Declarations of Chinese Century Way Premature

The rise of China from two centuries of humiliation and suffering is one of the bright spots of today’s news feeds, but increasingly frequent pronouncements of an emerging “Chinese Century” seem premature.

I don’t question the inevitability of another Asian Millennium. By sheer numbers and momentum few would doubt that most of the next thousand years will be dominated by Asians, whether they’re living in China, India, Korea, Japan, North America, Russia or Australia.

But to call the 21st century the Chinese Century reminds me of early 20th Century pronouncements of a German Century. The German Empire was widely deemed preeminent on the continent. It didn’t take many battles after the start of World War I in 1914 to expose the folly of such pronouncements. By early 1918 the empire that Otto von Bismarck had so masterfully and painstakingly crafted through a virtuoso exercise of social engineering, realpolitik and supreme restraint had been smashed and beggared — and the American Century roared under way.

I’m not saying that a similarly sad fate awaits China. That depends on whether Beijing’s bosses control the hawkish impulses toward a grudge match against Japan or to try to call “the bluff of the US paper tiger”. If China does resist such impulses toward military adventure and keeps patiently building its economic base and evolving its political system for the next half century, it may find itself competing against North America, the European Union, an East Asian confederation and India for preeminence in the 22nd Century.

Prognostications of a Chinese Century are based mostly on the fact that China’s GDP will likely equal the US’s in six or seven years. If GDP were the measure of a nation’s global ascendency, the 17th through the 19th centuries would have been Chinese centuries. During each of those three centuries China, by virtue of its immense population, easily surpassed every other nation in total productive output. Yet most historians would say that all three of those centuries belonged to the United Kingdom which had a small fraction of China’s GDP, only managing to build its GDP to about 65% of China’s by the end of the 19th century thanks to the industrial revolution.

Global preeminence is measured by influence. Britain’s industry, educational system, laws, political system, language and culture were emulated around the world, voluntarily and involuntarily, with admiration and begrudgingly, throughout the 17th through the 19th Centuries. Even as France, Austria, Russia and Germany came to rival or even exceed Britain’s military prowess during the latter part of that era, more people around the world respected things British than those of any other nation. Despite its immense GDP China was a virtual non-entity during that time.

Everything that could be said of Britain during the 17th through the 19th centuries can be said of the United States during the 20th. Love it or hate it, the US was the indispensable military, economic, cultural and social power against which all other nations were measured. It was the most imitated society of the last century — all of it voluntarily.

US influence has diminished only marginally this century despite China’s swift rise as an economic and possibly military rival. While billions still want to talk, dress, work, play and live like Americans, few seek to imitate China’s culture and lifestyle. Few study Chinese films, magazines or music videos to see how China’s people talk, dress or act. Given a choice, few would choose migrate to China over the US. As a matter of fact, China is typically regarded as a highly undesirable place to live, even among China’s most affluent people.

What would it take for the 20th Century to become a truly Chinese Century? At a minimum a standard of living and personal rights and freedoms comparable to those enjoyed by a majority of Americans.

The economic consideration alone would push the start of the Chinese Century back by at least another generation even if China manages to average 6% growth during that span — a tall order – and its rivals stopped growing altogether. Realistically, it would take two generations before China can produce a majority middle class with a standard of living comparable to that of the US.

Even more problematical is the task of evolving China’s social system to achieve a degree of personal security that can make some future generation transcend the insecurity created by today’s repression and corruption. Even if radical reforms managed to eradicate the grosser forms of such evils within two decades, it would likely take at least another generation to evolve a lifestyle worthy of emulation. That again would take us well beyond mid-century.

Premature declarations of a Chinese Century only bring to mind the many other obstacles that stand in the way. China — which is an empire after all — can splinter like the Roman Empire, the Mongol Empire, the German Empire or the Soviet Union. The Communist Party can seek to preserve its one-party rule a bit too long and fall to a democratic revolution. Military ambitions and adventures could send the national budget spiraling out of control and send the nation to the brink of financial collapse before China achieves the degree of social stability needed to weather such crises.

The eventual emergence of a true Chinese Century would be a happy development because it would be the natural product of a large population evolving into a prosperous and secure one over generations of peaceful reforms and economic development. Premature declarations of a Chinese Century are hubris-inducing delusions which, like the German Century, can become a self-destroying prophecy.



Dan · Jan 13, 11:54 PM · #

Don’t take it too seriously.

Any person who seriously studies history is aware that there were no absolute predictions that this nation or that nation would rise to such global dominance. There were many moments in the past where things wouldn’t have turn out as they did in reality. Both Great Britain during it’s days of Empire and the Good Ole times of US Hegemony had many challenges and challengers in one form or another. So, it’s not like it was all smooth sailing and Milk And Honey with no problems per se.

In fact, any of countless so called “Golden Ages” of history usually isn’t named by the people who lived it but by their descendants who look back and had the time and resources to analyzed it.

