“Why China Will Never Rule the World”

Canadian Troy Parfitt, an English teacher in Taiwan for ten years, believes passionately in the title of his new book, Why China Will Never Rule the World. “China, China, China: it seems it’s all you ever hear these days,” he laments. His book, part travelogue, part tome, argues, at times persuasively, that a country that clings to Confucianism, Legalism, totalitarianism (his claim, not mine) and education by rote memorization can never, ever be the word’s No. 1 superpower.

As I read the book, which Parfitt sent to me, I had all sorts of thoughts.

Thoughts like, Oh my god.

And, What the fuck?

And, Is he really saying that?

First let me say that despite all my problems with this book, I recommend you read it, if only for the beautiful writing, attention to detail, the delightful anecdotes and some thought-provoking questions it raises about China’s future. On the other hand, I was appalled at Parfitt’s attitude toward both China and Taiwan. In spite of his finding some things to praise about each, it is more than clear from the very start that he harbors a good deal of contempt toward both countries.

Let’s look at the book’s attributes first. It’s written as a travelogue of the writer’s extended trip through China. Wherever he goes, Parfitt recreates the scenes with large frescoes that then go into the finest details, giving you such vivid imagery you feel like you’re there, and the pages turn by themselves. It immediately brought to mind Simon Winchester’s travel diary, The River at the Center of the World (which I reviewed some years ago here). Like Winchester, Parfitt is a wonderful spinner of yarns; the book is really a string of anecdotes laid end to end, but Parfitt is a good enough writer that it all holds together quite well.

Here’s an example of his writing, a depiction of a cruise up the Yangtze in a boat with 40 tourists.

The immense hills that guide the river grew dim, becoming featureless masses which rose up at intervals to lick the thinning strip of hazy blue which hovered just above. Overhead, the sky drained itself of color. It turned wine dark and offered a pair of glistening stars for consideration. Before long, we were moving atop an onyx slate dotted with visual echoes of extinguished suns. Lengthy stretches of nothingness were punctuated by towns and villages that appeared in the distance as bracelets and pendants. Our searchlight remained fixed on the southern bank, illuminating man-made bits and pieces (a window pane, a guardrail) within a circle of murky green. When the horn sounded, 80 hands shot up to cover as many ears.

Nice. And that’s just a random paragraph. He has also done a remarkable job researching every location he visits, and offers an engaging overview of Chinese history that the layman will find quite useful.

The problem is that Parfitt can find practically nothing in China that he admires. In most cities he sees squalor, drudgery, poverty and backwardness. Now, those things certainly exist in many Chinese cities, but there is much more to China than that. Parfitt seems to seek out and dwell on the negative. He has some nice things to say about Nanjing (it’s “pleasant” and “attractive”) as well as Xiamen, where he enjoys visiting the island, but the praise is lukewarm at best and is totally drowned out by his hostility toward the PRC. He finds nothing to admire in Qingdao (quite the contrary), and says of Hangzhou that “it wasn’t beautiful at all when I went there.”

As for the lake itself, it was just a lake; steel grey and surrounded by dim brooding hills that were marked by pagodas. Having grown up minutes from a whole host of lakes that were much finer, not to mention free of man-made objects, I failed to see what all the fuss was about.

I suppose we all have our own opinions. My own is that Xihu is one of the world’s most gorgeous, enchanting natural wonders. And it’s not “just a lake.” It’s some of the most lush and beautiful scenery on earth, surrounding a magnificent lake with breathtaking hills behind it, creating a perfect and serene balance of nature. Does he want to see Hangzhou’s beauty?

Unsurprisingly, upon arriving in Beijing, the first things he deems worthy to comment on are the spitting, a car that nearly hits a pedestrian and the brawl that ensues, and the people’s general unfriendliness.

Beijing residents, or Beijingren, are not the world’s softest, most cuddly people. China, after all, represents the cultural center of China. The capital’s inhabitants are notoriously conceited, strident, aggressive and obtuse. They seem to be in constant possession of a horseradish temper and appear to like nothing more than a good argument. They absolutely have to have the last word, and they smoke and spit like there’s no tomorrow.

Alright. This so flies in the face of everything I know about Beijing, I simply can’t understand where he’s coming from. I and all my friends in China love Beijing in large part because the people are so wonderful. They are nearly the exact opposite of Parfitt’s description. He then spends a lengthy paragraph telling us how popular and gruesome public executions in Beijing used to be, how awful the audio tour of the Forbidden City is, and how Beijing taxi drivers don’t know where anything is. This is a recurrent theme in the book; wherever he goes in China, no one knows where anything is. And no one wants to be responsible for anything.

Certainly this rising superpower, this fearsome dragon, this nation that was supposedly shaking or on the cusp of shaking the world, had a slogan, this would be it: meiyou banfa. There’s nothing that can be done. You can actually see people mentally moving toward it. It’s like a goal that, once attained, alleviates one from all responsibility.

There’s some truth to this, of course. Anyone who’s worked with Chinese companies, for instance, knows that there’s a natural inclination to pass the buck and avoid responsibility. Better someone else be accountable for it if something goes wrong. But there’s much more to the Chinese than that. My friend Lisa and I recently traveled through Guizhou and when we got lost and asked for help, people didn’t just tell us where to go, they took us there. These sweeping generalizations about the Chinese, all negative, every single one, soon wore on me.

And then we get to politics. I thought I used to be hard on the CCP. I can’t hold a candle to Parfitt. In arguing there is no shred of evidence China will ever become a democratic state, he writes:

China was, pure and simply, a totalitarian state, and those who advocated an alternative tended to deny the obvious: communism fit China like a glove. It was Legalism, Confucianism, feudalism and the teachings of Lao Tsu all wrapped up into one, which is to say it represented a potent and frequently lethal blend of a number of native ideologies that were in and of themselves highly toxic and remedies for disaster.

The essence of his argument is that China’s future will be determined by its past, and that that past precludes China from ascending to international leadership. China cannot integrate with the world, cannot give up its obsession with harmony and control of its people’s minds through rote memorization and propaganda. He comes to the conclusion that China does not want change.

Along with Lu Xun, one of the author’s heroes is Bo Yang, the Nationalist Party member who believed China’s only path to greatness was to embrace Western civilization and who wrote The Ugly Chinaman and the Crisis of Chinese Culture to stake his claim. In one of the most outspoken parts of the book, Parfitt delves into Bo’s worldview.

Chinese history is not glorious at all, he argues, but rather thousands of years of uninterrupted warfare, carnage, violence, oppression, mayhem and misery…. Crucially, he points out that the Chinese notion of a harmonious society revolves around the quote-unquote harmonious relationship between inferiors and superiors. Beyond that, harmony does not exist… Bo Yang goes on to argue that China has contributed virtually nothing to civilization. He characterizes the Cultural Revolution as entirely normal; the Tiananmen Square Incident as “back to normal.”

It’s hardly surprising that Bo Yang is Parfitt’s hero — this is coming from the mouth of a Chinese intellectual, not an obnoxious foreigner, and it’s much harder to dismiss it as “anti-China” propaganda.

All of this makes for compelling and thought-provoking reading, mainly because Parfitt makes his argument so well. For all my irritation with his negative tone and broad generalizations, there were definitely many times when I found myself agreeing with him, especially about education and propaganda and the lack of eagerness to embrace meaningful change.

One of the things I liked least about this book was a little game Parfitt enjoyed playing: approaching Chinese people, engaging in discussion with them and then ambushing them, asking what China, or Confucius, have to offer the world. He seems to enjoy putting these people on the spot and watching them squirm. One of these discussions takes place with a director of Canada’s Confucius Institutes, and I truly felt for her.

When he asks her, “What does Confucius have to teach non-Chinese and non-Asian people?” she responds, somewhat predictably, with a single word, “Harmony,” the reason why China was able to enjoy “5,000 years” of peace and stability. Why is he doing this? He already has come up with his own answer to the question, which is Nothing.

In Nanjing he walks up to some young people, strikes up a conversation and then asks, “What’s an aspect of Chinese culture that the West ought to copy?” (Isn’t this kind of rude?) They had no answer, which is the answer Parfitt wanted them to have. But here I need to throw in another “On the other hand…” And that is, Is there another answer to Parfitt’s question? What should the West copy? It’s not an invalid question; I just don’t like the way Parfitt asks it.

