Home / Books / Literati Tools: Save | Print | E-mail | Most Read | Comment
Martin Jacques' new book 'When China Rules the World'
Adjust font size:

His interest in Asia began when he visited China on holiday for the first time in 1993.

"I was in Guangdong when it was in the process of catching fire economically. I was intrigued by the question as to whether this was simply a replica of Western modernity or something different," he says.

The question was such a big one in his mind that he wanted to write a book about it.

In the meantime he met his future wife Harinder "Hari" Veriah, a lawyer, in Malaysia.

After setting up home in London, they moved east again when she got an offer of a job with her law firm in Hong Kong. It was then in 1998 that he signed the publishing contract for When China Rules.

Tragically, in 2000 his wife suddenly died after an epileptic fit in a Hong Kong hospital at just 33. Jacques is clearly still traumatized by the event.

"I was completely devastated. I didn't work on the book again until 2005 but I somehow never let it go. I went back to it," he says

He says the book is as much about his relationship with his late wife as an intellectual work.

"I haven't written it as a love story but it is a love story. It is about the passion of meeting Hari. I loved her to pieces. Meeting her I realized what life was all about," he says.

While writing the book, Jacques, who used to make regular appearances on television and radio, became almost reclusive.

He only emerged recently to publicize the book, starting with a presentation in front of 700 people at the Hay Literary Festival in Wales in May this year.

"I really wasn't sure whether I could do it again. I walked into that room and far from feeling I wanted to hide, I loved doing it. Two or three years ago, I just couldn't have done it," he says.

The book has had its critics. Chris (now Lord) Patten, the former Governor of Hong Kong, dismissed it as a "silly book" in an interview with China Daily, one of his main objections being Jacques' use of Goldman Sachs statistics on economic growth projections.

"I just thought, 'Hello, hello, he hasn't read it'. The Goldman Sachs statistics could turn out wrong for all sorts of reasons. It may take 50 years longer than the statistics I use for this momentous change to happen but that is not that important," says Jacques.

Patten also objected to Jacques' view that China was uniquely a civilization state and not just a nation state, asking: "If China is the world's only civilization state, what do you call France?"

"How could he argue that France is a civilization state?" counters Jacques.

"I mean this is a failure of historical intellectual perception. France has a history as a great nation but only since the late 18th century in its nation state period. The vast bulk of China's multi-millennial history is prior to it becoming a nation state."

With any book like this, there is always a question whether a Westerner or outsider such as Jacques is in any real position to make definitive judgments about China at all.

"It is problematic, isn't it? I have thought about this for a long time because I was always confronted by what seemed to be a sea of ignorance on my part. I didn't know the history properly and I didn't speak the language," he says

"I am not fool enough to think my understanding of China is sufficient. It is a lifetime's work to get out of your own skin and into the skin of another society. There aren't so many books I have written with such engagement though, where your life is actually in the book."

Jacques, who lives in Hampstead in northwest London, has held a number of visiting professorships in Asia, including a spell at Renmin University of China in Beijing.

He is a senior research fellow at the London School of Economics and is columnist for the Guardian newspaper and for the New Statesman magazine in the UK.

"I enjoy writing columns but for me personally it lasts half-a-day and then it is gone. People don't remember it and the old gray cells are not required to think too much," he says.

He says writing the book over so many years was a "huge intellectual engagement".

"It was 14 years of dealing with huge big questions. I like big picture questions," he says.

The book is set to be one of the top selling books - if not the book - about China in the West over the next year.

Jacques is unclear whether it will be his last word in book form on China.

"I will see what happens to this. Maybe I will write something more about China. I am not saying I won't," he says.

Yet if only half of what he predicts comes true, China will be a story few will be able to ignore.

When China Rules The World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order by Martin Jacques (Penguin Press)

(China Daily September 9, 2009)

     1   2  

Tools: Save | Print | E-mail | Most Read Bookmark and Share
Pet Name
China Archives
Related >>