Understanding the rise of China | Martin Jacques

Understanding the rise of China | Martin Jacques


The world is changing with really remarkable speed. If you look at the chart at the top here, you’ll see that in 2025, these Goldman Sachs projections suggest that the Chinese economy will be almost the same size as the American economy. And if you look at the chart for 2050, it’s projected that the Chinese economy will be twice the size of the American economy, and the Indian economy will be almost the same size as the American economy. And we should bear in mind here that these projections were drawn up before the Western financial crisis. A couple of weeks ago, I was looking at the latest projection by BNP Paribas for when China will have a larger economy than the United States. Goldman Sachs projected 2027. The post-crisis projection is 2020. That’s just a decade away. China is going to change the world in two fundamental respects. First of all, it’s a huge developing country with a population of 1.3 billion people, which has been growing for over 30 years at around 10 percent a year. And within a decade, it will have the largest economy in the world. Never before in the modern era has the largest economy in the world been that of a developing country, rather than a developed country. Secondly, for the first time in the modern era, the dominant country in the world — which I think is what China will become — will be not from the West and from very, very different civilizational roots. Now, I know it’s a widespread assumption in the West that as countries modernize, they also westernize. This is an illusion. It’s an assumption that modernity is a product simply of competition, markets and technology. It is not. It is also shaped equally by history and culture. China is not like the West, and it will not become like the West. It will remain in very fundamental respects very different. Now the big question here is obviously, how do we make sense of China? How do we try to understand what China is? And the problem we have in the West at the moment, by and large, is that the conventional approach is that we understand it really in Western terms, using Western ideas. We can’t. Now I want to offer you three building blocks for trying to understand what China is like, just as a beginning. The first is this: that China is not really a nation-state. Okay, it’s called itself a nation-state for the last hundred years, but everyone who knows anything about China knows it’s a lot older than this. This was what China looked like with the victory of the Qin Dynasty in 221 B.C. at the end of the warring-state period — the birth of modern China. And you can see it against the boundaries of modern China. Or immediately afterward, the Han Dynasty, still 2,000 years ago. And you can see already it occupies most of what we now know as Eastern China, which is where the vast majority of Chinese lived then and live now. Now what is extraordinary about this is, what gives China its sense of being China, what gives the Chinese the sense of what it is to be Chinese, comes not from the last hundred years, not from the nation-state period, which is what happened in the West, but from the period, if you like, of the civilization-state. I’m thinking here, for example, of customs like ancestral worship, of a very distinctive notion of the state, likewise, a very distinctive notion of the family, social relationships like guanxi, Confucian values and so on. These are all things that come from the period of the civilization-state. In other words, China, unlike the Western states and most countries in the world, is shaped by its sense of civilization, its existence as a civilization-state, rather than as a nation-state. And there’s one other thing to add to this, and that is this: Of course we know China’s big, huge, demographically and geographically, with a population of 1.3 billion people. What we often aren’t really aware of is the fact that China is extremely diverse and very pluralistic, and in many ways very decentralized. You can’t run a place on this scale simply from Beijing, even though we think this to be the case. It’s never been the case. So this is China, a civilization-state, rather than a nation-state. And what does it mean? Well, I think it has all sorts of profound implications. I’ll give you two quick ones. The first is that the most important political value for the Chinese is unity, is the maintenance of Chinese civilization. You know, 2,000 years ago, Europe: breakdown — the fragmentation of the Holy Roman Empire. It divided, and it’s remained divided ever since. China, over the same time period, went in exactly the opposite direction, very painfully holding this huge civilization, civilization-state, together. The second is maybe more prosaic, which is Hong Kong. Do you remember the handover of Hong Kong by Britain to China in 1997? You may remember what the Chinese constitutional proposition was. One country, two systems. And I’ll lay a wager that barely anyone in the West believed them. “Window dressing. When China gets its hands on Hong Kong, that won’t be the case.” Thirteen years on, the political and legal system in Hong Kong is as different now as it was in 1997. We were wrong. Why were we wrong? We were wrong because we thought, naturally enough, in nation-state ways. Think of German unification, 1990. What happened? Well, basically the East was swallowed by the West. One nation, one system. That is the nation-state mentality. But you can’t run a country like China, a civilization-state, on the basis of one civilization, one system. It doesn’t work. So actually the response of