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  • When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order
  • Franklin J. Woo (bio)
Martin Jacques. When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order. New York: Penguin Press, 2009. xxv, 550 pp. Hardcover $29.95, ISBN 978-1-59420-185-1.

With the alarming title When China Rules the World (an actual chapter in the book), Martin Jacques argues that “China’s impact on the world will be as great as that of the United States over the last century, probably far greater” (p. 15). “Impact” seems be a more precise word than “rules”, since the word “rule” is nowhere to be found in the book. The historian Eric Hobsbawn praises the book, which is “full of historical understanding and realism.” He expects it to be highly influential because it is “about more than China. It is about a twenty-first century world no longer modeled on and shaped by North Atlantic power, ideas and assumptions.” Like Jacques, Hobsbawm is a British Marxist. Just as Hobsbawm [End Page 347] shows the rise of American power following World War II and especially after the Cold War toward a U.S.-led global order, Jacques likewise shows that the rise of China will inevitably alter that international order. His suggestion, though, is that the birth of a new global order will be more pluralistic—dominated neither by the United States nor China.1

Jacques effectively uses the insightful observation made by Lucian Pye in his book The Spirit of Chinese Politics (Harvard University Press, 1992, p. 235) that “China is a civilization pretending to be a state.” Jacques develops his book from the understanding that China had always thought of itself as the cultural center of the world. Without choice, it had to behave as a nation-state after the expanding European powers (and later Japan), beginning in the nineteenth century, encroached on the Middle Kingdom and forced it into the Westphalian system. Today, however, China is driven by economic expansion at a breakneck pace. It is being restored to its intended status and role as the civilizing center of Asia, and possibly the world, after a century and a half of interruption caused by foreign imperialism, domestic revolutions, wars and civil war, and natural disasters. Based on the assumption that China will continue its phenomenal economic growth, Jacques extrapolates into the future of two, five, or more decades. He speculates compellingly how this ancient civilization might effect fundamental changes in a hitherto Western-centric global order. He makes good use of secondary source material and helpful charts and graphs to document the changing relationship that has taken place between China and the rest of the world and surveys of the largely positive attitudes toward China in various places around the world.

Using the last three decades of a modernizing China (which, for Jacques, seems more true to the deep cultural roots of antiquity than to the Maoist era) as a window, this book is a virtual contemporary history of the world, with China as a major player. He provides a convincing litany of China rising to prominence: In East Asia, China poses a threat to Japan’s preeminence in the region, where it is militarily supported by American power with the presence of the massive U.S. Seventh Fleet at the Yokosuka Naval Base. The threat to Japan’s preeminence is by extension also a threat to U.S. dominance in the region. In South Asia, China is economically three times stronger than a rising India, which has been in contention with Pakistan, China’s ally. After the demise of the USSR, Russia and several of the fallout states of the former Soviet Union (such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) have formed a cooperative organization under the leadership of the PRC. China is the latest contending client alongside Japan and the United States for the much-coveted oil in the Middle East. With a history of carving up China like a melon in the nineteenth century, European powers such as Germany and France have only a shadowy presence...