Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Why China Will Never Rule the World: Traveling in the Two Chinas

Troy Parfitt decided to find out for himself if there really is anything to all the media chatter about China’s imminent world domination.  Anyone that pays the least bit of attention to world economics – or goes shopping most anywhere in North America, for that matter – cannot help but get the impression that China is destined to be the world’s next great economy and, soon enough, the world’s new number one superpower. 

Parfitt spent ten years teaching English in Taiwan and considers himself a close observer of the Chinese culture and its people.  He has the ability to speak with the Chinese and to read their newspapers; he knows the country’s history well.  Based upon what he already knew about the country, its people, and its government, Parfitt found it difficult to believe that China was approaching anything near the modern, politically-free state predicted for it.  Curious, he disguised himself as an everyday tourist and spent several weeks traveling the country in search of the truth.  Why China Will Never Rule the World: Traveling in the Two Chinas reveals what he found – and why he believes that China “will never manage to rule the world.”

Why China Will Never Rule the World is, first and foremost, a well written travelogue filled with stories about the people Parfitt meets along the way and the strange circumstances he so often finds himself in.  Parfitt, who is a great storyteller, uses his anecdotes to individualize the Chinese people he meets and to make points about the culture that produced them.  His stories range from heartwarming ones to those certain to appall and sadden the reader, but all of them lead Parfitt to the conclusion that China and its people are far from ready for the role projected for them.  Parfitt describes a country filled with pollution, overall squalor, backwardness, and rampant poverty, a country that is not all that different today from what it was two centuries ago.  As he puts it, “Chinese culture remains locked in a self-replicating state of chaos, myopia, inefficiency, intolerance, violence, and irrationality.  It is, in a word, backward.”

Damning as that observation might be, it pales in comparison to that of another writer, Bo Yang, who said that “the Chinese are afraid of the truth, incapable of introspection or admitting error, and ‘addicted to bragging, lying (considered a virtue), equivocating and slander’…oblivious to the benefits of democracy, civility, generosity, co-operation, and the rule of law, “unaware of the backwardness of their own culture…the same everywhere.’”  From what Parfitt recounts, it seems that little in the essential nature of the country and its culture has changed, even in recent years.

Parfitt believes that China’s future will be defined by its past because, in the Chinese mind, the past, present, and future are forever intertwined.  For this reason, the country will not be easily dragged into “the orbit of global consciousness.”  Neither Bo Yang, nor Troy Parfitt, believes in the “myth” that the twenty-first century is going to belong to China.  Bo Yang puts it down to the fact that China’s culture is simply “too primitive” to claim ownership of the new century, that the people suffer especially from the ingrained flaw of “being dishonest with themselves and others.”  He believes that the country’s greatest flaws are “dishonesty” and “infighting,” either of which, alone, would hobble any country with the supposed aspirations of China.  Nothing Parfitt describes of his travels would lead one to believe differently.  In the end, whether you agree with Parfitt, or not, this one will make you think.

Rated at: 4.0

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

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