Zhang Weiwei made quite a splash in China with his books The China Wave and The China Ripple. Both bestsellers, they defended the China development model and refuted the desirability, or even the need, to follow the Western template (if there is such a thing). His staunch defence of China’s culture and politics (the two essentially being inseparable) was a forceful counterpoint to the idea of China being Westernized by economic development. Now The China Horizon aims to tell the “glory and dream of a civilizational state”. The thesis remains the same, just presented with further details, data and argument.

Is Zhang’s argument compelling? In one sense it is irrefutable. As a political insider (he was once a translator for Deng Xiaoping, and includes a rather unnecessary hymn of praise to the great leader), you have the sense of the book being close to official (if unstated) thinking. As a document of the assumptions and prejudices of the Chinese political class, it is unrivalled. But on the other hand, when examined at critically, its thesis is predicated on shaky premises. Zhang is jingoistically anxious to present China in the strongest light, and to expose the flaws of the West, but does so by straining credibility. He says that Western governments lack continuity because of the multi-party system, forgetting the role of civil services in ensuring precisely that. Noting that a sixth of the US population lack medical insurance (true in early 2014), he fails to mention the continued rapid decline of the uninsured under Obamacare, not to mention the considerable weaknesses of the Chinese system. Much is made of the financial crisis of 2008, with Zhang using it as to demonstrate Western decline, in comparison to Chinese strength and wisdom. These constant partialities obscure Zhang’s numerous just remarks regarding the Western powers’ hypocrisy and self-interest.

The China Horizon was first published in China in 2014, and is now for the first time available in English. The text is unfortunately riddled with minor grammatical errors and infelicitous phrasing. One expects better from a professional publisher.

Published in Business Tianjin

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