting for China to become Western. I enjoy Jacques' acceptance of the parochialism of Western values. Too often the members of Jacques' cadre presuppose the validity and universal applicability of these values. This is refreshing. The strongest part of the book is Jacques' exploration of the culture of China, you can tell it personally impacted upon him and his passion shines through into his work. These sections alone justify buying this book. Once again I must reiterate the depth of the research that has clearly gone into this work. Do not let this put you off though. The best advice I received about writing came from tutor who told me to always use the simplest language you can. This way you can see if what you are writing about is interesting enough to warrant study. In a nutshell this is Jacques' book. Immensely detailed, nuanced in its discussion and prediction, extremely illuminative but also eminently readable. A really great book.
on 2 July 2012
I have been studying, working and living China for 45 years.
This book is head and shoulders above all others in its field for the quality of its content and analysis.
This is a blueprint for the inevitable inescapable changes which are transforming our world right now before our eyes, moment by moment. As I write, today the three top most profitable banks in the world are all Chinese for the first time in history.
A new world order is forming, whether we like it or not, in which China and its developing world partners including Africa, South America and Russia will own the greatest wealth and natural resources, whilst the US and Western Europe become second-tier, exhausted impossibly burdened in debt.
Every school child should read this book because this is their future, this is the handbook and guide to the world they will inhabit for the rest of their lives.
2012 is the year of the Dragon, and China is rising and cannot be stopped. All we can do is adapt.
As New Yorkers are fond of saying: Deal with It.
Read this book and understand the changes before they happen.
To be sure the title is melodramatic but no less true for all that.
For a foretaste of the new world order, read thrillers like: The Serpent's Head - Revenge
In this book, Martin Jacques argues that the continued rise of China will result in a different model of world power. Mr Jacques argues that China can achieve economic and political dominance without becoming a Western-style democracy and that, when it does, it will make its own rules.
In Mr Jacques view, China will exemplify an alternative model for development, one which is likely to spell the end of the West's economic, political and cultural dominance. China is growing at a rapid rate, and is having a significant impact on the world economy with its demand for raw materials, its supply of manufactured goods and its role as the world's leading creditor.
There are a number of different aspects of this book which make it well worth reading. I was particularly interested in Mr Jacques's views on China's economic strengths and weaknesses. Mr Jacques's discussion of the modernization of Japan was particularly interesting: it provides both a basis for comparison and a likely contrast.
I have mixed feelings about this book: I enjoyed reading many of the points made by Mr Jacques, and the facts and figures, tables and graphs chosen to illustrate those points. For me, the major point is not whether (and when) China will `rule the world'. Instead, the discussion should be about the political, economic and cultural shape of a world in which China is the dominant economic power and political entity. Mr Jacques claims that: `In an important sense, China does not aspire to run the world because it already believes itself to be the centre of the world, this being its natural role and position.' This view of the Middle Kingdom rests on thousands of years of history and culture, and on geography and size.
This book covers a number of important issues, and also provides a bibliography for those interested in reading more about China. Mr Jacques may not have all of the answers, but he has certainly identified many of the issues.