Martin Jacques: Understanding the rise of China

And yet we still insist, by and large, in thinking that we can understand China by simply drawing on Western experience, looking at it through Western eyes, using Western concepts. If you want to know why we unerringly seem to get China wrong — our predictions about what’s going to happen to China are incorrect — this is the reason.”

“Unfortunately, I think, I have to say that I think attitude towards China is that of a kind of little Westerner mentality. It’s kind of arrogant. It’s arrogant in the sense that we think that we are best, and therefore we have the universal measure. And secondly, it’s ignorant. We refuse to really address the issue of difference.

You know, there’s a very interesting passage in a book by Paul Cohen, the American historian. And Paul Cohen argues that the West thinks of itself as probably the most cosmopolitan of all cultures. But it’s not. In many ways, it’s the most parochial, because for 200 years, the West has been so dominant in the world that it’s not really needed to understand other cultures, other civilisations. Because, at the end of the day, it could, if necessary by force, get its own way. Whereas those cultures — virtually the rest of the world, in fact, which have been in a far weaker position, vis-a-vis the West — have been thereby forced to understand the West, because of the West’s presence in those societies. And therefore, they are, as a result, more cosmopolitan in many ways than the West.

For 200 years, the world was essentially governed by a fragment of the human population. That’s what Europe and North America represented. The arrival of countries like China and India — between them 38 percent of the world’s population — and others like Indonesia and Brazil and so on, represent the most important single act of democratisation in the last 200 years. Civilisations and cultures, which had been ignored, which had no voice, which were not listened to, which were not known about, will have a different sort of representation in this world. As humanists, we must welcome, surely, this transformation, and we will have to learn about these civilisations.