Saturday, September 03, 2011

Book Review: Why China Will Never Rule the World

Why China Will Never Rule the World: Travels in the Two Chinas
Troy Parfitt
Western Hemisphere Press 419 pp US$20.95

In Why China Will Never Rule the World, Troy Parfitt, who sent me a copy of the book to review, presents a journey of discovery through China to determine what China's rise really is, with Taiwan offered as a kind of commentary on China, but more importantly, as a place explored in its own right.

After a prologue in which he sets out the aims of his quest:
"I wanted to know what lay behind the headlines and images..... I needed to know the truth. More precisely, I needed to know my own truth."
....Parfitt travels all over China, engaging with all sorts of individuals. And indeed comes to his own truth.

Nietzsche once observed that people with character have their defining experience, which occurs repeatedly, and so it is with Parfitt. The stereotypical chapter opens with Parfitt visiting some location in China or Taiwan. A review of history, often quite informative, follows. Then Parfitt meets people -- boys, girls, tour groups, taxi drivers, book authors, other foreigners, fellow students, a cross-section of ordinary people going about their ordinary lives in China. These are presented in lively and economical language. Parfitt then usually asks those he meets what China has to offer the world, or what they know about the world around them, frequently eliciting various forms of error, apathy and ignorance.

As a travelogue this book is often quite enjoyable, with many pithy observations: "As a rule of thumb in the Chinese universe, the more something is said, the more you can assume it to be untrue." It gives an honest portrayal of how locals in China might interact with foreigners, and Parfitt usually reports interactions without open judgment. Speaking as someone who knows a lot about Taiwan but less about China, the section on China, which occupies about 90% of the book, was more useful and interesting than when he discusses Taiwan, writing which exhibits errors, misunderstandings and just plain strangenesses. There's plenty of history in the work, but it could have benefited from greater exploration of the anthropological and sociological literature that could have shed a deeper, brighter light on the behaviors that Parfitt was witnessing.

If you are looking for a tale of personal travel in China, Parfitt's book will definitely suit. How that will fit into the reader's understanding of what China is or will become, is up to the reader.
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6 comments:

Ryan said...

Any chance I could borrow this book? I'd love to read and review it.

Anonymous said...

Parfitt, by any chance wasn't very critical of Taiwan, did he?

Michael Turton said...

He wasn't very critical.

Anonymous said...

You should have a link to amazon. Then we could immediately buy the book AND you could make a commission.

word verification: pants

Wow a real word for once.

Anonymous said...

Michael, I heard that Taiwan wasn't spared some criticism from Parfitt in his book which is why I asked. Based on your description of his writing on Taiwan as "writing which exhibits errors, misunderstandings and just plain strangenesses", I'm thinking he did say some negative things about Taiwan that you disagree with?

CP

FOARP said...

MT - Assume at least the same level of error to reign throughout this book. My advice - go and see China for yourself, not necessarily the huge cities (which are often full of "face projects"), but the pokey out-of-the-way backwaters. There's even some good places to go cycling there.