In the last section of the book, Parfitt’s animosity toward China reaches over the Straits to embrace Taiwan, his home for ten years. He praises much of Taiwan’s natural beauty and does not deny the many charms of living in Taipei. But he spends far more time on the negatives – the Keystone Cops-like Taiwanese police, the political fistfights, the bad driving, but especially the education system, which he sees as nearly as awful as the Mainland’s. (Which begs the question, “What was he doing teaching there for ten years?” He never tells us.) While he acknowledges Taiwan’s huge strides forward since the 1980s, he still seems to delight in making fun of the country.

This is not Parfitt’s first book, and looking at the reviews of his earlier book, Notes from the Other China, it seems he is entirely consistent. The book deals with Taiwan, and the Taipei Times had this to say:

What Troy Parfitt comes to sound like…is a bad traveler, an insensitive loud-mouth ranting on about the absurdities of life “abroad.” As his epigraph he quotes a sensible sentence from Samuel Johnson that points out that travel allows you to modify fantasy by exposure to the real thing. The assault on Asian ways of life that follows – and the same treatment Taiwan receives is handed out, at lesser length, to the other Asian countries the writer visits – consequently comes as an even greater surprise.

(Michael Turton, a blogger in Taiwan who I admire, had far kinder words for the book.)

Finally, let me make one point about Parfitt’s premise that China will not shake the world: It already has and it always will for the rest of our lives. This effect is economic, but what in this world matters (sadly) other than economics? China’s thirst for industrial metals like copper and steel and silver creates huge ups and downs in the markets, and Chinese labor has changed the face of the workforce across the globe. China’s purchase of our debt makes it joined with the US at the hip. China’s investment in resources in Africa and elsewhere is creating whole new spheres of influence and changing the balance of power. And due to the sheer size of the Chinese market, there is simply no question that Western businesses, like automakers and producers of luxury goods, see it as the planet’s Last Great Hope — and it really is, at least for some industries. No matter how much you might dislike the CCP, and no matter how convinced you are they will not rise to be No. 1, China’s economic might and influence are undeniable. It is not for nothing that you keep hearing, “China, China, China.”

By this point, if you’ve managed to make it this far, I suspect you’re wondering why I’d bother to write such a long review of a book like this, and why you should ever bother to read it. The answer is, as I said at the beginning, that Parfitt has done an amazing job in collecting and tying together hundreds of great anecdotes, combined with a good deal of history and political analysis, to create a highly readable and even enjoyable book, despite the parts that caused my blood pressure to rise. I actually think you would find it worth the time (I finished all 400+ pages in two days), and you’d definitely find yourself laughing at his trials and tribulations in China. A most interesting experience. I’m glad I read it.

You can see a video of Parfitt discussing his book here.

And yes, I know, this post is much too long. Apologies.

The Discussion: 114 Comments

I also received the call from Troy to review the book. As I’m well behind on my reading list already, I never took him up on the offer, but now I’m a bit curious.

From the promo material that he sent along I got the sense that I’d have a similarly hard time swallowing some of the content. If he had spent those 10 years in this China and not that one… I dunno, maybe it would be easier to listen to his opinions on the subject.

Excellent review Richard.

June 18, 2011 @ 3:13 pm | Comment

Someone thinks this story is fantastic…

This story was submitted to Hao Hao Report – a collection of China’s best stories and blog posts. If you like this story, be sure to go vote for it….

June 18, 2011 @ 3:19 pm | Trackback

a country that clings to … totalitarianism (his claim, not mine)
My claim, too. I’ll elaborate, if asked.

June 18, 2011 @ 4:32 pm | Comment

I liked your review. It’s good to explore writing that you don’t personally agree with, and I’m glad you highlighted a book that most of us would never hear of. I haven’t read it yet, but it sounds like the laowei version of Bo Yang’s “The Ugly Chinaman.”

Did this guy send you a review copy? Amazon says it’s not out till Sept and it seems to be from a small Canadian publisher linked to the author — so self-published, from what I can tell. The guy must be chuffed to be written up here, even if you kind of slag him off.

Most non-fiction books (or films) that succeed and spark debate are by wacky people with singular, strong, even extreme views, whether the subject is China, vegetarianism, or whether God exists.

Take the documentary “Super-Size Me.” Before, there were endless well-researched, moderate, earnestly-written studies on the dangers of fast food, which everyone ignored. Then came a documentary with fast music, dark humor, an extreme premise, and a scene where the “reporter” vomits up a Big Mac in a parking lot. OK, so not exactly unbiased, scientific reporting. But it got an entire nation — actually the world — questioning junk food from places like McDonald’s. (While the company won’t admit to a link, McD implemented healthier food and better nutritional labeling after the film).

I don’t take “Super-Size Me” as gospel — I think its claims are exaggerated. But I watched it, liked it, and it make me think.

Maybe this book is the same. Even I don’t think China is that bad. Plus, it’s too late to debate whether it’s a superpower, when it already is. But I do love good writing, whether I end up agreeing with the author’s conclusions or not.

June 18, 2011 @ 4:56 pm | Comment

It seems to me (and I haven’t read the book …) that the things this author finds objectionable about Parfitt’s views actually make perfect sense if you are able to see them in the context of the nuanced relationship Taiwanese people feel towards (mainland) chinese.

Parfitt is a foreigner so it’s easy for us to bash him when he complains about, say, the abrasiveness of Beijing people, but if you really understand the underlying dynamic between ‘nan bian ren’ and ‘bei bian ren’, and then further realize that Parfitt is simply an outsider whose view of China has been shaped by his experience living in Taiwan and merely traveling through China, his views don’t seem that far fetched.

His reactions (towards things like Beijing ren ) are actually very in line with what you might hear from a Taiwanese traveler to the mainland for the first time. If we realize that he’s taking his cues about the mainland from (certain) taiwanese starting points, i get the feeling that he begins to look less like a condescending foreign traveler … and more like a foreigner whose absorbed just enough of a certain type of Taiwanese mindset towards the mainland (and its people).

Now, does that excuse his seemingly tenuous reach from “people spit in the streets” to “china can’t be #1”? I dont know, but it just seems to me that we’re unfairly drawing critical conclusions about his motivations without realizing the full picture here. To me, it’s actually very plausible that a Canadian english teacher who has lived in Taipei for however many amount of years would travel to China a couple of times, and form these conclusions.
Take from that what you will, but to me it says more about the relationship between Taiwan and China than about some random foreign author and China.

June 18, 2011 @ 6:10 pm | Comment

Well, I agree with him about Beijing taxi drivers, and I wonder if you aren’t like most expats guilty of “1st long term Chinese (in your case Mainland) home” bias. I used to say Qingdao was the best place in China and describe the people as “wonderful” too.

Expats tend to latch on to that first city they live in long term over here in my experience. Having lived in north China during my first furlough over here I used to like to claim how much more polite and friendly northerners were than their southern counterparts. But after living in the South for a while not, I sometimes find northern hospitality cloying, a little fake, and impolitely intrusive. Also, I can see where he might observe that they are “strident, aggressive and obtuse” and “must have the last word”. I wouldn’t call them conceited though…that’s a Shanghai specialty.

Anyway, the true irony is that if it wasn’t for China’s (already) great influence in the world, a book answering the facile question of “why China will not rule the world” might not have made it to press.

June 18, 2011 @ 7:04 pm | Comment

I have not had the pleasure to read the book yet – so my comments are based on this eloquent review. And I agree with the title. China won’t be like the Roman Empire, or the British one. It will not be China but the Chinese who will rule the remains of the world. Through economy first, culturally afterwords. And talking about culture let me finish my humble words quoting one of the most popular American influencer for the generation who will witness the outcome: “never say never”. I hope that the concept is clear.

June 18, 2011 @ 7:23 pm | Comment

China, or perhaps more accurately, the Middle Kingdom, is no more a dictatorship, than the U.S. is a Democracy. It’s true that under Chairman Mao, and his dictatorial behavior, we could see another Stalin. But the CCP quickly put an end to the possibility of such leadership after Mao’s death.

It’s true that the CCP is the only party that counts in China, but it is not a monolith of unity. In reality it is split into many factions and power centers. (See the wonderful exposition of the CCP “The Party” by Richard McGregor http://amzn.to/k1BNeA for a closer and deeper look at how the CCP runs the country)

Superficially one is tempted to say that Western ‘democracies’ are far preferable, but if you look closer at them, you see pretty much the same forces running those countries as you see in China. Liberals and Conservatives, Hawks and Doves, are present in every country. What makes each country different are its culture, its people and its history. If we look at China, we see that, like the U.S. it is not a monolith, with its people walking in lock step towards the future. Ask a BeijingRen what they think of a ShanghaiRen, and you will get an earful. There are at least 56 ethnic minorities living in China. Each with their own culture and history. Official China policy comes from the CCP in Beijing, but away from Beijing you find that party officials mostly do as they wish. Sure there is corruption and unhappy citizens, but you see the same thing in every country.

Personally I am not optimistic about how our world will fare in the future. But I don’t blame it on any one country. I see it as a basic flaw in our human nature. I still think we can overcome our tendencies toward self destruction, but I don’t think it has to do with how any one country governs itself.

Finally I would like to add a recommendation for two other writers, Xinran and Peter Hessler. Hessler’s books on China are quite good, and show us China as seen by an outsider. http://amzn.to/l4HVUw Xinran writes as an insider who shows us a side of China rarely seen by outsiders. http://amzn.to/iXXehU


June 18, 2011 @ 10:03 pm | Comment

Doesn’t seem to offer any new insights, pro- or con.

If it doesn’t, I’d just assume read something else.

June 19, 2011 @ 12:36 am | Comment

I can see where your criticism of this book comes from. However, I’m glad someone finally said what I’ve been thinking about the West Lake, especially with their new imitation Xintiandi (thanks, but the first Xintiandi is cheezy and disgusting enough already- no need for a knock-off). Everyone’s heard “Above there are the heavens; on earth, there is Hangzhou and Suzhou.” My response has always been: WTF?
Really, if I was a religious person who avoided “sinning” my entire life only to get a ticket to Hangzhou and Suzhou, I would be seriously pissed.

June 19, 2011 @ 1:27 am | Comment

Kevin, maybe I was at West Lake at the perfect time (twice). I found a spot away from the Haagen Dasz and Starbucks and was in heaven.

Joyce, yes, as I said at the to, he sent me the book. You are exactly right about the similarities with Bo Yang. I actually included in the post 3 paragraphs about Bo Yang and then deleted them because I thought the review was getting way too long. I just re-inserted them. I agree with all your comments. It will only have the effect of a Super-Size Me if people read the book. Let’s hope they do.

Paul, it does offer some insights, as well as lots of stuff I totally disagree with. For someone as familiar with China as yourself it may not be so insightful, but I promise you’d have fun reading it.

Yamabuki, I have written about Peter Hesler extensively on this blog (search around) and have also argued many times the CCP is not monolithic, that there are many CCPs, some very good, others less so. China’s government system does differ sharply from the West’s mainly in terms of controlling its citizens’ minds and discouraging original thought and inquiry (among many other things). About arguing which is better or worse or whether democracy really works, we’ve rehashed those topics too many times.I lived in China for a few years and love it there, but it would do well to offer a few more Western freedoms, especially freedom of speech (i.e., less censorship and a free Internet). We can go on and on about this.

Just Recently, I believe China’s government is authoritarian but not totalitarian. It used to be the latter, but not so long ago. Personal freedoms now make it a paradise compared to Mao’s time — until you cross the red line of politics and get in the way of the party. Then the totalitarianism of Mao rears its head. Most Chinese people have little inclination to go there, especially those who have profitted from China’s opening up.

Ferber, the Chinese tend to rise to the top as “rule” (economically) wherever they go, based on their productivity, intelligence and work ethic. But I don’t expect the Mainland Chinese population to rule the world. They, too, are smart and productive, but also beholden to Confucian values that make it difficult to break away from the harmonious society. Obviously this is not across the board and we see many Chinese entrepreneurs. But the Chinese people as a whole ruling the world — we’re a long way from that.

Andy, I simply haven’t had the bad experiences with Beijing taxi drivers. Maybe once or twise, but as a whole they’ve been friendly and eager to talk. I had much more trouble with the drivers in Shanghai.

I forgot to mention in the review that he also hates Chengdu and thinks the Panda center is an ugly mess. I had a great time there. Different strokes….

June 19, 2011 @ 1:52 am | Comment

@yamabuki Zhou. Agree and disagree. Xinran’s China Witness is a tremendous read especially the Introduction on clan alleigences on the Cash Highway. Also the Cops story.

Read The Party twice and came away with a different take. That it is not a monolith of unity is hardly a world shattering conclusion. The front and back organisational charts are almost worth the price of purchase alone. The great strength of MacGregor’s analysis was his focus on the Party’s behind the scenes control of the PLA, media/propaganda and the court system without any accountability. And this structure of there, but not up front monopoly of power, is continually evolving to meet new circumstances and challenges. It is a highly calculating and very pragmatic/non-ideological entity. We were reading different books.

Simon Winchester. God, what a scribbling pestilence since his Surgeon of Crowthome. He focusses on an interesting individual or phenomena, and then wheels out the same old by-the-numbers writing methodology.Given the choice on a rainy day, I would opt for reading the complete works of Kim Sung Il.

Don’t think I will be going near Parfitt’s tome either after reading his para above on the Yantze cruise. Reads like he swallowed a childs paint box plus a few shiny objects.

He however is close to the mark in arguing that China is a hardwired prisoner of its long history. More to the point, China’s end times won’t be determined its present impact on the global economy, or how the Party’s Harmony Happiness Sing Song is received by its citizenry, but by its environment and that is toxic.

June 19, 2011 @ 5:12 am | Comment

As MacGregor said on BBC a couple of days ago. “The Party is like a radio, always on in the background, but able to turn up the volume when required”.

June 19, 2011 @ 5:32 am | Comment


Small correction.

… but it would do well to offer a little more universal freedoms…

June 19, 2011 @ 7:13 am | Comment

Ideally these should be universal freedoms, Eco, but sadly they are not. We take them for granted in the West, which is why I refer to “Western freedoms.”

June 19, 2011 @ 7:32 am | Comment

Good, thoughtful piece – length was appreciated!

June 19, 2011 @ 9:38 am | Comment

Great piece, and yeah, I’m with Richard on the friendliness of Beijingers (and the generally good, friendly cab drivers there, unlike a lot of other cities). And our experiences in Guizhou — I don’t know when I’ve met so many helpful people.

Without reading the book, I do agree that China’s “ruling the world” is doubtful. There are just far too many structural problems to overcome, and for all the CCP’s emphasis on “social harmony” (i.e., control), things have not been looking very harmonious as of late.

June 19, 2011 @ 12:06 pm | Comment

I have the feeling this Parfitt guy is not only a sinophobe but also a self-hating guy. I find most of the Western guys who come to the Far East to teach English are by and large intellectually mediocre and physically very unattractive. I have the suspicion that a great majority of these men are second-rate losers who can not find a decent job in their own countries because of their lack of proper skills and intellect. I don’t think this Canadian guy has any right to criticize Chinese,when Canadians act like a bunch of jungle animals, because they lost a hockey game. As one can see, I can put a negative spin on everything Canadian from their bilingualism to sissy mannerisms of it’s men.

June 19, 2011 @ 12:31 pm | Comment

I know one thing America will NOT rule the world anymore.The U.S. has the big problem of changing demographics. By 2060 blacks and Hispanics will be a majority or very close to being one. Unless America brings up the academic standards of the blacks and Hispanics, America is doomed. Btw the academic standards of white students are not that great either. When American K-12 students are very deficient in reading,science and math skills, please somebody tell me how this is good for the America’s future innovative and creative capabilities. For all it’s problems, China has a better chance of being the next superpower than America has a chance of keeping itself being one. My money is definitely on China.

June 19, 2011 @ 1:23 pm | Comment

Just Recently, I believe China’s government is authoritarian but not totalitarian. It used to be the latter, but not so long ago. Personal freedoms now make it a paradise compared to Mao’s time — until you cross the red line of politics and get in the way of the party. Then the totalitarianism of Mao rears its head. Most Chinese people have little inclination to go there, especially those who have profitted from China’s opening up.

It doesn’t need to be Maoist to be totalitarian, Richard. I expect neither Maoists nor Confucianists to get (back) into a position to shape the state doctrine significantly (and the former may be as much at odds with each other than the latter, only less visibly so).

Dmitry Shlapentokh wrote in a review of Susan Shirks Fragile Superpower that “China has preserved the totalitarian skeleton of its past”. He refers to that “skeleton” in context with economic development, and I’m not as opposed to “service bubbles” as he is. (I guess that somewhat like Solzhenitsyn, he may be quite a reactionary, but then, it takes opinionated ppl to grow up in a totalitarian society and to differ anyway.)

But he is right, in my view, about China’s political system. You mention a “red line”, but that one isn’t as clearly defined as is often suggested. We have just seen it redefined, and the individual liberties you mention are revocable. They are basically a modernization technicality, not a value in its own right.

