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More than just a work of historical divination
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.