British scholar and Guardian columnist Jacques (co-editor: New Times, 1989, etc.) delivers a clear-eyed look at how China’s recent modernization will leapfrog Western “superiority.”
For millennia China existed in a state of “splendid isolation,” while the West, namely Britain, adapting many Chinese inventions, embarked on the Industrial Revolution funded by coal reserves and colonial contributions. Although China had the wherewithal for modernization, the author asserts, it lacked adequate sustainable resources, which Europe derived from the slave trade and colonization. However, China’s recent transformation, in a relatively short time, “has been more home-grown than Western import.” Jacques walks the reader through the early establishment of an authoritative, rigidly hierarchical system in China, from emperor to warlord to Mao, encompassing an emphasis on education, family structure, a central bureaucracy and maintaining harmony. He writes that China is not just a nation-state, but a “civilization-state,” and is only halfway through its economic takeoff, and not yet prepared to implement a multiparty democratic system. Many will argue that China recognizes it doesn’t really need democracy, which would serve as a “distraction from the main task of sustaining the country’s economic growth.” Jacques discusses at length issues of racism, culture and language, and he examines China’s likely future impact on other emerging economic powers like Africa, Iran and the Middle East, Russia, India and South Asia. So what will Chinese global hegemony look like? Not at all like the West.
Cultural differences do matter, and Jacques ably demonstrates that China’s process of modernization derives from its own “native sources of dynamism.”