Totalitarianism isn’t confined to the CCP. Confucianists, Tu Wei-ming (quoted by Wang Zhicheng) once said, do not only want to control peoples’ behavior, but their minds, too. He seems to find Confucianism much more intrusive than legalism – maybe we have to further, and older, models of totalitarianism and authoritarianism here, but they are too rarely discussed, and would deserve much more discussion. It is usually confined to real books, rather than to the internet or the papers, and my impression is that even publishing houses aren’t hugely attracted to the topic. Anyway – Lynn T. White offered some criteria one might go by in judging what is totalitarian, in 1999 – link here.

If I said that China was totalitarian no more for granting more individual liberties, I might as well say that Alfredo Stroessner (Paraguay) was less authoritarian than the Argentinian military junta, because he killed fewer people (a year, anyway).

June 19, 2011 @ 3:59 pm | Comment

Shlapentokh link here.

June 19, 2011 @ 4:01 pm | Comment

para82 #19 I did see a copy of Mein Kampf in a Fz street market -in Mandarin and abridged. You must have purchased it.

June 19, 2011 @ 5:43 pm | Comment

para82’s comment is instructive when you think of China’s “soft power”, or the lack of it. Seems that many Chinese neighbors even find America’s hard power more attractive than China’s.

June 19, 2011 @ 6:39 pm | Comment

Re Mein Kampf, I have an old copy of it in my bookshelves – inherited it from relatives. I can’t believe that many people really ever read the book (crappy writing), but I kept it as family heritage, and for the highly ambiguous dedication the initial donor once wrote onto the cover sheet, in 1953:
“To fall is no shame, but not to rise again is.”

June 19, 2011 @ 6:44 pm | Comment

Thanks for the review. The first thing I probably should say is that I have not read the Parfitt book (though I fully intend to having read this). Your objections to the book sound like a pretty textbook clash between the China resident (the insider) and the ‘just-dropping-by’ China flaneur (the outsider). Having spent several years living in out-the-way Guangdong, as well as a shorter time in Shanghai; having travelled across most of the country; and now finding myself living back in my homeland (UK) some of the attitudes frustrations you attribute to the author resonate. I don’t believe the ‘nasty, brutish and backward’ description of small-town China to be some kind of blind caricature. It is a fair an accurate summation. Of course, this doesn’t mean we should judge or sneer, or fail to try and understand why this may be so. However, there is a sharp tendency that I observed in my years in China for those living in 1st tier China (pardon the expression) to assume that their adopted cities somehow represent China as it should be perceived – the ‘true’ China. This is not a particularly helpful way of looking at China. Those cities, full as they are of excitement, and innovation, and intelligence, and dynamism (though peppered with a good deal of brutish backwardness), do not represent China. I am not claiming that there are not good, decent, smart, honest people dwelling in non-megaloposis China. I am saying that there is an enduring and overarching poverty – a poverty of imagination, of curiosity, of education, of financial resources, of architecture, of community, of trust, that is as bleak and it is depressing. I believe wholeheartedly that China has much to offer the world (not least in culinary skills). But Parfitt’s ideas of small-town China (albeit viewed through the prism of this review) sound pretty reasonable to me.

June 19, 2011 @ 6:55 pm | Comment

My opinion is that any analysis of modern China that uses Sino-buzzwords like “Confucian” more than once or twice a chapter*, and which grandly concludes that China either will or will not be the world’s most powerful country, is meaningless derivative bollocks from which you should run as far as you can.

No. Attempting to explain modern Chinese culture based solely or mainly on the actual Confucianism** that existed there 5-600 years ago is as meaningless as trying to explain the 2010 UK general election based on the puritanism of Cromwell.

Similarly, no-one really knows for sure whether China’s ascent will continue in the near future or not. In a fair world, China would be the world’s largest economy based solely on it population, and it seems very likely that this is what will happen even in this most decidedly unfair world of ours. However, even China’s becoming the largest economy in the world will not necessarily result in China “ruling the world” – the US became the world’s largest economy some time before 1890, but it was only after the world wars destroyed the economies of all of its competitors that it became such a powerful country. Even during what we may now refer to at the US’s imperial zenith in the period from the fall of the USSR in 1991 to the destruction of the Twin Towers in 2001, the US did not “rule the world”, so analysis as to why China will not do so seems somewhat meaningless.

*unless it is actually about Confucianism, in which case Confuce away

**That is, a religious, legal, and cultural way of doing things followed by China to varying degrees until the fall of the Qing, and only traces of which have survived to the present day.

June 19, 2011 @ 8:55 pm | Comment

@Justrecently, King Tuby: What makes you think I’m Chinese? I can see you are both ignorant and intolerant. In my post #19 I wrote UNLESS America brings up the academic standards of blacks and Hispanics, America is doomed. How does it sound racist to you? You two remind me of some stupid Americans who like to dish out but can not take it. You might be the losers I described in my post #18.

June 19, 2011 @ 10:44 pm | Comment

@JR – We’ve discussed this before, but yes, I basically agree with you about China’s state being totalitarian. There is a distinct difference between a freedom which may be used as a shield against state authority and the state merely having vacated an area of activity so that people may use it until such a time as the state re-asserts powers that it possessed the entire time.

Loved the anecdote about your copy of Mein Kampf by the way – it’s exactly that kind of thing, the exploration of that kind of political mania, that has made me a committed history/politics geek. I agree about Hitler’s turgid writing style – something I have also found in his speeches. I often wonder if all the talk about what a great orator Hitler was was merely excuse-making for people’s willingness to follow him out of agreement with his goals.

@Richard – I’ve only ever visited Beijing twice before – the first time was in 2005, and I was rather put off the place by the pollution, the politicised atmosphere, and by having some lout shout “fuck your mother” at me as I was showing my mother around the city. The second time was last week when I was there on business, and much of what I found negative about the place the first time round was still there the second time, but this was moderated by an excellent evening spent on the banks of Beijing’s Xihai and later in the bars around Sanlitun (NB: not the Den).

I find nothing objectionable about Beijing taxi drivers except that they often don’t know the way and there never seems to be enough of them.

Hangzhou’s west lake is beautiful, and anyone who says otherwise is a moron. Then again, the last time I was there was in 2004, spending a romantic weekend there with a beautiful actress/model who is now married to someone obscenely rich up in Dongbei.

The fact that this man would take so easily against Hangzhou, and make such specious comparisons between Xihu and the lakes of Canada (which are no doubt also beautiful, but of a much more wild character) shows him to be an example of a writer who writes on China having already decided himself to be against the country. I’m afraid this kind of anti-mainland attitude is all too common on the Taiwan blogs, for what are very understandable, but not defensible, reasons.

You will find, for example, Michael Turton, trying to justify shop keepers in Taiwan refusing to serve mainlanders because:

“I know the Chinese are the first and greatest victims of their government. So what? Over there, they are victims. Over here, they are perps. If they don’t want political action aimed at them, they should stop invading other people’s countries.”

That’s right. In Michael Turton’s view, all mainlanders are “perps” and anyone who disagrees with this is a “pro-China troll”, much commentary from Jerome Keating and others is in a similar vein.

@Joyce Lau – I just finished reading Imperium, in which Ryszard Kapuściński tells the story of his travels in the USSR, mostly during the time of its final collapse, and which is a Stirling example of how to write such things. Books like this should not shout at the reader, but should present the writer’s experiences in a clear way so that the reader can draw their own conclusions. Despite the obviously decrepit and condemnable nature of the Soviet system, Kapuściński rarely breaks down into polemic, and certainly never on the basis of such flimsy subject matter as spitting in public.

Finally, unless what is being talked about is the experience of travel in a country rather than deeply and conclusively about the country in question, I distrust any such writing that does not come from someone who has lived there long-term. This man has not lived long-term in mainland China, and therefore lacks the necessary background to be able to say whether China will “rule the world”.

June 19, 2011 @ 10:57 pm | Comment

Sounds like a book i would like. I will order it.

June 19, 2011 @ 11:59 pm | Comment

Graham, one of the first things I say is, “In most cities he sees squalor, drudgery, poverty and backwardness. Now, those things certainly exist in many Chinese cities, but there is much more to China than that” I acknowledge the squalor exists, but simply contend he dwells on it far more than the nation’s positives. We al know how dirt-poor much of China is. But to go to Qingdao and write only about what a mess it is — I found this one-sided. Same with Hangzhou. I generally agree with your comment and I had the same thought as I read it — had he lived there longer, like more than a year, the book woud have been quite different.

Just Recently, I’ve been to totalitarian countries and to China. China does have the “skeleton of totalitarianism” but I found enough distinct differences to place it comfortably in the authoritarian category, until, as I said, people cross a certain line.

FOARP, thanks for the excellent comment. I, too, have my issues with the over-zealous Green expats of Taiwan (which doesn’t prevent me from being friends with Michael T.) Beijing really has improved, and I attribute the taxi drivers’ difficulty finding things to the fact that Beijing in non-navigable. The address you are given often has little to do with where your destination is, and I never get into a taxi without the phone number of my destination. We disagree on the totalitarian vs. authoritarian argument, but I have to stick to my guns. When you are in a totalitarian nation like North Korea or the old East Germany you sure as hell know it. You can stay in China for weeks and have no idea of government suppression (as long as you stay off the Internet).

June 20, 2011 @ 2:45 am | Comment

Much of the Taiwanese blogosphere seems to be extremely divisive (just as are the mainstream media), and to refuse guests a meal on the grounds of their native land is very unpleasant behavior. Even Anette Lu, former vice president in the Chen administration, recommended in November 2008 that the opposition should treat Chen Yunlin, China’s visiting negotiator, with the same courtesy they would extend to any other visitor, while being unambiguous about their stance. (There was reportedly a scorecard in place which promised 1,000 NTD for hitting Chen’s body with a rotten egg, and 10,000 for hitting his face.

The “perp” narrative suggests that Taiwan is a victim. It may be one in many ways, but it’s not helpful to wear that idea on ones sleeve, and it leads to an unnecessarily ugly attitude. Besides, it’s exactly this attitude which can easily turn perpish itself – as it did, even if only in an ill-bred, rather than in a dangerous way, as approvingly described in Turton’s blogpost. (Not so different from behavior sometimes seen on the other side of the strait, btw.)

There are more reasonable blogs, too – Echo Taiwan is one I like. Only wished he’d post more frequently. That said, Turton’s blog carries tons of great photos – and so long as I’m in a relaxed mood, I can draw information from some of his posts, too.

June 20, 2011 @ 2:52 am | Comment

You can stay in China for weeks and have no idea of government suppression

I’d change this into “as long as you are a foreigner”, Richard.

June 20, 2011 @ 2:58 am | Comment

I believe a lot of people in China would say they are not suppressed. Obviously many would say they are, mainly those thrown out of their homes or victims of local corruption. I was in a countryside village where the people were ecstatic that the government was providing them with PCs especially designed for farmers (touch screens for the latest produce prices). I talked with some. They were quite happy with their government. (And I know, this was hardly scientific polling; Shaun Rein insists 88 percent of Chinese are happy with the government!) So on this topic I’d say “it’s complicated.” Most of my colleagues in Beijing have gripes with the government but are all in all happy it’s there. Some are quite strident about it.

Para, I don’t know what your nationality is, but please watch your mouth.

June 20, 2011 @ 3:09 am | Comment

Sounds like there was an interesting debate in Toronto on June 17, involving Kissinger, Fareed Zakaria, and 2 others. The question was whether the 21st century would belong to China or not.


Looks like you have to donate a 10-spot to get to hear the debate. From the summaries I saw, it looks like Kissinger’s contention is that China would pull even with the US, but not surpass it.

June 20, 2011 @ 3:18 am | Comment

Parfitt’s opinion is based on his experiences. It is what it is. Unless we have gone through identical experiences, far be it for any of us to question the veracity of his opinion. But the real issue, as Richard has said, is whether his experiences, and his opinion, are of any generalizable value. On that point, they would appear to be dubious at best.

So for folks like Para, I think it is quite reasonable for him to criticize Parfitt’s impressions as not being very representative. At the same time, it seems that his generalizations of other people and other nationalities are also of dubious quality, and relevance.

June 20, 2011 @ 3:31 am | Comment

@ Richard: What’s your problem? My comments were not directed at you. I see one of the commenters using the f word. I don’t see you complaining about it. Hey, do you want me to be really nasty to you? You’d better mind your own business. Boy, you got that? I’m an American also ex-paratrooper who served with the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. ARMY.

June 20, 2011 @ 3:38 am | Comment

@ S.K.Cheung: Dubious or not, I stand by what I wrote. What’s important to me is what I think, not what you think.

June 20, 2011 @ 4:17 am | Comment

I’m an American also ex-paratrooper who served with the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. ARMY.
Yes, and I’m Arnold Schwarzenegger.

June 20, 2011 @ 4:28 am | Comment

Richard, some of my relations in East Germany did feel suppressed, but there were many other “common people” in their neighborhood who did not feel that way, according to what they said and say. (It was no problem for a West German to discuss such things with people in East Germany, btw – something that is often used as an argument that China was different from what you think, too. Watching more West German than East German television wouldn’t make them feel that way either. You can live in a totalitarian state without feeling that it were actually totalitarian. Some – and they were really good people, no believing stalinists or likely informers – argued that the GDR was simply too vulnerable to remove the wall yet.

For another comparison – and this is neither to equate East Germany, nor Nazi Germany and China -, I can hear people from my grandparent’s generation say that many things were good during the Nazi era, and I sometimes hear people with childhood memories say the same thing. It’s been argued that Hitler would have won an overall majority in 1936, and possibly in 1940, too, when Germany took Paris. Many Germans didn’t feel suppressed. Quite a lot of them felt quite liberated. And many others, nazis or not, seem to have cherished Hitler’s welfare state without asking who was funding it.

But I wouldn’t think of that as a good measure to define totalitarianism, or its absence.

June 20, 2011 @ 4:41 am | Comment

@Justrecently: You wish you were Arnold Swarznegger, what a chott! LMAO!!!

June 20, 2011 @ 4:50 am | Comment

para, you can use the F word as much as you want to. What you can’t do is talk like thjis:

You two remind me of some stupid Americans who like to dish out but can not take it. You might be the losers I described in my post #18.

Thanks for your understanding.

JR, I visited East Berlin when I was young and was amazed at all the secret police everywhere (of course, this was around the Berlin Wall, where I entered the city so I may have had an unbalanced view), the guns, the tension. But whether or not East Germany is a good or bad example, I still will argue that China’s authoritarian and not totalitarian. Life indeed WAS good in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1941 (when things got increasingly radicalized) — IF you were of the right race. But even then, everyone knew that a joke about Hitler could lead to your death. Nazi Germany was a huge network of terror, and despite the very happy days many Germans spent, they were all aware of the Gestapo watching over them and of the concentration camps not so far away. People can still enjoy life in a totalitarian system, but they all know the good times will last only as long as you play by the rules. An indiscretion, a “tip” from an irate neighbor, could mean imprisonment, and even death. (I wrote an entire post on the joys of living in Nazi Germany and authoritarian China — best post I ever wrote, I think, thought that may not be saying much.)

This may be a futile conversation as we all have our different ways of measuring tyranny. Looking at Mao’s totalitarianism and what we have in China today, I don’t believe it’s fair to label China as totalitarian. Maybe “totalitarian lite,” if that makes people feel better.

June 20, 2011 @ 4:51 am | Comment

Let’s agree to disagree then, Richard.

June 20, 2011 @ 4:56 am | Comment

@ Richard: Your point is well taken.

June 20, 2011 @ 4:59 am | Comment

@para82. I love nothing better than a no-holds flame war, but unfortunately this is not the site. Your military experience notwithstanding.

June 20, 2011 @ 5:18 am | Comment

@ King Tubby: agreed.

June 20, 2011 @ 5:27 am | Comment

To #37:
“What’s important to me is what I think, not what you think.”
—yes, that comes across quite clearly. But then one wonders why you would come onto a blog, since your objectives can be easily satisfied by the mirror in your bathroom. And man do we have a lot of people who “stand by what (they) wrote”. I imagine these fine folks are “out-standing” in their field.

June 20, 2011 @ 6:30 am | Comment

@S.K.Cheung. Man, what’ s your fucking problem? You want to start a needless argument over semantics?

June 20, 2011 @ 6:53 am | Comment

@S.K.C. Okay, this para82 is a new dude in town. And I know the mirror statement was just waiting for a takedown.

Lets value add and get back to Parfitt’s book.

Seems to me this is the opposite side of the Martin Jacques coin When China Rules the World


The sceptic Will Hutton’s review is as good as any, and probably gives more attention to Jacques (a simplistic Marxist reinventing himself) than he deserves.

(For the record, I was a conscientous objector who avoided the draft by hiding out in a hippie commune. That experience totally corrupted me mind and body.)

June 20, 2011 @ 7:36 am | Comment

Troy Parfitt is welcome to slag off China if that’s how he gets his jollies. However, I’m not impressed by his egregious misuse of the word “alleviates”! Has he really been teaching English for ten years?

As for his prose style, I tend to share King Tubby’s view of the Yangtze cruise paragraph.

June 20, 2011 @ 9:03 am | Comment

It would be interesting how readers on China’s mainland (Beijing cab drivers, people in Hangzhou and so) respond to Parfitt’s book, but it’s a pity no publisher would translate it nowadays. Chinese by and large like to read books on their country by foreigners. What’s why those books were very popular in the late 1970s and 1980s when China first opened up to the rest of the world. For the same reason, Cankao Xiaoxi (Reference News) which picks up “positive” articles from foreign press has been a newspaper with the largest circulation for decades in China and is still at almost every newspaper booth. The average Chinese reader nowadays are more open-minded to observations of China from a foreign or different perspective. Bo Yang’s “Chinaman” had been one of the best sellers for years.

If Parfitt’s book is published in China, the responses might be like this, to use two old Chinese sayings: “Looking at flowers in a fog” and “You cannot know the shape of a mountain when you stand on it.” The latter suggests foreigners see things Chinese don’t see.

Chinese readers might say the same thing about the debate unfolding here on the book. Unfortunately, few of them have a chance to read it.

June 20, 2011 @ 10:52 am | Comment

Hmm… I found Jacques book to be well-researched, cogent, and much more skeptical than Hutton takes it for. Its important thesis was the same one that Fareed Zakaria frequently makes- that the rise of new asian powers will ultimately lead to a challenge to the “logic” of the Western world order. Hutton is too caught up in his worldview to shift and be able to understand other worldviews from within, which is where Jacques excels.

Yeah, I’ll be skipping Parfitt. I had my fill of arrogant English teachers three years ago.

June 20, 2011 @ 11:21 am | Comment

Like King Tubby says, this is sort of a mirror image of “When China Rules the World,” except that it’s written as a travelogue. Jacques indeed does seem simplistic, but I think it’s sad that he overdoes his case so much because there are interesting things in there. Without the hyperbole about China, the concept of “contested modernity” might get more attention and lead to a serious discussion about what a more modern, less Western world might look like. I also liked his chapter on why Japan, despite its looks, is very far ideologically from Western countries. His ideas on the future are quite off, though. He seems to think that everything will just continue like it is now (with Chinese growth rates at 10% a year, and India lagging behind) for another 40 years.

June 20, 2011 @ 11:46 am | Comment

Nicholas, like I said, Parfitt’s still a fun read. Even if you wince half the time.

Now I’m getting curious about Jacques’ book. Should I buy it?

June 20, 2011 @ 12:20 pm | Comment

@JR – Someone I spoke to recently who was in a better position to know than most said that observation of foreigners and the general population in China is at around the same level it was in the DDR, but that modern technology allows such observation to be much less obtrusive. I have no idea if this is true or not, but the spending figures for internal security suggests it may be.

June 20, 2011 @ 12:38 pm | Comment

To KT:
between what you brought up, and the book highlighted in the OP, I think all bases are covered. Based on Hutton’s review, it seems Parfitt should be a must-read for him.

My question is: does China want to rule the world? These two texts that book-end the spectrum seem to presume that it does. But that seems to go against its stated philosophy, which is to emphasize internal improvement, all-the-while encouraging others to mind their own business as it goes about doing so. Because of that, I don’t think ruling the world is high on the to-do list right now.

Of course, that may change. Jacques predicates his vision on continued growth over a very long timeline. If that growth falters, which, if history is any guide, is a certainty at some point, then maybe China won’t rule the world. On the other hand, if China makes the political and legal progresses that serve as her Achilles heel in the eyes of Parfitt and Hutton, then at some future point maybe China will.

But for now, it’s purely speculative. Perhaps the two authors should get together for a friendly wager, and check back in an agreed-to number of years. History may also look back, say in 2100, and declare a winner.

June 20, 2011 @ 1:53 pm | Comment

This is an okay read, sort of close to Victor Shih on economic points being made, but John Lee has a bit of an anti-Sino agenda. Advises the Oz govt at times.

The piece on structural flaws in the economy.

But there is a much better piece on China by Benedict Anderson TLS which I found on ESWN. Posted both on ChinaDivide. Also a copy:can’t find it.

June 20, 2011 @ 3:12 pm | Comment

@S.K.Cheung. “Because of that, I don’t think ruling the world is high on the to-do list right now”.

Totally agree. Its more like imposing happiness on Guangdong, plus food inflation.

June 20, 2011 @ 3:21 pm | Comment

Excellent review of the book and I must say, some comments are very interesting as well.

I’d add one more (small) critics to the book, there is no digital version available! 🙂

June 20, 2011 @ 3:30 pm | Comment


Don’t apologise for the length of your review. It was excellent and neccesary.

June 20, 2011 @ 5:21 pm | Comment

just scan through it. Hmm yes, I agree on you the argument that the book you mentioned didnt make a sounding argument on why he thinks China wont rule the world.

Borrowing that opinion here, however, I think China wont be able to rule the world unless the government can learnt to admit history it a more decent way. Yes yes, they admit Cultural Revolution, but merely acknowledgement is not enough now, to be a true power, one should learn to master both negative and positive forces (here I am shameless borrowing Hal Jordan’s advantage as human green lantern).

One can argue that China has its special tradition, cultural, kinship, language and even domestic environment. These are all true. But if we take a look at some other richer countries around the world, we have to ask, why western nation-states still standing up? The ability of admitting history in a relavently full scale, or at least the possible for its people to talk about it openly in the media is the key I think. Admitting history, means one need to admit his shortage, therefore he will be able to compromised then negociate or maybe even cooperate with others. As far as we have seem now, China does not yet possess such ability.

It came arcoss to me while I am watching a documentary on Channel 4 here in UK. It is about a War like Strike happened in Britain in 1984. You can search the video, it’s Call Strike: When Britain went to War. It’s courses, its scale, governmental reactions and worker-student union activities are largely smiliar to that of 1989 in Beijing China. Yet, yesterday, a public television channel was able to have a 105 minutes programme about it, interview the then participants and witness, discussed it, or even let their anger out. These, are still cant be done it China.

For me, as I keep on thinking why I dont believe China will be stronger in decades but i HAVE TO give it at least 100 years, I found on standard bar. The ability of admitting history and talk about it in large scale must be one

June 20, 2011 @ 5:29 pm | Comment

Got it, but don’t know how long the link will last.


June 21, 2011 @ 4:31 am | Comment

Excellent review, KT — thanks for the link.

Bowen, thanks a lot for commenting. You have an excellent point. Great nations cannot sweep their histories under the carpet,

June 21, 2011 @ 6:55 am | Comment

[…] 北京烤鸭– 书评《为什么中国不会统治世界》——作者从一开始就表现出对中国和台湾抱有极大的蔑视 […]

June 21, 2011 @ 1:54 pm | Pingback

A thorough review, glad I don’t have to read the book as I suspected 10 years in Taiwan doesn’t necessarily qualify one to write a book on China.

Glad you plugged Michael Turton. Michael is one of the hardest working bloggers in the region but is seldom mentioned by pundits and readers on the big side of the strait.

June 21, 2011 @ 10:22 pm | Comment

“Remedies” for disaster? Somebody has been abroad too long and forgotten English.

June 21, 2011 @ 10:34 pm | Comment

A big thank you to Richard for reviewing the book here and for all the comments. It’s always interesting to see what China watchers have to say. Re “remedies” for disaster and “alleviating” one from all responsibility, the copy Richard received was a review copy, an ARC. There were two or three other doozies in there, not mention a dozen typos, formatting glitches, etc. A few of the ARCs were actually printed upside down. Things happen. The book has undergone a couple of revisions since that ARC came off the press, and we’re pretty certain we’ve got all the bugs out of it. It’s been tightened up considerably. You’d think it would be a relatively simple matter to get a book precisely how you want it and that a writer, a proofreader, an editor, and a couple of dozen advanced readers could spot all the problems, but, incredibly, things slip through. It took almost 50 comments here for someone to notice those mistakes (or say something). Again, thanks for the feedback, and if interested, you can read the prologue and first chapter on my website for free. Just make sure you come back here after you’re done. Thanks a lot and take care. Troy Parfitt

June 22, 2011 @ 9:42 am | Comment

China rules already the world, but it is its own inner world. The outside world, that is whole world minus china’s inner world, has always been of peripheric/little interest to China. Nothing of real importance to be found there.

It is a similar mindset like in the classical world over here, everything outside the known/civilized world is not significant or of little importance.

That that outside world results in the end to be far bigger and also more significant than their mindset allowed, is something that all old civilizations found, sometimes with catastrophic consequences, at some point of time in history.

It is risky not to see beyond the fences of our own mindset.

June 22, 2011 @ 6:52 pm | Comment

You know, given the fairly harsh nature of a lot of the criticism on this page, you’d think Troy Parfitt might want to do a bit more in the way of explaining.

June 22, 2011 @ 9:42 pm | Comment

@justrecently: I think Michael Turnton is a troll blogger, no different from those commentators, who oppose his ideas and get labeled as “trolls” by him (and usually get deleted). He’s long lost his credibility in the Taiwan blogosphere and if he would not censor his comments, most of them would be negative and critical of him. We do not have anyone here (among native English speakers) who would have the critical thinking and intellect of Richard. We do however have a bunch of very good travel bloggers, Taiwan is truly a gem that has to be discovered.

June 22, 2011 @ 11:37 pm | Comment

Laowai, that may be harsh. I’ve enjoyed reading Michael’s blog for years, and all of us know his name, so he must be doing something right to win readership, whether we agree with him or not. Agree about Taiwan being a gem, and anyone who does discover it tends to be smitten.

June 22, 2011 @ 11:58 pm | Comment

FOARP. Sure, if you or anyone else has any specific questions, feel free to send me a direct email: teparfitt@gmail.com. I’m quite busy these days, but I’d be happy to try and answer queries. Thanks for the suggestion. A bit of interaction is a great idea. Cheers and have a nice day. Troy

June 23, 2011 @ 12:04 am | Comment

Exactly the kind of arrogant, condescending reply I’d expect from the English teacher. Why reach out to bloggers if you refuse to interact?

June 23, 2011 @ 12:29 am | Comment

Sorry to drag this further down a tangent, but been reading Turton’s blog for years, and it’s pretty sad how much he lets his viewpoints get in the way of facts.

I remember when he was trying to cover the 2008 Presidential elections, for example. Kept broadcasting all these messages of hope and goodness for Frank Hsieh until the very end, when he claimed he foresaw the DPP’s defeat right from the get-go due to their failure to connect with younger voters. Interestingly enough he never made that fact apparent during the campaign, not sure if he felt that would alienate himself from his reliably pan-Green readership?

June 23, 2011 @ 1:28 am | Comment

WEI, if you have any questions, I’d be happy to entertain them, too. This is Richard’s site, not mine, and I don’t wish to make it a forum with me discussing my book. He’s done a pretty good job of reviewing it, and people seem to be fairly interested in discussing his review, so I’ll leave them to it. I don’t wish to disrupt the flow of the thread, and if I have already, my apologies. But the friendly and sincere offer is still there to contact me if you or anyone else so wishes. Thanks again, and – really – all the best. Troy

June 23, 2011 @ 1:37 am | Comment

That was uncalled for, wei. Troy comes across as quite reasonable and polite.

June 23, 2011 @ 2:12 am | Comment

Slim, I have to agree.

Wei, please tone it down.

June 23, 2011 @ 2:27 am | Comment

Point taken. Sorry Richard.

June 23, 2011 @ 2:37 am | Comment

Just a Taiwanese Laowai: Turton’s blog is one which I read frequently, and where I comment hardly ever, exactly because I feel that a discussion tends to turn difficult very quickly. As Tibet’s supreme monk likes to say – anger is useless (in certain situations, anyway).

But then, why shouldn’t I read Turton’s blog, when I’m even reading Xinhua or Huanqiu Shibao? What I can say for sure is that Turton takes a different perspective – different from most blogs and media I know. And the photos provide nice windows on the beautiful island for sure.

June 23, 2011 @ 3:50 am | Comment

Ai Weiwei is out!!!

June 23, 2011 @ 3:58 am | Comment

Yes, and Hu Jia may be out on Sunday.

June 23, 2011 @ 4:00 am | Comment

Foarp, I think an aspect that matters is that East German authorities were never trying to hide the presence of their security people. (They were keen on hiding their informants, of course.)

The older the republic grew, the more they emphasized certain aspects of their German heritage, explicitly when it came to Martin Luther, Thomas Müntzer or even Goethe, and in style when it came to Prussia. In some ways, travelling in East Germany was like travelling a history museum of Germany – and in some ways, it still is.

June 23, 2011 @ 4:09 am | Comment

@JR – The specific example he cited was DDR security men genuinely watching people at a location in East Berlin through newspapers with eye-holes cut in them. Fairly obviously, modern technology has made such comical methods of spying superfluous.

Timothy Garton Ash’s excellent book The File is actually a pretty good resource (at least in English, no doubt there are many such books in German) for information on low-level information gathering in the DDR. The things I liked best about it were the way in which it drew direct comparisons to intelligence gathering in the UK without drawing false distinctions: the difference lay in the pervasive and unchecked nature of DDR intelligence gathering, not in the techniques used, which are mostly identical to those used by MI5 and MI6.

Something important mentioned in the book is that what has come to define the DDR – pervasive spying – was actually only really true of the last ten-fifteen years or so of the Democratic Republic’s existence. The Stasi grew by leaps and bound during the 80’s, and it is impossible for me (or, I suspect, anyone else familiar with the situation in the PRC) to read this without thinking of the growth in security spending in the PRC, and the well-known growth in people working in internet censorship.

@Taiwanese Laowai – Just like JR, I read The View From Taiwan frequently. Unlike JR, I also comment regularly, however, probably half of my comments are deleted. These are often replaced with messages saying that I am engaging in ad hominem criticism, or accusing me of being a “pro-China troll”, or accusing me of being an “idiot”. I have never seen anything in what I have written that could be reasonably misinterpreted as ad hominem, wholly idiotic, or even marginally troll-ish (even of the “pro-China” variety).

The bottom line, though, is it’s Michael Turton’s blog, and he can do whatever he likes with it. I choose to put my comments on his blog so that he can do this knowing that this is the kind of behaviour he engages in. Mutual friends tell me that he is not nearly so odd in person, and I am inclined to believe them.

@Richard – If there’s anywhere in the world I would most like to go if an opportunity came up (i.e., anything interesting which isn’t English teaching) it would be Taiwan. It’s a gorgeous place, particularly the area around Taroko gorge, and the people are genuinely the nicest I have met in any corner of the world.

June 23, 2011 @ 7:09 am | Comment

Taroko Gorge is simply sublime. I think about moving back to Taiwan every day. If only the economy there didn’t suck so badly….

June 23, 2011 @ 7:22 am | Comment

A good article written, I believe, as something of a retort to the Parfitt book. Both have their merits, I think.


June 23, 2011 @ 11:08 am | Comment

canrun, thanks for the recommendation but it’s only fair to point out that I haven’t yet read Troy Parfitt’s book and would never comment on any book until I had. Wukailong at our blog has a copy on the way to him and will review it for us once it’s received and read. The particular post you reference is solely based on my personal experience and mindset. For all I know, Troy and I might or might not agree on a range of topics but I wouldn’t want to assume either way.

June 24, 2011 @ 12:01 am | Comment

Here’s another review. For the record, I never refer to the Chinese as “unsophisticated.” Rather, I characterize the China-set-to-rule-the-world argument as such.


And here’s another one, a bit more enthusiastic. But whatever: some assessments are “good,” some aren’t; that’s the way the fortune cookie crumbles.


Also, the Kindle edition will be available for pre-order in a week or two.



June 24, 2011 @ 9:18 pm | Comment

He’s a good writer but doesn’t know his head from his ass, apparently. Living it up in expensive hotels and looking out the window doesn’t make you an expert on a nation.

June 26, 2011 @ 6:22 am | Comment

e.g in the first statement of the video you claimed China has nothing to offer to the world culturally because “Confucian hierarchy” creates inefficiency.

Nonsense, integral to Chinese culture is the idea that people in position of power should merit it (shocking to the West, I know).

I agree that China’s culture has little to offer to the West because the West is to vain and laughably arrogant to recognize that their “civilization” is fundamentally self-destructive, delusional, brutal and unsustainable.

June 26, 2011 @ 6:25 am | Comment

Richard, the economy is not so bad. Come and cover the upcoming elections, so that we don’t only need to rely on Turnton 😉 Joking.