Whether or not there would be a Chinese Century, or Asian Century ,this isn’t really up to us to call it. It will be up to our Grandkid’s grandkids who will decide how to refer to this time period of ours.

Korean Kid · Jan 14, 08:52 AM · #

Seriously? It’s already the Korean Century. Look at Psy, Samsung, Hyundai…and it’s only 2013! When Koreas unify, look out…

Sinopuppy · Jan 14, 03:50 PM · #

Samsung only occupies 2% of China’s market

A joint venture with Beijing Automotive Group, Beijing Hyundai Motor manufactures many Hyundai vehicles,[citation needed] as well as a few models which are exclusive to the Chinese market. This company sold only 700,000 passenger cars in 2011.

“The problems of Korea’s mutual savings banks are likely to evolve into system risks for the entire banking system because the banks are reserve ratios are low. Given the size in terms of assets, we expect them to have a material impact on the Korea’s banking sector,” S&P said in a press release.” Total bank assets are 187 trillion Won. Not very high for a industralized nation.

Psy is a one shot pony.

Japan 2012 year, Japan’s gross government debt was 220 percent of gross domestic product, according to the International Monetary Fund, by far the largest ratio of any Group of Seven country. Not in good financial shape. Japan’s 1.7 Trillion USD Pension Fund is invested in domestic Japanese Bonds and recycling interest payments in double accounting rehypotacation with massive quantitative easing for 20yrs.

China has 6% non-performing bad loans outstanding and 40% of GDP is due to intensive capital infrastructure spending while experiencing real inflation of 6%-8%.

Asian economies are not immune from economic malaise

Sam0221 · Jan 14, 08:54 PM · #

Sinopuppy, you need to take a chill pill.
That ‘Korean kid’ isn’t even a real Korean, but an outsider, he meant as sarcasm.

Most Koreans know Samsung is doing good now, but they can hit bottom in a hurry due to the nature of electronics industry. Look at Sony and even Apple’s current stock price decrease.

Koreans also know Hyundai/Kia still needs to improve its brand image. Additionally, many Koreans are fed up with Hyundai at their own home country due to their outcry that Hyundai is taking advantage of ‘patriotic’ Korean consumers with inferior ‘deals’ compared to foreign buyers who buy Hyundai outside.

And finally, Koreans are still surprised Psy’s song caught on. Who hasn’t? They are proud of Psy and it was a good first step. Psy showed it is possible to make an Asian hit song. But, this isn’t one time pony for psy, it is more like when will another Asian artist ever hit the top chart again.

People like you need to stop spreading negativity amongst Asian community.

Sinopuppy · Jan 14, 09:25 PM · #

I’ve been to your South Korea and Japan. This feel good sentiment among Asians does not exist. The truth is Asians don’t like fellow Asians and it is more like hate. Guess what koreans were pretty negative and insulting towards Chinese as are the Japanese. There are Chinese who lived in South Korea who remember koreans attacking Chinese people and being bullied in Injeon & Pusan from the 1950’s – 1987. They remember koreans under Park regiem demanding to kick out Chinese “foreigners” recently.

Don’t talk to me about drinking the feel good Kool Aid about koreans or Japanese.

In L.A. koreatown, koreans attack Chinese people. These Asian civil rights groups try to silence the compliants in attempt of PHONY Asian unity. The Nisei in Hawaii for decades treated Chinese like shit.

Stick your chill pill up you anal spincter

anon · Jan 15, 02:11 PM · #

I beleive this article is wrong about China’s middle class. Proportionally, China’s midddloe class is already larger than the US. China has too large an economy to not, at the least, reamain one of the top superpowers in this century. Despite this, they need to address their one child policy.

Cleo · Feb 4, 03:55 AM · #

LOL – China is too chinky according to the Aussies!

Smiley · Feb 6, 05:19 PM · #

Until China changes its boring un-creative rote education system, it’s economy will lack innovation. Germans introduced the engineering for their magnet train. Their eco city of 300k people expected in 2020 is a joint venture with Singapore.

If China’s government and people are too stubborn to embrace research and scientific methods to all aspects of its society: urban planning, education, and all other systems, they will be a paper tiger indeed.

I am impressed that they are creating a high speed nation wide rail system. I am embarrassed by all the corrupt and shoddy infrastructure falling down. Who would hire a Chinese civil engineer from all this poor reputation?

Kioe · Nov 6, 05:44 AM · #

The century belongs to Taiwan.

Taiwan for UN at

Alex · Nov 20, 05:15 PM · #

The problem are both chinese and [japanese] manipulate their past history for intrinsec political interest. The [japanese] give away the korean territory Gando when they occupied korea to the chinese government for receive access to the manchuria natural resources. (Ulsa joint declaration)
This accord is invalid even with today UN rules and laws. Imagine someone invade your house and sells them to one that knows that this house not belong to this seller. Both must be considered guilty.

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