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Annotated captions of Martin Jacques: Understanding the rise of China in English

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The world is changing

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with really remarkable speed.

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If you look at the chart at the top here,

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you'll see that in 2025,

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these Goldman Sachs projections

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suggest that the Chinese economy

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will be almost the same size as the American economy.

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And if you look at the chart

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for 2050,

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it's projected that the Chinese economy

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will be twice the size of the American economy,

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and the Indian economy will be almost the same size

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as the American economy.

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And we should bear in mind here

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that these projections were drawn up

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before the Western financial crisis.

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A couple of weeks ago,

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I was looking at the latest projection

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by BNP Paribas

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for when China

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will have a larger economy

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than the United States.

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Goldman Sachs projected 2027.

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The post-crisis projection

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is 2020.

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That's just a decade away.

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China is going to change the world

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in two fundamental respects.

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First of all,

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it's a huge developing country

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with a population of 1.3 billion people,

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which has been growing for over 30 years

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at around 10 percent a year.

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And within a decade,

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it will have the largest economy in the world.

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Never before in the modern era

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has the largest economy in the world

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been that of a developing country,

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rather than a developed country.

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Secondly,

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for the first time in the modern era,

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the dominant country in the world --

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which I think is what China will become --

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will be not from the West

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and from very, very different civilizational roots.

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Now, I know it's a widespread assumption in the West

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that as countries modernize,

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they also westernize.

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This is an illusion.

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It's an assumption that modernity

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is a product simply of competition, markets and technology.

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It is not. It is also shaped equally

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by history and culture.

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China is not like the West,

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and it will not become like the West.

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It will remain in very fundamental respects

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very different.

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Now the big question here is obviously,

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how do we make sense of China?

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How do we try to understand what China is?

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And the problem we have in the West at the moment, by and large,

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is that the conventional approach

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is that we understand it really in Western terms,

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using Western ideas.

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We can't.

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Now I want to offer you

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three building blocks

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for trying to understand what China is like,

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just as a beginning.

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02:58

The first is this:

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that China is not really a nation-state.

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Okay, it's called itself a nation-state

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for the last hundred years,

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but everyone who knows anything about China

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knows it's a lot older than this.

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This was what China looked like with the victory of the Qin Dynasty

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in 221 B.C. at the end of the warring-state period --

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the birth of modern China.

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And you can see it against the boundaries of modern China.

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Or immediately afterward, the Han Dynasty,

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still 2,000 years ago.

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And you can see already it occupies

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most of what we now know as Eastern China,

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which is where the vast majority of Chinese lived then

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and live now.

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Now what is extraordinary about this

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is, what gives China its sense of being China,

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what gives the Chinese

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the sense of what it is to be Chinese,

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comes not from the last hundred years,

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not from the nation-state period,

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which is what happened in the West,

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but from the period, if you like,

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of the civilization-state.

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I'm thinking here, for example,

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of customs like ancestral worship,

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of a very distinctive notion of the state,

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likewise, a very distinctive notion of the family,

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social relationships like guanxi,

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Confucian values and so on.

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These are all things that come

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from the period of the civilization-state.

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In other words, China, unlike the Western states and most countries in the world,

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is shaped by its sense of civilization,

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its existence as a civilization-state,

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rather than as a nation-state.

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And there's one other thing to add to this, and that is this:

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Of course we know China's big, huge,

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demographically and geographically,

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with a population of 1.3 billion people.

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What we often aren't really aware of

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is the fact

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that China is extremely diverse

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and very pluralistic,

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and in many ways very decentralized.

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You can't run a place on this scale simply from Beijing,

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even though we think this to be the case.

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It's never been the case.

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So this is China, a civilization-state,

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rather than a nation-state.

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And what does it mean?

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Well, I think it has all sorts of profound implications.

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I'll give you two quick ones.

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The first is that

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the most important political value for the Chinese

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is unity,

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is the maintenance

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of Chinese civilization.

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You know, 2,000 years ago, Europe:

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breakdown -- the fragmentation of the Holy Roman Empire.

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It divided, and it's remained divided ever since.

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China, over the same time period,

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went in exactly the opposite direction,

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very painfully holding this huge civilization,

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civilization-state, together.

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05:41

The second

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is maybe more prosaic,

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which is Hong Kong.

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Do you remember the handover of Hong Kong

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by Britain to China in 1997?

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You may remember

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what the Chinese constitutional proposition was.

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One country, two systems.

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And I'll lay a wager

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that barely anyone in the West believed them.

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"Window dressing.

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When China gets its hands on Hong Kong,

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that won't be the case."

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06:08

Thirteen years on,

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the political and legal system in Hong Kong

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is as different now as it was in 1997.

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06:16

We were wrong. Why were we wrong?

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We were wrong because we thought, naturally enough,

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in nation-state ways.

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Think of German unification, 1990.

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What happened?

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Well, basically the East was swallowed by the West.

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One nation, one system.

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That is the nation-state mentality.

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But you can't run a country like China,

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a civilization-state,

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on the basis of one civilization, one system.

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It doesn't work.

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So actually the response of China

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to the question of Hong Kong --

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as it will be to the question of Taiwan --

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was a natural response:

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one civilization, many systems.

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06:56

Let me offer you another building block

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to try and understand China --

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maybe not sort of a comfortable one.

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The Chinese have a very, very different

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conception of race

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to most other countries.

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Do you know,

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of the 1.3 billion Chinese,

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over 90 percent of them

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think they belong to the same race,

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the Han?

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Now, this is completely different

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from the world's [other] most populous countries.

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India, the United States,

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Indonesia, Brazil --

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all of them are multiracial.

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The Chinese don't feel like that.

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China is only multiracial

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really at the margins.

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So the question is, why?

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Well the reason, I think, essentially

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is, again, back to the civilization-state.

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A history of at least 2,000 years,

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a history of conquest, occupation,

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absorption, assimilation and so on,

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led to the process by which,

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over time, this notion of the Han emerged --

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of course, nurtured

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by a growing and very powerful sense

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of cultural identity.

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Now the great advantage of this historical experience

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has been that, without the Han,

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China could never have held together.

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The Han identity has been the cement

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which has held this country together.

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The great disadvantage of it

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is that the Han have a very weak conception

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of cultural difference.

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They really believe

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in their own superiority,

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and they are disrespectful

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of those who are not.

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Hence their attitude, for example,

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to the Uyghurs and to the Tibetans.

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Or let me give you my third building block,

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the Chinese state.

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Now the relationship

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between the state and society in China

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is very different from that in the West.

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Now we in the West

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overwhelmingly seem to think -- in these days at least --

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that the authority and legitimacy of the state

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is a function of democracy.

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The problem with this proposition

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is that the Chinese state

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enjoys more legitimacy

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and more authority

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amongst the Chinese

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than is true

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with any Western state.

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And the reason for this

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is because --

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well, there are two reasons, I think.

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And it's obviously got nothing to do with democracy,

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because in our terms the Chinese certainly don't have a democracy.

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And the reason for this is,

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firstly, because the state in China

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is given a very special --

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it enjoys a very special significance

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as the representative,

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the embodiment and the guardian

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of Chinese civilization,

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of the civilization-state.

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This is as close as China gets

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to a kind of spiritual role.

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And the second reason is because,

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whereas in Europe

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and North America,

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the state's power is continuously challenged --

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I mean in the European tradition,

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historically against the church,

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against other sectors of the aristocracy,

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against merchants and so on --

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for 1,000 years,

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the power of the Chinese state

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has not been challenged.

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It's had no serious rivals.

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So you can see

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that the way in which power has been constructed in China

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is very different from our experience

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in Western history.

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The result, by the way,

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is that the Chinese have a very different view of the state.

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Whereas we tend to view it as an intruder,

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a stranger,

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certainly an organ

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whose powers need to be limited

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or defined and constrained,

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the Chinese don't see the state like that at all.

