Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Will China Wake?


In an article in the London Times, titled "Currency Culture Confucius: China's writ will run across the world", Martin Jacques, quoting Goldman Sachs, says that China's economy will, in 2027 (just 18 years hence) overtake America's in size; and will, in 2050, be twice as big.

Not only that. The renminbi will replace the dollar as the world's dominant currency; the international financial system will be centred in Shanghai; and Mandarin will replace English as the lingua franca.

What non-Chinese (read American) children learn in school will also change, since they will learn much more about Chinese history. For instance the voyages of Zheng He; the formation of the Qin dynasty; the inventions of the Song dynasty; and the 1949 revolution. Confucius will be regarded as a philosopher of global, not just Chinese, significance; Beijing, not New York, will be Where It's At; and Chinese traditional medicine will spread across the globe.

Last, but not least, Chinese films will exercise a growing influence on the popular imagination. So, presumably, we'll read in the National Enquirer and its like, not about whether Brad Pitt will dump Angelina Jolie and return to Jennifer Aniston; but whether Carina Lau and Tony Leung will tie the knot, and whether Zhang Ziyi, after her heart-rending beak-up with Huo Qishan, will have the fortitude to marry Vive Nevo.

In any event, the next generation, and those after, will grow up in a world in which what we now take for granted, won't be. They will learn from other cultures in a new way. They will find this quite disorienting.

A problem with all this, is that what experts predict, rarely manifests. In the 1970s, for instance, it was agreed that Japan would, in two or three decades, bestride the world like a colossus, and everyone would be speaking Japanese. Well, it didn't quite turn out that way.

And no-one predicted the computer chip, which has since revolutionised our world as have few other inventions.

As to how today's China will turn out, how about that, as its' now fast-growing economy matures, so its' rate of growth will slow? as happened with with Japan, whose formerly fast-growing economy has, since the early 1990s, grown no faster than that of any other industrialised nation. So China, although now a fast-growing power, may soon grow far more slowly, and thus will remain in America's shadow for as long as it's safe to predict.

Or how about that, as China becomes more and more prosperous, its' more and more prosperous and well-educated citizens will demand democracy, which China's authoritarian government won't grant? So a violent revolution, or even civil-war, could break-out, putting the Chinese economy severely back on its' heels, thereby throttling all thoughts of the scenario which Martin Jacques lays out.

Besides, how will fast-growing India react to a China throwing its weight around? How about that it will be India, with its parliamentary democracy and freedom of the press, which will dominate the world instead of China?

So the world's children of the future may learn, not Chinese history, but Indian; and it may be, not Mandarin, but Hindi which will become the lingua franca; and the world's financial centre may be, not Shanghai, but Mumbai; and it is Bollywood which will replace Hollywood in the world's cinematic imagination.

Thus when we read the National Enquirer and its like, it'll be not of Carina Lau and Tony Leung, but of Rani Mukherjee and Aditya Chopra, and whether they are still an item; and it'll be not of Zhang Ziyi and Vive Nevo, but of Monica Bedi and Rahul Mahajan, and whether the fling they were reported having, led to something more serious.