June 26, 2011 @ 9:56 am | Comment

Thanks for that By yourfriend. I didn’t stay in any expensive hotels in China (quite the contrary, though I did stay in a “first class” cabin on a Yantze cruise), but you’re correct to point out I’m not an expert. I admit as much in the prologue. And it’s true that people in power often don’t deserve to be there. I think a cursory inspection of politicians and public officials can highlight that readily enough. In my own country, cronyism and nepotism are a real scourge. In fact, this old dominion is an emminently unmeritocratic domain, to its detriment, but because it’s a cultural condition, many, I think, are too blinkered to see it, or at least reluctant to comment, if they even care.

It’s important to bear in mind that my book doesn’t represent an endorsement for the West, and I’d like to think I’m aware of how smug and hypocritcal the West can be. But thanks for the reminder. The arrogance of the West is, in my opinion, undeniable and something that needs to be mentioned, so good on you for bringing it up.

I’m just reading Colin Thubron’s Behind the Wall. Never read him before; didn’t even know who he was. But then, I didn’t know who Simon Winchester was until a few months ago, so there you are. Thubron’s really, really good, one of the best travel writers I’ve ever read. Maybe if I live to be 90, I’ll manage something 70 percent as good.

Anyway, there’s your friendly reading tip du jour.

Cheers. Troy Parfitt

June 26, 2011 @ 10:20 am | Comment

From the Henry Higgins School of Standard English Teaching to the Benighted.

To be sung to the tune of “A Hymn to Him”:

“Why can’t the Chinese be more like the West?
Westerners are honest, so thoroughly square;
Eternally noble, historic’ly fair;
Who, when you win, will always give your back a pat.
Well, why can’t the Chinese be like that?
….etc. etc.
Why can’t the Chinese be more like the West?
Westerners are decent, such regular chaps.
Ready to help you through any mishaps.
Ready to buck you up whenever you are glum.
Why can’t the Chinese be a chum?
….etc. etc.
Why can’t the Chinese . . . be like me?”

June 29, 2011 @ 12:19 am | Comment

There’s a little black spot on the sun today,
It’s the same old thing as yesterday,
Oh, I have stood here before…

Oops, sorry, that’s not really keeping with the theme of things. Here. How’s this?

I like Chinese food
The waiters are never rude…
Wo ai Zhongguo ren, wo ai Zhongguo ren
Ni hao ma, ni hao ma, ni hao ma, zai jian

You know that one?

June 29, 2011 @ 6:55 am | Comment

OK, Troy’s gone bye-byes . . .

June 29, 2011 @ 12:37 pm | Comment

If you want to see another Canadian ranting about China, you have to go here now. Amazing.

June 29, 2011 @ 11:02 pm | Comment

integral to Chinese culture is the idea that people in position of power should merit it

Hehe. And the CCP be the judge.

June 29, 2011 @ 11:27 pm | Comment

I think that Canucklehead needs English lessons. “Canada people don’t have to shut up!” Canada people?

Wow, that’s pretty ugly. He’s complaining about having to show his passport to get on a train? If he’s a tourist, what other piece of ID would he have to show? Maybe there was more to it than that, but that’s the only objective thing I heard him say.

From his accent, I bet he’s from Ontario or Manitoba. He’s obviously not a soft-spoken, impossibly polite, mild mannered Maritimer like me. Bloody Upper Canadians. 😉

FOARP, that “I Like Chinese” song is by Monty Python. It’s kind of cute, actually.

June 30, 2011 @ 1:18 am | Comment


“I Like Chinese.” Monty Python.

June 30, 2011 @ 3:46 am | Comment

Maybe there was more to it than that, but that’s the only objective thing I heard him say.

Another objective thing to say would be that he held a glass with something in it in his hand.

June 30, 2011 @ 1:26 pm | Comment


Yeah, I didn’t notice that the first time. I was in the library and fiddling to turn the sound down. I think I know who that guy is: It’s Julian from the Trailer Park Boys. He’s usually much calmer, though. See the video.


June 30, 2011 @ 8:14 pm | Comment

Another arrogant self-appointed judge of Chinese culture. If he so despise China, please, do everyone a favor and leave. Why did he stay ten years and actually write a book about his miserable experience? An attention whore with limited perception. I wouldnt waste a penny on his “book” or whatever you call it.

July 5, 2011 @ 9:24 am | Comment

Who said China wanted to rule the world? China just wants Taiwan back and nothing more…China is not America who wants total world domination,through wars and genocide and stealing other nations natural resources. In the name of freedom,that’s a pretty ugly image of freedom.

July 5, 2011 @ 9:01 pm | Comment

Thank you.

Publishers Weekly just reviewed the book. Here’s the link.


Thanks again.

July 5, 2011 @ 10:09 pm | Comment

Let’s see if Taiwan wants China “back”. Would seem to me that ppl have to live under the CCP’s rule for some decades before they’d get used to it.

Besides, some people around the South China Sea may not quite agree with the notion that China wants Taiwan and nothing more. I’m sure Beijing’s imperial rule will produce a growing number of ancient sea maps, as time goes by and the fleet is growing.

July 6, 2011 @ 4:08 am | Comment

A look into the future – The Stupid Mermaid.

July 6, 2011 @ 4:11 am | Comment

Actually its not like “Beijing’s imperial rule” has produced any more ancient sea maps or claims over the years. Noticed that “democratic Taiwan” got exactly the same claim in the case of South China Sea? In fact Beijing got their ancient sea maps/claims directly from Taiwan(ROC) and they are not claiming any more because “time goes by and the fleet is growing”.

July 6, 2011 @ 5:30 am | Comment

That would be the KMT, Fseed, which is pretty much modelled after the CPSU – just as is the CCP. You see, that’s why the CCP and the KMT can talk with each other. They speak the same language.

July 6, 2011 @ 1:34 pm | Comment

Still the claims of KMT/CCP on South China Sea were as they have always been, at least its not like they got those claims yesterday and their claims isnt realy “growing”, in fact some of the other claimants are using exactly the same strategy.

July 6, 2011 @ 5:37 pm | Comment

China will follow the oil, or gas, and produce “ancient-times” arguments every time. I suggest that you read this article.

July 7, 2011 @ 7:53 pm | Comment

China will follow the oil, or gas, and produce “ancient-times” arguments every time. I suggest that you read this article.

July 7, 2011 @ 7:54 pm | Comment

china is too curupt to be a world leader.
just sharing thier culture is ok.
human rights and trade as well as thier government
should be seen as trully shameful by all chinese
and undergo an amazing reform.

August 15, 2011 @ 9:12 am | Comment

Just thought I’d mention, if it’s all right to do so, the Kindle edition of Why China Will Never Rule the World is now available on Amazon.com (as of Aug. 23, well in advance of the Sept. 15, 2011 release of the physical book). Xie xie.

August 29, 2011 @ 8:06 am | Comment

[…] Review in today's SMP has it under satire and is pretty positive (4.5 stars). This review on Pekingduck is mixed, but takes what he says literally. Here's a video of Parfitt talking about the […]

September 11, 2011 @ 9:15 pm | Pingback

China may produce “ancient time” clause often because they do have the history to prove it and not made from air, justrecently. Their history is long enough and perhaps if you view the Qing dynasty maritime maps, you’ll discover what the legacy of ROC and PRC island territories were supposed to be.

The Diaoyu island is the delimiter territory of the Qing to the Okinawa (Ryukyu) Kingdom. Japan claim it in 1895 right after the First Sino-Japanese war instead of right after the annexation of Okinawa in 1879 or before cast doubt on its claim. The Chinese protested but since they just lost the war, only meekly.

September 13, 2011 @ 3:50 am | Comment

West lake is just so ordinary a lake in itself, in old times it was Hangzhou being a prosperous and the capital city that made the lake special, and now it’s the local goverment making hypes to increase the price of the land(and because the Chinese government owns every piece of the land they would make more profit from it) and attract more tourists. The sceneries is so average and the cultral relics so irrelevent. You even can’t ride a bike along the lake because there are the stupid 城管s who won’t allow you to for no reason. If you don’t understand why Hangzhou was named the paradise on earth, let me explain to you: first, don’t view paradise as the paradise described in Bible or whatever, it’s the paradise of the Chinese people where the Jade Emperor still rules the world, it’s a place where everybody eats well and dress well, see what it is?
–commenting from Hangzhou

September 15, 2011 @ 11:31 am | Comment

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