We stand on the eve of a different kind of world, but comprehending it is difficult: we are so accustomed to dealing with the paradigms of the contemporary world that we inevitably take them for granted, believing that they are set in concrete rather than themselves being the subject of longer-run cycles of historical change.
– Martin Jacques, When China Rules the World
The biggest question of the twenty-first century is: What does China want? China is without question the rising power of the age. What that means for the current global order, crafted and led by the United States since the end of World War II, is the topic of think tank studies, Congressional hearings, vats of newsprint, and dinner conversations from Washington to Tokyo. What exactly will China do with its new power? Will China become a partner to the West and its allies, or will it wish to change the world, to promote new values, institutions, and patterns of trade and finance? Will it play by our rules, or write new ones? … The answer to these questions is, at its heart, quite simple: China wants what it always had. China was a superpower for almost all of its history, and it wants to be a superpower again.
This comes from the first chapter of Schuman’s Superpower Interrupted: The Chinese History of the World (Public Affairs Press, 2020). A perceptive and interesting selective historical narrative that identifies China’s exceptionalism and points out key moments in its long-standing existence as a superpower – militarily, economically, and culturally. A key and recurring theme is how China’s own perception of itself has changed over the centuries and should prove helpful to anyone trying to better understand our current historical moment. Schuman’s purpose is to help readers better develop a more nuanced background concerning China’s role in the world today and the future, as well as the West’s relationship with this Confucian-based civilization. Nicely written with a critical and cohesive theme linking back to his opening notion that ‘there is so such thing as world history – at least not one that holds the same meaning for everyone.’ Available in Audible, Kindle, and hardcover versions.
Michael Schuman has been a journalist based in East Asia since 1996 and writes extensively about the region’s history and current affairs. Formerly a correspondent with The Wall Street Journal and Time Magazine he now writes for The Atlantic and Bloomberg Opinion – this is his third book.
Keith Krueger lectures at the SHU-UTS Business School in Shanghai.
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