China to the question of Hong Kong — as it will be to the question of Taiwan — was a natural response: one civilization, many systems. Let me offer you another building block to try and understand China — maybe not sort of a comfortable one. The Chinese have a very, very different conception of race to most other countries. Do you know, of the 1.3 billion Chinese, over 90 percent of them think they belong to the same race, the Han? Now, this is completely different from the world’s [other] most populous countries. India, the United States, Indonesia, Brazil — all of them are multiracial. The Chinese don’t feel like that. China is only multiracial really at the margins. So the question is, why? Well the reason, I think, essentially is, again, back to the civilization-state. A history of at least 2,000 years, a history of conquest, occupation, absorption, assimilation and so on, led to the process by which, over time, this notion of the Han emerged — of course, nurtured by a growing and very powerful sense of cultural identity. Now the great advantage of this historical experience has been that, without the Han, China could never have held together. The Han identity has been the cement which has held this country together. The great disadvantage of it is that the Han have a very weak conception of cultural difference. They really believe in their own superiority, and they are disrespectful of those who are not. Hence their attitude, for example, to the Uyghurs and to the Tibetans. Or let me give you my third building block, the Chinese state. Now the relationship between the state and society in China is very different from that in the West. Now we in the West overwhelmingly seem to think — in these days at least — that the authority and legitimacy of the state is a function of democracy. The problem with this proposition is that the Chinese state enjoys more legitimacy and more authority amongst the Chinese than is true with any Western state. And the reason for this is because — well, there are two reasons, I think. And it’s obviously got nothing to do with democracy, because in our terms the Chinese certainly don’t have a democracy. And the reason for this is, firstly, because the state in China is given a very special — it enjoys a very special significance as the representative, the embodiment and the guardian of Chinese civilization, of the civilization-state. This is as close as China gets to a kind of spiritual role. And the second reason is because, whereas in Europe and North America, the state’s power is continuously challenged — I mean in the European tradition, historically against the church, against other sectors of the aristocracy, against merchants and so on — for 1,000 years, the power of the Chinese state has not been challenged. It’s had no serious rivals. So you can see that the way in which power has been constructed in China is very different from our experience in Western history. The result, by the way, is that the Chinese have a very different view of the state. Whereas we tend to view it as an intruder, a stranger, certainly an organ whose powers need to be limited or defined and constrained, the Chinese don’t see the state like that at all. The Chinese view the state as an intimate — not just as an intimate actually, as a member of the family — not just in fact as a member of the family, but as the head of the family, the patriarch of the family. This is the Chinese view of the state — very, very different to ours. It’s embedded in society in a different kind of way to what is the case in the West. And I would suggest to you that actually what we are dealing with here, in the Chinese context, is a new kind of paradigm, which is different from anything we’ve had to think about in the past. Know that China believes in the market and the state. I mean, Adam Smith, already writing in the late 18th century, said, “The Chinese market is larger and more developed and more sophisticated than anything in Europe.” And, apart from the Mao period, that has remained more or less the case ever since. But this is combined with an extremely strong and ubiquitous state. The state is everywhere in China. I mean, it’s leading firms — many of them are still publicly owned. Private firms, however large they are, like Lenovo, depend in many ways on state patronage. Targets for the economy and so on are set by the state. And the state, of course, its authority flows into lots of other areas — as we are familiar with — with something like the one-child policy. Moreover, this is a very old state tradition, a very old tradition of statecraft. I mean, if you want an illustration of this, the Great Wall is one. But this is another, this is the Grand Canal, which was constructed in the first instance in the fifth century B.C. and was finally completed in the seventh century A.D. It went for 1,114 miles, linking Beijing with Hangzhou and Shanghai. So there’s a long history of extraordinary state infrastructural projects in China, which I suppose helps us to explain what we see today, which is something like the Three Gorges Dam and many other expressions of state competence within China. So there we have three building blocks for trying to understand the difference that is China — the civilization-state, the notion of race and the nature of the state and its relationship to society. And yet we still insist, by and large, in thinking that we can understand China by simply drawing on Western experience, looking at it through Western eyes, using Western concepts. If you want to know why we unerringly seem to get China wrong — our predictions about what’s going to happen to China are