Using the past to speculate on China's future

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 September, 2012, 10:01am

China Into Its Second Rise

by James C. Hsiung

World Scientific


Amy Russell

The title of this work is somewhat deceptive for it's only really in the last couple of chapters that we get into the meat of China going "into its second rise". The bulk of the book is a political, economic and ideological history of the nation.

James Hsiung's premise is that in order to understand China's current rise, we must first understand its first (713-1820) and its subsequent decline. But there is rather too much of this, and while common tropes are further trodden, nothing all that new is said until the end.

A New York University professor, Hsiung offers projections for China's future by drawing on a range of reputable scholars. Throughout, the nation is framed in relation to and contrasted with the West and Westphalian ideologies, as well as Japan, but is posited as a civilisation state unique in its ability to survive and, furthermore, thrive, thanks in large part to its state-market dichotomy, which has ensured robust growth.

He acknowledges, however, that the outcome of China's second rise remains an educated guess, as there is no history of an ancient civilisation and "fallen superpower" rising again as China is.

The unique "China model" defies conventional thinking in the arena of political economy, but Hsiung explains it is a Western construct and cautions that it is not perfect.

China, he writes, prefers a "Chinese way", which follows a long history of non-imposition in its foreign relations, and ruling without leading (in line with Confucian ideology). Hsiung says this points towards what we can expect of China in its second rise.

Leadership within China, meanwhile, may change dramatically, with its unstable domestic policies.

Since 1949, China has been viewed apprehensively by most of the world; in the 21st century, the country is seen as a geo-economic threat. When looking at where China is headed, the central question Hsiung asks is: does China pose a threat to the world? To answer, he considers development globally, and in particular the US (perhaps China's main rival). Hsiung predicts China's rise will be peaceful. He suggests we are going to face a new world order - perhaps a US-China partnership - but a variety of factors may affect the outcome, with China playing only a part.

Having navigated our way through China's dense history, the most interesting questions come right at the end - but they can't be satisfactorily answered. Hsiung says we can only hypothesise, looking back on China's first rise and learning from it.

The challenge with books such as this is that almost as we read them, conditions change and they become outdated. This is one challenge Hsiung does not deal with.

But in contemplating China's next direction, Hsiung does well in highlighting some of the diplomatic, social, and economic uncertainties that might stand in the way of the Chinese way.