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  • E.G. Maladroit

'China and the West in the 21st Century' - Outdated or still aplicable?

‘China and the West in the 21st Century’ is Will Hutton’s 2007 book, presenting his interpretation of China’s economic growth and his view that it is leading towards an unavoidable stagnation and undesirable collapse. Whilst somewhat justifiably controversial, and stylistically questionable, it is an enjoyable and intriguing read, with its conclusion being far from outdated despite its age.

Whilst the book’s economic history of China was admittedly potted, it was interesting regardless. The economic perspective of its development, though oversimplified, acted to demystify the country’s culture and thereby dispel any xenophobic readings of its differences to the west. Similarly, it was skilful in toeing the line between needless morality and callousness when it came to the more polarising events of China’s past, such as the cultural revolution, regarding it economically in terms of how it contributed to and detracted from China’s growth (rather than virtue signalling about how killing people is a bad thing, as is obnoxiously common when covering such topics).

Hutton’s explanation of the Chinese economy was clear and to the point – it was easily understandable, even to a novice in economics such as myself – and considering I had no prior understanding of it, I came out of the book feeling significantly more informed.

It is the second half of the book where Hutton’s skill for concise clarity starts to fall away, however. This is where the book largely lost all focus on China, which was not entirely condemnable – as the title establishes that the book is about ‘China’ and its relation to ‘The West’, and most of the points act to comparatively illustrate the weaknesses and strengths of China’s system against those of America and Britain – however, the length of the book dedicated to this seems disproportionate (especially considering the ‘West’ is not particularly covered as the section focuses almost exclusively on the USA and Britain). On top of this, I do not think Hutton successfully explained the development of Western capitalism through his hyper-focus on ‘enlightenment traditions’, which fell short when omitting the significance of other factors, such as colonialism and slavery, which were sparsely referred to. Worth acknowledging, however, was the coverage of the significant flaws of Hutton’s ‘West’ – unlike many authors, he did not seek to hold it up in an unfairly favourable light, making this section engaging despite being somewhat of a tangent.

Overall, although I’d recommend skim-reading the second half of the book, the whole of it is interesting and informative, with the first half (everything that’s focussed on China) making the read well worth it. Hutton’s style is easy to read and clear, making everything he covers easy to understand and engrossing, with his main point – the fact China cannot continue its astounding growth – still highly prescient and worth considering in our current economy.


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