However, China’s sense of itself is both a strength and a weakness. It is a strength because it gives Chinese civilization its self-confidence and its tenacity. Chinese leaders often say that while China should learn from the rest of the world, China would have to find its own way to the future. But it is also a conceit, and this conceit makes it difficult for Chinese ideas and institutions to become global in a diverse world.
To be sure, the Chinese have no wish to convert non-Chinese into Chinese-ness. In contrast, the US as a young country, believing its own conception to be novel and exceptional, wants everyone to be American. And, indeed, the software of globalization today, including standards and pop culture, is basically American. And therein lies a profound difference between China and the US.
If you look at cultures as human operating systems, it is US culture which has hyper-linked so many different cultures together, in a kind of higher HTML or XML language. And even though that software needs some fixing today, it will remain essentially American. I doubt that the Chinese software will ever be able to unify the world the way it has been because it has a very different characteristic all of its own – even when China becomes the biggest economy in the world as it almost certainly will within a few decades.
The second point to highlight concerns the astonishing urban experimentation taking place today. China is urbanizing at a speed and on a scale never seen before in human history. Chinese planners know that they do not have the land to build sprawling suburbia like America’s. China has less arable land than India.