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The Chinese view the state

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as an intimate -- not just as an intimate actually,

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as a member of the family --

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not just in fact as a member of the family,

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but as the head of the family,

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the patriarch of the family.

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This is the Chinese view of the state --

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very, very different to ours.

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It's embedded in society in a different kind of way

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to what is the case

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in the West.

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And I would suggest to you that actually what we are dealing with here,

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in the Chinese context,

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is a new kind of paradigm,

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which is different from anything

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we've had to think about in the past.

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Know that China believes in the market and the state.

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I mean, Adam Smith,

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already writing in the late 18th century, said,

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"The Chinese market is larger and more developed

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and more sophisticated

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than anything in Europe."

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And, apart from the Mao period,

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that has remained more or less the case ever since.

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But this is combined

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with an extremely strong and ubiquitous state.

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The state is everywhere in China.

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I mean, it's leading firms --

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many of them are still publicly owned.

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Private firms, however large they are, like Lenovo,

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depend in many ways on state patronage.

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Targets for the economy and so on

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are set by the state.

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And the state, of course, its authority flows into lots of other areas --

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as we are familiar with --

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with something like the one-child policy.

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Moreover, this is a very old state tradition,

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a very old tradition of statecraft.

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I mean, if you want an illustration of this,

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the Great Wall is one.

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But this is another, this is the Grand Canal,

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which was constructed in the first instance

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in the fifth century B.C.

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and was finally completed

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in the seventh century A.D.

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It went for 1,114 miles,

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linking Beijing

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with Hangzhou and Shanghai.

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So there's a long history

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of extraordinary state infrastructural projects

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in China,

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which I suppose helps us to explain what we see today,

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which is something like the Three Gorges Dam

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and many other expressions

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of state competence

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within China.

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So there we have three building blocks

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for trying to understand the difference that is China --

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the civilization-state,

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the notion of race

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and the nature of the state

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and its relationship to society.

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And yet we still insist, by and large,

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in thinking that we can understand China

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by simply drawing on Western experience,

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looking at it through Western eyes,

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using Western concepts.

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If you want to know why

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we unerringly seem to get China wrong --

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our predictions about what's going to happen to China are incorrect --

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this is the reason.

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Unfortunately, I think,

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I have to say that I think

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attitude towards China

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is that of a kind of little Westerner mentality.

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It's kind of arrogant.

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It's arrogant in the sense

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that we think that we are best,

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and therefore we have the universal measure.

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And secondly, it's ignorant.

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We refuse to really address

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the issue of difference.

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You know, there's a very interesting passage

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in a book by Paul Cohen, the American historian.

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And Paul Cohen argues

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that the West thinks of itself

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as probably the most cosmopolitan

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of all cultures.

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But it's not.

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In many ways,

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it's the most parochial,

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because for 200 years,

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the West has been so dominant in the world

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that it's not really needed

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to understand other cultures,

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other civilizations.

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Because, at the end of the day,

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it could, if necessary by force,

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get its own way.

tedtalks 15:09
15:11

Whereas those cultures --

tedtalks 15:11
15:14

virtually the rest of the world, in fact,

tedtalks 15:14
15:17

which have been in a far weaker position, vis-a-vis the West --

tedtalks 15:17
15:20

have been thereby forced to understand the West,

tedtalks 15:20
15:23

because of the West's presence in those societies.

tedtalks 15:23
15:26

And therefore, they are, as a result,

tedtalks 15:26
15:29

more cosmopolitan in many ways than the West.

tedtalks 15:29
15:31

I mean, take the question of East Asia.

tedtalks 15:31
15:34

East Asia: Japan, Korea, China, etc. --

tedtalks 15:34
15:36

a third of the world's population lives there.

tedtalks 15:36
15:38

Now the largest economic region in the world.

tedtalks 15:38
15:40

And I'll tell you now,

tedtalks 15:40
15:42

that East Asianers, people from East Asia,

tedtalks 15:42
15:44

are far more knowledgeable

tedtalks 15:44
15:46

about the West

tedtalks 15:46
15:50

than the West is about East Asia.

tedtalks 15:50
15:53

Now this point is very germane, I'm afraid,

tedtalks 15:53
15:55

to the present.

tedtalks 15:55
15:58

Because what's happening? Back to that chart at the beginning,

tedtalks 15:58
16:00

the Goldman Sachs chart.

tedtalks 16:00
16:02

What is happening

tedtalks 16:02
16:05

is that, very rapidly in historical terms,

tedtalks 16:05
16:08

the world is being driven

tedtalks 16:08
16:10

and shaped,

tedtalks 16:10
16:12

not by the old developed countries,

tedtalks 16:12
16:14

but by the developing world.

tedtalks 16:14
16:16

We've seen this

tedtalks 16:16
16:18

in terms of the G20

tedtalks 16:18
16:21

usurping very rapidly the position of the G7,

tedtalks 16:21
16:24

or the G8.

tedtalks 16:25
16:28

And there are two consequences of this.

tedtalks 16:28
16:30

First, the West

tedtalks 16:30
16:32

is rapidly losing

tedtalks 16:32
16:34

its influence in the world.

tedtalks 16:34
16:37

There was a dramatic illustration of this actually a year ago --

tedtalks 16:37
16:39

Copenhagen, climate change conference.

tedtalks 16:39
16:41

Europe was not at the final negotiating table.

tedtalks 16:41
16:43

When did that last happen?

tedtalks 16:43
16:46

I would wager it was probably about 200 years ago.

tedtalks 16:46
16:49

And that is what is going to happen in the future.

tedtalks 16:49
16:51

And the second implication

tedtalks 16:51
16:54

is that the world will inevitably, as a consequence,

tedtalks 16:54
16:58

become increasingly unfamiliar to us,

tedtalks 16:58
17:01

because it'll be shaped by cultures and experiences and histories

tedtalks 17:01
17:04

that we are not really familiar with,

tedtalks 17:04
17:06

or conversant with.

tedtalks 17:06
17:08

And at last, I'm afraid -- take Europe;

tedtalks 17:08
17:10

America is slightly different --

tedtalks 17:10
17:13

but Europeans by and large, I have to say,

tedtalks 17:13
17:16

are ignorant,

tedtalks 17:16
17:18

are unaware

tedtalks 17:18
17:21

about the way the world is changing.

tedtalks 17:21
17:24

Some people -- I've got an English friend in China,

tedtalks 17:24
17:27

and he said, "The continent is sleepwalking into oblivion."

tedtalks 17:29
17:31

Well, maybe that's true,

tedtalks 17:31
17:33

maybe that's an exaggeration.

tedtalks 17:33
17:36

But there's another problem which goes along with this --

tedtalks 17:36
17:39

that Europe is increasingly out of touch with the world --

tedtalks 17:39
17:42

and that is a sort of

tedtalks 17:42
17:44

loss of a sense of the future.

tedtalks 17:44
17:47

I mean, Europe once, of course, once commanded the future

tedtalks 17:47
17:49

in its confidence.

tedtalks 17:49
17:52

Take the 19th century, for example.

tedtalks 17:52
17:55

But this, alas, is no longer true.

tedtalks 17:55
17:58

If you want to feel the future, if you want to taste the future,

tedtalks 17:58
18:01

try China -- there's old Confucius.

tedtalks 18:01
18:03

This is a railway station

tedtalks 18:03
18:05

the likes of which you've never seen before.

tedtalks 18:05
18:07

It doesn't even look like a railway station.

tedtalks 18:07
18:09

This is the new Guangzhou railway station

tedtalks 18:09
18:11

for the high-speed trains.

tedtalks 18:11
18:13

China already has a bigger network

tedtalks 18:13
18:15

than any other country in the world

tedtalks 18:15
18:19

and will soon have more than all the rest of the world put together.