incorrect — this is the reason. Unfortunately, I think, I have to say that I think attitude towards China is that of a kind of little Westerner mentality. It’s kind of arrogant. It’s arrogant in the sense that we think that we are best, and therefore we have the universal measure. And secondly, it’s ignorant. We refuse to really address the issue of difference. You know, there’s a very interesting passage in a book by Paul Cohen, the American historian. And Paul Cohen argues that the West thinks of itself as probably the most cosmopolitan of all cultures. But it’s not. In many ways, it’s the most parochial, because for 200 years, the West has been so dominant in the world that it’s not really needed to understand other cultures, other civilizations. Because, at the end of the day, it could, if necessary by force, get its own way. Whereas those cultures — virtually the rest of the world, in fact, which have been in a far weaker position, vis-a-vis the West — have been thereby forced to understand the West, because of the West’s presence in those societies. And therefore, they are, as a result, more cosmopolitan in many ways than the West. I mean, take the question of East Asia. East Asia: Japan, Korea, China, etc. — a third of the world’s population lives there. Now the largest economic region in the world. And I’ll tell you now, that East Asianers, people from East Asia, are far more knowledgeable about the West than the West is about East Asia. Now this point is very germane, I’m afraid, to the present. Because what’s happening? Back to that chart at the beginning, the Goldman Sachs chart. What is happening is that, very rapidly in historical terms, the world is being driven and shaped, not by the old developed countries, but by the developing world. We’ve seen this in terms of the G20 usurping very rapidly the position of the G7, or the G8. And there are two consequences of this. First, the West is rapidly losing its influence in the world. There was a dramatic illustration of this actually a year ago — Copenhagen, climate change conference. Europe was not at the final negotiating table. When did that last happen? I would wager it was probably about 200 years ago. And that is what is going to happen in the future. And the second implication is that the world will inevitably, as a consequence, become increasingly unfamiliar to us, because it’ll be shaped by cultures and experiences and histories that we are not really familiar with, or conversant with. And at last, I’m afraid — take Europe; America is slightly different — but Europeans by and large, I have to say, are ignorant, are unaware about the way the world is changing. Some people — I’ve got an English friend in China, and he said, “The continent is sleepwalking into oblivion.” Well, maybe that’s true, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But there’s another problem which goes along with this — that Europe is increasingly out of touch with the world — and that is a sort of loss of a sense of the future. I mean, Europe once, of course, once commanded the future in its confidence. Take the 19th century, for example. But this, alas, is no longer true. If you want to feel the future, if you want to taste the future, try China — there’s old Confucius. This is a railway station the likes of which you’ve never seen before. It doesn’t even look like a railway station. This is the new [Wuhan] railway station for the high-speed trains. China already has a bigger network than any other country in the world and will soon have more than all the rest of the world put together. Or take this: now this is an idea, but it’s an idea to be tried out shortly in a suburb of Beijing. Here you have a megabus, on the upper deck carries about 2,000 people. It travels on rails down a suburban road, and the cars travel underneath it. And it does speeds of up to about 100 miles an hour. Now this is the way things are going to move, because China has a very specific problem, which is different from Europe and different from the United States: China has huge numbers of people and no space. So this is a solution to a situation where China’s going to have many, many, many cities over 20 million people. Okay, so how would I like to finish? Well, what should our attitude be towards this world that we see very rapidly developing before us? I think there will be good things about it and there will be bad things about it. But I want to argue, above all, a big-picture positive for this world. For 200 years, the world was essentially governed by a fragment of the human population. That’s what Europe and North America represented. The arrival of countries like China and India — between them 38 percent of the world’s population — and others like Indonesia and Brazil and so on, represent the most important single act of democratization in the last 200 years. Civilizations and cultures, which had been ignored, which had no voice, which were not listened to, which were not known about, will have a different sort of representation in this world. As humanists, we must welcome, surely, this transformation, and we will have to learn about these civilizations. This big ship here was the one sailed in by Zheng He in the early 15th century on his great voyages around the South China Sea, the East China Sea and across the Indian Ocean to East Africa. The little boat in front of it was the one in which, 80 years later, Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic. (Laughter) Or, look carefully at this silk scroll made by ZhuZhou in 1368. I think they’re playing golf. Christ, the Chinese even invented golf. Welcome to the future. Thank you. (Applause)

