Why China Will Never Rule the World: Travels in the Two Chinas
Here’s a travelogue by Troy Parfitt, a man who sets out to explore the twenty-two provinces of China, but discovers he doesn’t really like the places he visits. He abandons the venture after seventeen and returns to Taiwan, where he has lived and worked for some ten years. This sets up a most curious dissonance. Mostly, he’s written a road book as he travels among the mainland Chinese, spending only a day here and another day there, digging out nuggets of information about the places and their history, capturing moments of interaction, and offering insights. This makes the book impressionist in spirit (i.e., it’s not journalistic realism, nor is it genuinely autobiographical).
Why China Will Never Rule the World is highly editorialized. When you gather so much experience in such a short period of time, and the publisher imposes a physical constraint on how much will appear in print, you distill the mass into a heady spirit, the essence you hope will be intoxicating to your readers. The title says it all and, if it speaks to you, you will find the book enlightening and entertaining. Put simply, here’s a literate and intelligent human being, capable of wit and possessed of a good eye for description. Better still, the prose style is engaging. Yet this is what I imagine Marvin, the Paranoid Android might have written in The Hitchhiker’s Guide. Not that either this author, or the original Marvin, is actually paranoid. Marvin’s just consistently downbeat and, depending on your point of view; that’s the strength or weakness of Why China Will Never Rule the World.
So if you want snapshots of potential tourist destinations for those interested in Chinese history, a river cruise to the Three Gorges Dam, or of life in Beijing (which he claims to like), interspersed with explanations of why Sun Yat-sen and Yuan Shikai were villains, why both Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong lost the civil war, and why Mao lost the peace, this is the book for you. As a postscript, Nanjing is the cleanest city and both the Terracotta Army and the Tsingtao Brewery are worth a visit.
This leaves the final third of the book in Taiwan. The contrast in tone is quite dramatic as we come to understand why he prefers residence on the island. Except, after mature reflection, he decides he’s had enough of the Chinese on both sides of the Straits and returns to Canada. This is writing as therapy, exorcising ghosts of the past and looking forward to life in the “old country.”
Western Hemisphere Press