tedtalks 18:19
18:21

Or take this: now this is an idea,

tedtalks 18:21
18:24

but it's an idea to be tried out shortly

tedtalks 18:24
18:26

in a suburb of Beijing.

tedtalks 18:26
18:29

Here you have a megabus,

tedtalks 18:29
18:32

on the upper deck carries about 2,000 people.

tedtalks 18:32
18:34

It travels on rails

tedtalks 18:34
18:36

down a suburban road,

tedtalks 18:36
18:39

and the cars travel underneath it.

tedtalks 18:39
18:42

And it does speeds of up to about 100 miles an hour.

tedtalks 18:42
18:45

Now this is the way things are going to move,

tedtalks 18:45
18:47

because China has a very specific problem,

tedtalks 18:47
18:49

which is different from Europe

tedtalks 18:49
18:51

and different from the United States:

tedtalks 18:51
18:54

China has huge numbers of people and no space.

tedtalks 18:54
18:56

So this is a solution to a situation

tedtalks 18:56
18:58

where China's going to have

tedtalks 18:58
19:00

many, many, many cities

tedtalks 19:00
19:02

over 20 million people.

tedtalks 19:02
19:05

Okay, so how would I like to finish?

tedtalks 19:05
19:08

Well, what should our attitude be

tedtalks 19:08
19:11

towards this world

tedtalks 19:11
19:13

that we see

tedtalks 19:13
19:15

very rapidly developing

tedtalks 19:15
19:17

before us?

tedtalks 19:18
19:21

I think there will be good things about it and there will be bad things about it.

tedtalks 19:21
19:23

But I want to argue, above all,

tedtalks 19:23
19:26

a big-picture positive for this world.

tedtalks 19:28
19:30

For 200 years,

tedtalks 19:30
19:36

the world was essentially governed

tedtalks 19:36
19:40

by a fragment of the human population.

tedtalks 19:40
19:44

That's what Europe and North America represented.

tedtalks 19:44
19:46

The arrival of countries

tedtalks 19:46
19:48

like China and India --

tedtalks 19:48
19:50

between them 38 percent of the world's population --

tedtalks 19:50
19:53

and others like Indonesia and Brazil and so on,

tedtalks 19:56
19:59

represent the most important single act

tedtalks 19:59
20:01

of democratization

tedtalks 20:01
20:03

in the last 200 years.

tedtalks 20:03
20:05

Civilizations and cultures,

tedtalks 20:05
20:08

which had been ignored, which had no voice,

tedtalks 20:08
20:10

which were not listened to, which were not known about,

tedtalks 20:10
20:12

will have a different sort

tedtalks 20:12
20:15

of representation in this world.

tedtalks 20:15
20:17

As humanists, we must welcome, surely,

tedtalks 20:17
20:19

this transformation,

tedtalks 20:19
20:21

and we will have to learn

tedtalks 20:21
20:23

about these civilizations.

tedtalks 20:23
20:26

This big ship here

tedtalks 20:26
20:28

was the one sailed in by Zheng He

tedtalks 20:28
20:30

in the early 15th century

tedtalks 20:30
20:32

on his great voyages

tedtalks 20:32
20:35

around the South China Sea, the East China Sea

tedtalks 20:35
20:38

and across the Indian Ocean to East Africa.

tedtalks 20:38
20:42

The little boat in front of it

tedtalks 20:42
20:44

was the one in which, 80 years later,

tedtalks 20:44
20:47

Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic.

tedtalks 20:47
20:49

(Laughter)

tedtalks 20:49
20:51

Or, look carefully

tedtalks 20:51
20:53

at this silk scroll

tedtalks 20:53
20:56

made by ZhuZhou

tedtalks 20:56
20:59

in 1368.

tedtalks 20:59
21:01

I think they're playing golf.

tedtalks 21:01
21:04

Christ, the Chinese even invented golf.

tedtalks 21:04
21:07

Welcome to the future. Thank you.

tedtalks 21:07
21:10

(Applause)