The emergence of China as a superpower in recent times has rattled the West and its attempt to view China through the lens of its Western experience. However to understand the growth of China – where it has come from and where it is potentially headed towards – one needs a different set of ideas. In his lecture “Understanding How China will change the world” organised by the China Studies Centre, IIT Madras, the economist and writer Martin Jacques elucidated his theories on understanding China.
Drawing largely from his book, ‘When China Rules the World: the End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order’, he argued that one of the ways to understand China is to understand that it is a civilisation state. The Chinese civilisation state is largely influenced by Confucian ideology, much unlike the Western concept of a nation-state. A civilisation state presupposes a sense of unity. He remarked that while Europe started its process of fragmentation 2000 years ago, China had embarked on a process of unification. It follows that a country of 1.3 billion people cannot be run from Beijing alone, and China is more decentralised than what the world is aware of.
The Chinese conception of race is also another significant point of difference from the Western perception. Prof. Jacques argued that over 90% of the Chinese think of themselves as belonging to the Han race, much unlike the racial differences in India, for instance. This shared sense of cultural identity has cemented Chinese unity over a large territory. However with this powerful sense of identity comes a lack of respect for cultural differences, which can be seen in their attitudes towards the Uighurs and the Tibetans.
It is often assumed that the legitimacy and the authority of the state is a function of democracy. However, Prof. Jacques argued that the Chinese state, despite not being democratic in nature enjoys greater legitimacy and authority in the eyes of the Chinese than any Western state. The state in China is seen as a guardian of Chinese civilisation, and thereby, life. This is unlike the Western experience where the state is viewed with suspicion. For the Chinese, the state is equivalent to the head of the family, an embodiment of what they are, and not an alien to the community.
Prof. Jacques remarked that his book was published soon after the Lehman brothers crashed in 2008. At that time, the rapid growth of China was viewed with skepticism, and was thought to be unsustainable in nature. However, China was well on its path of growth. In 2009-10, the China Development Bank and the China Export-Import Bank loaned an amount of more than $ 110 billion to other developing countries, while the equivalent institutions of the World Bank made loans of commitments of only $ 100.3 billion. Further, the exports to China and Hongkong from other Asian countries have been increasing, with Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea as the largest players in the Chinese market.
He concluded his talk by affirming that this is the era of developing economies, and the hegemonic rise of China would only transform countries like India, Brazil and Indonesia. China as a global power, he stated, would not resemble that of Britain or the United States, since historically, China has always proved to be a continental power. It would be an exaggeration to say that China will rule the world in the future, but its increasing importance in the global economic structure cannot be denied. Whether it will be a dominant power, or a dominating power, however remains to be seen.
The link to his TED talk: