Troy Parfitt, a Canadian who lived and taught in Taiwan for a decade, invites us to travel with him through the two China’s. The purpose of inviting along is to attempt to convince us of Why China will Never Rule the World. I have to say I was a little suspect. To me it is an analogous as a Chinese living in Canada for 10 years and traveling through the USA only visiting tourist places and writing a book about the insights of America. I was pleasantly surprised. Parfitt does visit the tourist locales in most of the Chinese Provinces but he mixes his experiences with insights in history and Confucian thought. He writes with humor and insight. The readers will feel like they are backpacking with him as he shares his insights. I enjoyed following along with Troy and learning more about these countries. I especially like the parts of his travels through Taiwan because I have never been there.
As someone who has lived in the Peoples Republic of China – if ever so briefly – I was familiar with the descriptions of the – shall we say – craziness that Parfitt or most any Westerner encounters when traveling to China. I also have to admit though I was skeptical of his consultations that he reveals in the prologue, by the end of the book I began to see his point. There are a lot of assumptions we have made about China because we only ‘learn’ them from the press who is allowed to see only what China wants them to see.
However, I think there is still something missing from this book. One thing is that even though the author knows the language and much of the cultural nuances, I often feel he falls where most of us do when going from West to East. (Unless of course you are Asian then you might feel more at home.) Parfitt spends much energy critiquing the culture rather than becoming a cultural learner and ‘becoming Chinese’. Also while being a tourist is how most of us might ever experience China, it causes one to make false assumptions. I found it interesting that at one point Parfitt finds his most interesting conversations to be just as he is leaving a city. In China, because of her history of xenophobia and because of “Big Brother”, I have seen people were slow to open up until we developed a friendship beyond just a business transaction.
Despite some of the gaps, I think Parfitt’s book is well worth the read. It’s funny and insightful. His point of view belongs to the conversation of China’s future. He offers insight into what China is like especially for those wanting to enter the dragon. I certainly know to avoid a river boat trip to the Three Gorges.