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How China will -- and won't -- change the world

China's astonishing urbanization could bring a new era of supercities, but its cultural norms probably won't eclipse American dominance.

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Charles Darwin, whose 200th birth anniversary was marked last year, understood that all life is a struggle with old forms giving way to new forms. And human society is part of this struggle.

What is the new reality that is struggling to emerge from the old? History is not predetermined. There are, at any point in time, a number of possible futures, each, as it were, a state of partial equilibrium. And every crisis is a discontinuity from one partial equilibrium state to another within what scenario analysts call a “cone of possibilities.”

Considering the “cone of possibilities” that will unfold in the coming decades, the key relationship in the world to watch will be that between the US and China. The core challenge is the peaceful incorporation of China into the global system of governance, which in turn will change the global system itself.

The transformation of China itself is the most important development in this context. Much has been written about the reemergence of China, but I would like to focus on three points.

China’s sense of self

The first point is China’s sense of itself. Over the centuries, it has been the historical duty of every Chinese dynasty to write the history of the previous one. Twenty-four histories have been written so far. The last dynasty, the Qing Dynasty, lasted from 1644 to the Republican revolution of 1911. Its official history is only now being written after almost a century.

No other country or civilization has this sense of its own continuity. For the official history of the People’s Republic, I suppose we would have to wait a couple of hundred years.


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