100 Comments on "Understanding the rise of China | Martin Jacques"


  1. loool Martin Jacques… Nice BS… Hope he could be confronted with the reality today. That's why he doesn't talk much nowadays.

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  2. Intetesting his thesis on Hong Kong. I wonder what he says now (Sept 2019) re the present riots AGAINST Chinese control and towards a Westernised democracy? Perhaps, even the young rebel Hong Kong-ites don't understand China as well as they think they do … and as well as this guy does.

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  3. Democracy is not the only solution to modernization and the future, and even democracy may be an inefficient solution.

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  4. it's already 9 years later, and yet if go to any online game chat and just mention China, you will have a very keen idea of stupid and ignorant some westerner are.

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  5. I saw this lecture many years ago,and as a chinese,i was impressed by his profoundly understanding about china, i thought maybe there are some westerners actually know about us. but after all these years, I feel disappointed that the mainstream of the west still too arrogant to understand our culture and value.

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  6. 历史总是在奇妙的重复,西方把300年来的短暂工业领先人为地夸大成文明优等,进而夸大成人种的优等,这种人为制造出来的观念其实把西方困在自己的梦境中,蒙住了自己的双眼,导致自己没办法去正确了解其他文明的优势。这点跟大清时是何其相似啊,几千年来的中华文明优势,导致当时的大清自认为是天朝上国,物产丰富自给自足,无需与西方贸易,其他文明都是蛮夷。现在的西方和大清是一样的,把自己困在自己创造的幻境中。
    现在的中国已经从鸦片战争开始导致的近300年的文化文明不自信中走出来了,不再是过去那种面对国外指责就恼羞成怒不断强调自己有多优秀,那时的表现其实还是自卑下强撑的自信,打心里还是认为西方更优秀。现在完全不同了,从2008年金融危机开始西方种种弊病暴露出来,反而让中国人开始正确地看待自己和西方,不再盲从,最明显的就是网络上的美分公知在中国已经没有太大市场。但是有点担心的是,国内现在是全面看衰欧洲美国日本,会不会走向另外一个极端,以前我们是觉得和欧美日有差距,只要是欧美日的必定就好,要学,但是现在假若有宣扬表扬欧美日某些优点优势时,必定有很多讽刺的言论,真不希望这样,每个社会民族国家有优点也必定有缺点,完全忽视他人优点而不虚心接纳学习,很容易重蹈覆辙,重演300年前的大清和现在的西方,历史再翻转一次。

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  7. This video did not age well. The Chinese leadership looks confused and paranoid. Trump changed everything. Economy in doldrums, HK mass protests, capital flight and less freedoms. Also, why would a proud civilization state glorify a failed western idea (communism)? The CCP is running a mafia state. The day true Chinese culture and ideals take root, China will prosper like Taiwan and HK (both socially and economically) and become a true humanitarian power that earns respect, not buys it.

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  8. So… He was wrong then… All this China exxageration. The United States will remain the dominant culture and ecomic and political and military power for another century. And believe me China has invaded many countries. This is just typical crap.

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  9. China has really a lot of people, so Japan cannot beat the “ THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE”.
    We should think economic value of country from a point of not a “GDP” but GDP of each person.

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  10. By force or church,NED etc…thats why China treated the Tibetans and Uyghur strict,terrorism has been committed against innocent people..if China doesn't interfare a billion people is not going to standby how the Han and other Chinese Muslims are killed bcz they don't agree with ETIM and the Alliance they have with the Washington. The majority of Muslims in China don't agree with the ETIM supporters!

