A recent IO9 article explores the concept of China as the future superpower of the world, over the U.S. or any other nation. The article mostly touches on attempts to explore those ideas in books, movies and television… though it doesn’t get too deeply into the things that could bring about such a situation, nor judge the desirability of such a future. In most cases, writers have used a present-brush to paint the future, and in so doing, have neglected a great swath of the possible palate of colors.
China’s recent and rapid growth and development, combined with the problems being faced by the West, have prompted many writers to speculate that China may eventually overtake the existing superpowers—namely, in most cases, the U.S.—and take the position of dominant social, political and financial force in the world. Most of the treatments given in media have either been very subtle, or have taken advantage of most of the Western stereotypes regarding Eastern culture, and have tattooed one over the other in a rather gross fashion.
As usual, the truth will certainly be somewhere in-between. Just as the West has been influenced by certain areas of Eastern culture (which, it must be noted, is as varied as there are Eastern nations), so China has been, and is being, influenced by Western culture. And neither side’s cultures are static: They evolve, sometimes sensibly, sometimes chaotically, depending on many social, political, financial and social factors and events. At a future point in which China becomes the dominant superpower, it might not look that different than the West… or it might look like nothing recognizable to the Easterners, or the Westerners, of today.
For that matter, the very concept of superpower-nations is rapidly evolving, as interests become more globally-influenced, and nations have to come to grips with the reality that “no man is an island.” Once of China’s greatest challenges, right now, is how to accelerate and advance their industrial base while dealing with the rampant pollution of their air, ground and water that has so challenged the West. Their solutions so far have been a combination of internal innovation, authoritarian control, PR whitewashing and international solution-shopping, the results have been predictably mixed, and the ramifications will have global impact.
Technology is another area in which China finds itself in a perpetual embrace with the rest of the world: Between manufacturing products for other countries, and creating knock-offs of other countries’ products for themselves, China is trying to play both sides of an international commerce game, selling legitimately on one hand while cheating with the other. As they become more involved with the global market, they will have to deal with a world that will be increasingly intolerant of underhanded dealings, and force them to play fair. Or they will have to consider their own action to force the matter. If this attitude doesn’t change, China may not be in a position to dominate anyone, as an entire world’s resistance can be too much to overcome.
And finally, communications are rapidly homogenizing the planet, spreading ideas, wealth and influence over an ever-increasing area and changing the face of internationalism and global politics. If, as some suggest, the Industrial Revolution will eventually be replaced by the Information Revolution, we may not even have superpower-nations in the future, and the very idea of one geographical region dominating the rest of the world may become ludicrously quaint.
More likely, we’ll continue to see the growing inter-cultural mixing centered in the U.S. and spreading to other countries and cultures. This mixing has often taken the form of instilling American culture on other countries… but not always; and, of course, as American culture is by nature a mixing of other cultures into our own, American culture is in fact a Global culture, mixing and matching the best of all cultures and presenting it back to the world to use as it will. And much of China’s culture is made up of some of that American cultural remix.
So: Chinese global domination? It could happen… if at all, it would have to be soon, while there are still countries in a position to dominate. But even if it does happen, it may be a domination in name only; and at street level, it may be almost impossible to tell.