The Tyranny of Nations places the ground-shaking political and economic events of modern times in context. Palak Patel draws on his experience investing in government bond markets to demonstrate how the present fits a specific historical pattern that has defined the past 500 years.
It is not unusual for journalists from leading publications to turn their hand to books, but it is less usual for such books to have started off in Chinese. Jin Xu is senior editor and chief financial commentator at the Financial Times Chinese and her 2017 monetary history of China, Empire of Silver, has just been released in English in a translation from the well-regarded Stacy Mosher.
Why did modern capitalism not arise in late imperial China? One famous answer comes from Max Weber, whose The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism gave a canonical analysis of religious and cultural factors in early modern European economic development. In The Religions of China, Weber contended that China lacked the crucial religious impetus to capitalist growth that Protestantism gave Europe.
Around the Chinese New Year period, millions of Chinese migrant workers return home from jobs in China’s major cities to their rural villages to visit their families. China’s urban centers and factory towns rely on migrant workers from provinces like Guizhou: places that are still relatively underdeveloped, despite the massive growth seen on China’s coasts. The fact that, this year, many migrants likely can’t return home due to the COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder of the instability that defines much of their lives.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every country around the world in a manner not seen since the Great Financial Crisis of 2008, and is perhaps one of the most transformative events in decades. Most countries and governments have played catch-up to the pandemic, trying to get a handle on case numbers after an explosive increase. But a few places: Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Vietnam and China appear to have kept the virus largely under control.
Titling a book The Myth of Chinese Capitalism invites prospective readers to expect an unraveling of this singular, definite-articled story. It also suggests, to this reader at least, weighty theoretical contents, including perhaps tables and pie-charts. Dexter Roberts’s book is no work of dense economic theory, however, nor does it pretend to have uncovered some singular narrative of China’s development. Rather, it is lucid, personal, nuanced—and rather difficult to summarize.
If 2020 ends up being remembered as a pivotal year along the lines of 1914, perhaps as the year the 21st century actually began, COVID-19 is likely to be the main cause. Much of what was considered “normal” in everything from everyday life to geopolitics has been swept away. What hasn’t changed, however, is that publishing, like nature, abhors a vacuum: books on the subject have already started to arrive.