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  11. Well, for thousand years, China has been annexed Vietnam but they never won. Very few people talk about Vietnam but we are raising.

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  12. What Martin Jacques never tell you he been a communist since he was 18 years old and he being paid by the People Republic of China. Only a dog would sale his country out like Martin Jacques. I hate a dam communist Jacques is a cross between a dog and a devil.

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  13. Since every countries treat Chinese badly in history, Chinese rise their country on their own method. The Western world feel uncomfortable for this, and Hong Kong people also feel uncomfortable for this.

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  14. 说的很客观,国外的许多朋友对于中国的印象还停留在以前那个封建落后的时代。

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  15. Interesting point of view from 10 years ago. He didn’t touch on the inherent inefficiencies and corruption that comes with a state planned economy though. In 2019 the Chinese economy is teetering on the brink and Hong Kong is in revolt.

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  16. GOD is allowing China to rise for His Purposes. The Euprates will dry up to make a way for the Kings of the East. Do we have ears to hear?

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  17. A lot of Western haters in the comments, THOUGH why to praise totaliterian savage communism over ideas of freedom and enlightment? I have no clue :)))

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  18. China has no democracy and freedom! The Communist Party kills 100 million Chinese every year ! ! ! We are FalunGong! We have evidence!!!

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  19. China is the only major industry countries who build industry system basically only based on people,s intelligence and hardworking without any colony interest. while all the other developed countries more or less transfer the pain to the colony people a lot of them even been genocide. none western countries has moral advantage than china

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  20. When unlimited energy founded, your socialism nightmare becomes true and soon Western authoritarian structure and banking system will collapse. Finally, AI either support us spreading out space or kill haft of humanity :))))

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  21. The word "China" is actually a new concept in the Chinese psychy. Before Mao Zedong, there were only dynesties and no "China", it was Ching, Tang, Jin,…. Since Mao Zedong, the country was called China.. 1.4 billion chinese? No! Many races forced to live together. Since jinshi huangdi… Even then there was no "China". Today, there are still cultural differences between many provinces.. However, the educational system is so efficient in teaching everyone butonghua which united everyone with one common language. Chinese do have a very different view of the state.

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  22. The Hong-Kong case doesn't even make any difference in the Chinese mind, hongkong belongs to China, there is no doubt about it.

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  23. You are right in saying the western attitude towards China is very wrong.. The understanding is twisted in the Western mind as you explain well. I also have witnessed the knowledge the Chinese have of the west is sharper than the wersterners have of China… In economic terms, the Germans seem to do better than other western countries although I find it so strange that the USA has so many Chinese and so little understanding of them..??

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  24. On a side note, nationalism can be socially deadly when used perversely. There was nothing wrong with white nationalism until it was used as the base for colonization, slavery, racism, and a multitude of negative events in history. Chinese nationalism hasn’t really been tainted on a social level. So they can keep pushing this Chinese nationalism ideology as a way to keep growing as an economic force without backlash unlike white nationalism. A lot of proud white people are scared to even touch nationalism even though they don’t have any malicious intent. And they can thank (or not thank) their ancestors for that.

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  25. All of you stop! Trump is awesome!! Trump is doing such a great job in fighting China. China will automatically explode by tomorrow! Just like I said 10 years ago, we will see the coming collapse of China!! Don't believe him!!

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  26. Well, Martin clearly understands China much better than the majority of westerners. I want to emphasize one thing: the Han people are not disrespectful towards the minorities such as the Tibetans and the Uighurs. The government decided to take a hard stance on the separationists of the tiny proportion of the Uighurs. That's the bottom line for China: united not ununited. For Tibetan, the CPC government freed the serfs, which were controlled by Dali Lama. Dali Lama, of course, won't be happy.

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  27. From Wikipedia: Jacques joined the Communist Party of Great Britain at eighteen What happened Martin? Their economy is not looking so good anymore. Evil never wins.

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  28. The title is wrong already. It’s not the rise of China. It should be the reemergence of China after a temporary series of setbacks for the last couple of centuries, as China has always been a super power since the beginning of its written history.

