China Beat Archive


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February 1, 2010 in The China Beat


Copyright February 1, 2010 Howard French. Used by permission.


During his first trip to China recently, Barack Obama was excoriated by pundits for his meekness on a host of issues, from Tibet to exchange rates to human rights. Newspaper commentary in the United States went on endlessly about the curtailment of American influence in an age where a fast-rising China has become this country’s main creditor. The event that supposedly crystallized all of this was the American-style town hall meeting the president had planned, but which the Chinese government appeared to control. In the end, Obama was limited to a stilted forum with an audience of carefully screened and coached students, and a previously negotiated national television audience was denied him.

It’s an open secret that many in the publishing industry see book subtitles as vehicles for shameless hype, pushing their claims to the limit in order to juice reader interest. During the week of Obama’s East Asian sojourn, though, the subtitle of Martin Jacques’ new offering,When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New World Order, may have suddenly seemed like it wasn’t such a stretch. At the very least, the appearance of a book like this from a major publisher like Penguin Press is a telling measure of a profound and ongoing shift in perceptions about the staying power of American — and, more broadly, Western — might and vigor, in the face of the challenge of a fast-rising China.

On this subject, a recent Pew survey highlighted the gap between perception and reality, showing that 44% of the American public already believes that China is the world’s leading economic power. Just 27% named the United States.