October 09, 2011
Why China Will Never Rule the World by Troy Parfitt
Why China Will Never Rule the World is an interesting book. Indeed, it can fit into many genres; travel, history, commentary, etc. But I do have to say that to me, this book mainly hit in the history realm. But it's not the boring history you learn in high school, this book was written the way history should be taught. It brings in life experiences and neatly ties them together with history of the area or China as a whole.
Troy Parfitt, after living and teaching in Taiwan for awhile (what he calls one of the two Chinas) decides to go undercover as a tourist and experience China and its people and then return to .Taiwan to do the same there. He travels by several different methods through China's busy streets and visits many places of interest, such as the Terracotta Army. Interspersed with his travels he adds focus to the history or some of the political struggles that China has faced in that area. His travels in China take up probably 2/3's of the books before he heads back to Taiwan. There he takes the opportunity to compare the two (and he does call them the Two Chinas) and their people. In Taiwan there are still history parts mixed in, but he also goes to visit some of the more famous sites, like the Nuclear Power Plant there, to uncover the real truth about its shape. There were a lot of different places that he visited and he didn't shy away from the bigger cities. There were some predominant themes in the book; being solicited for "massages", seedy hotels, etc. Which is an interesting commentary on Chinese culture itself.
One should note that the title of this book, Why China Will Never Rule the World, is a statement that Parfitt uses his travels to try to explain. With talk of China being the next superpower, he is a bit skeptical at this happening because of the people and their practices. He uses this book to show why he thinks that and also talks to the people themselves to get their thoughts on if they might become the next superpower, or if Mandarin will become a world language. It is an interesting concept as it goes against the grain of what we've been hearing about China lately.
It is easy to see that Parfitt has done his homework for this book. It was chock full of information (and had a corresponding bibliography to back it up) and it even offers little known information to the more casual reader who has never delved in deep to China or it's history. The writing is largely very good and maintains a steady tone throughout the book. Even writing about history, Parfitt keeps it interesting with his anecdotes on his travels. That's not to say it doesn't get tedious at times though. Sometimes there was so much information presented that I had to put it down for a little bit and come back so I could keep the facts in my head straight. I was also a bit troubled to see that overall, this book has a more negative tone. I realize China is in the midst of a struggle and finding itself in later years, but I would have liked to see more positive aspects of the life and people there than were in this book. Still, it was very interesting and overall I liked the book and even think I learned from it.
I think this is a great book for anyone planning to travel to China to read (or those just interested in its history and people). It does a good job of setting the tone for what to expect when traveling and everyone should know a bit of background about the place they are traveling to. Well researched and well written, I would probably look into other books by Parfitt.
Why China Will Never Rule the World