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  29. I watched this video in the year 2012, as a Chinese, at that time, I thought, uh… this friendly gentleman, is speaking tooooo hight of us, I would never imagine that after 7 years, in 2019, China has become what she is today, strong enough, developed enough, to make US ban us, weaken us in so many aspects, in such a dirty way, and what most Martin predicted, come into reality.

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  30. 14:08 Thats why western europe screw things up with their immigration policy.
    18:39 If I am not wrong, thats actually a scam and was later shut down.

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  31. Actually, in Chinese, nation means state and family, not just territory or government like western defined, so there is a saying."China is a civilization which disguises nation, but India is a nation which disguises civilization"

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  32. 其实,自负的来讲,外国大部分人根本不了解中国,他们所知道的讯息都是政府合作的媒体,片面,黑化,甚至是造谣中国。

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  33. Suhhh!! Don't awake the westerners, let them sleep the sleep, dream the dream so we can keep doing the business.

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  34. 马丁老爷子很好的释义了知己知彼,百战不殆的道理!作为一名中国人,我很自豪。因为我们国家正在全面复兴。我们不信仰神,只敬仰。不在乎是否民主,只在乎家人过的好不好。政府对于我们来说,更多的是国家的守护者,建设者,人民的保护者!家国天下,道尽我们的思想文化!请不要用西方的那套思想来看待我们,我们不讲来世,只为今生而努力。我们勤劳,善良,和平,乐观。当有危险来临,我们敢于拼搏,勇于牺牲。为了下一代,失去自己的性命也无惧。这就是中国人!!!

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  35. The audience apparently don't realize how significant and brilliant the speech is. Big big applause from a Chinese !!!!!!

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  36. To understand China, just look at Singapore. Singapore is the only country that is dominated by Han Chinese apart from China. Singapore is prosperous and it also has a strong centralization of state power just like China. The only difference is that Singapore is such a small country, but China is HUGE.

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  37. India need to stop listening to west human because all day they only think about monopoly and war. India openly accepting west culture which already destroyed west

    … India China need to work together

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  38. Bharat (British name India) and China will get back to their place.. TOP gdp nation…

    We all Asian.. Bharat and China.. Know how british and white human looted us and put 200% tax on our products….. Bharat and China was the top gdp before British colonialism started….. Bharat allows only business to british but they captured entire Bharat …. Bharat and China will raise back to their place….

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  39. DON'T YOU WORRY ! ; BECAUSE OF GREED FOR US$ & POLITICAL POWER CHINESE COMMUNIST WILL NUKE EACH OTHER SOON

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  40. I'm a Chinese guy who grew up in China. I think the speaker did a fantastic job understanding China. It is by far the deepest understanding of China by a westerner from my point of view. Kudos to you, Martine! However, I think the Chinese mindset needs to change, reform and evolve, as it had been in the last three decades but recently stopped. We Chinese need to grow in our mentality that we are no longer the "Weak people in East Asia" (东亚病夫). When China grows into power and wealth, we need to behave as a responsible nation, which play by the rules, and treat everyone, especially our neighbors fair and well. We need to regain our pride as a great nation which emphasized morality and reason, and ruled by goodness and law. That is the base of a great civilization. As time goes by, we Chinese people should let go the historical wounds, and open our eyes and arms to the world. That is how we could really become a leading nation that benefits the whole world.

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  41. 金教授都说老美给我们的预期又改了,2040是美国3倍,高盛才说2050才2倍,挺好,欢迎继续看衰我们,我们会配合继续忽悠。

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  42. So the Chinese know more about the Westerner than the Latter about the Chinese. What are their conclusions? A) oh my, how bad these Westerners live in freedom and democracy or B) …

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  43. Don't underestimate bald man, some of gave you force, some of gave you knowledge, I was a bald Chinese people, I give you speak a joke.

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  44. now western is crazy because cant stop china coming back. and America is so crazy to against china, lets see what will happen in next decade!

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  45. China is land, China is people, China is history.

    So glad to be learning Chinese and writing my thesis on China. Hope to one day be apart of this history and to build peace with China.

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