Though they are expressed with varying degrees of expertise, it’s not difficult to predict that China will become a global superpower, an economic titan, and a major geopolitical force in our current century. The foundations for this new power are already laid, and China’s economic performance, in particular, continues to re-write the rulebook. Assertions and predictions like these tend to provoke uncertainty and fear among those who might resent China’s recent successes; I write just as a new US administration is working to articulate its attitude to China, so this feels like an appropriate time to help our students understand China’s new role in world affairs.
When discussing The Middle Kingdom with my students, I’m always careful on two different fronts. First, I admit publicly (here, and in my classroom) that I am not an expert on this subject. I spent four years in China, teaching and traveling, but this was a bare fraction of what is needed to gain an ‘understanding’ of the country; I’ve spoken with old China hands who doubt it’s ever possible for a westerner to claim that they ‘get it’. I’ve learned a lot, and I enjoy using that knowledge to help others, but I’d never in a thousand years claim that I ‘get it’, either.