The significance of this debate to a world in which the developing nations are increasingly influential is far-reaching: if their end-point is similar to the West, or, to put it another way, Western-style modernity, then the new world is unlikely to be so different from the one we inhabit now, because China, India, Indonesia and Brazil, to take four examples, will differ little in their fundamental characteristics from the West. This was the future envisaged by Francis Fukuyama, who predicted that the post-Cold War world would be based on a new universalism embodying the Western principles of the free market and democracy.  If, on the other hand, their ways of being modern diverge significantly, even sharply, from the Western model, then a world in which they predominate is likely to look very different from the present Western-made one in which we still largely live. As I discuss in the prologue to Part I, modernity is made possible by industrialization, and until the middle of the last century this was a condition which was exclusive to a small part of the world. As a result, before the second half of the twentieth century the West enjoyed a de facto monopoly of modernity, with Japan the only exception, because these were the only countries that had experienced economic take-off. It might be argued that the Soviet Union also constituted a form of modernity, but it remained, contrary to its claims, far more backward than Western nations in terms of GDP per head, the proportion of the population living in the countryside, and its technological level. Moreover, although it was Eurasian, the USSR was always dominated by its European parts and therefore shared much of the Western tradition. Japan is a fascinating example which I will consider at length in Chapter 3. Until the Second World War it remained a relative outsider, having commenced its industrialization in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. After 1945 Japan became a powerful economic competitor to the West, and by the 1980s it had established itself as the second largest economy behind the United States. Japan, however, always sought to assert its Western credentials and play down its political and cultural distinctiveness. Defeated in the Second World War, occupied by the United States until 1951, endowed with a constitution written by the Americans, disqualified from maintaining a significant military force (and thereby dependent on the US-Japan security pact first signed in 1951 for its defence), Japan, if not a vassal state of the Americans, certainly enjoyed an attenuated sovereignty.  It is this which largely explains why, although it is a highly distinctive country which culturally shares little with the West, it has nonetheless persistently sought to emphasize its Western characteristics.
With the exception of Japan, the modern world has thus until recently been exclusively Western, comprising Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand; in other words, Europe plus those countries to which European settlers migrated and which they subsequently conquered, or, as the economic historian Angus Maddison chooses to describe them, the ‘European offshoots’. Western modernity — or modernity as we have hitherto known it — rests, therefore, on a relatively small fragment of human experience. In every instance, that experience is either European or comes from Europe, sharing wholly or largely the cultural, political, intellectual, racial and ethnic characteristics of that continent. The narrowness, and consequent unrepresentativeness, of the Western experience is often overlooked, such has been the dominance that the West has enjoyed over the last two centuries. But as other countries, with very different cultures and histories, and contrasting civilizational inheritances, embark on the process of modernization, the particularism and exceptionalism of the Western experience will become increasingly apparent. In historical terms, we are still at the very beginning of this process. It was only in the late 1950s that the first Asian tigers — South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore — began their economic take-offs, to be joined in the 1970s by Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and others, followed by China.  And what was once more or less confined to East Asia — by which I mean Japan, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea in North-East Asia, and countries like the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam in South-East Asia — has more recently spread to other regions and continents, most notably India. In 1950 the US GDP was almost three times that of East Asia and almost twice that of Asia. By 2001 US GDP was only two-thirds that of Asia, and rather less than that of East Asia.  In Part I, I will discuss more fully the nature of modernity, arguing that rather than there being a single way of being modern, we are witnessing the birth of a world of multiple and competing modernities. This will be a quite new and novel feature of the twenty-first century, ushering in an era of what I characterize as contested modernity. 
Although we are witnessing the rise of a growing number of developing countries, China is by far the most important economically. It is the bearer and driver of the new world, with which it enjoys an increasingly hegemonic relationship, its tentacles having stretched across East Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, Latin America and Africa in little more than a decade. China is very different from earlier Asian tigers like South Korea and Taiwan. Unlike the latter, it has never been a vassal state of the United States;  furthermore, it enjoys a huge population, with all that this implies. The challenge represented by China ’s rise is, as a consequence, on a different scale to that of the other Asian tigers. Nonetheless, the consensus in the West, at least up until very recently, has been that China will eventually end up — as a result of its modernization, or as a precondition for it, or a combination of the two — as a Western-style country. American policy towards China over the last three decades has been informed by this belief. It has underpinned America ’s willingness to cooperate with China, open its markets to Chinese exports, agree to its admission to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and allow it to become an increasingly fully-fledged member of the international community. 
The mainstream Western attitude has held that, in its fundamentals, the world will be relatively little changed by China ’s rise. This is based on three key assumptions: that China’s challenge will be primarily economic in nature; that China will in due course become a typical Western nation; and that the international system will remain broadly as it now is, with China acquiescing in the status quo and becoming a compliant member of the international community. Each of these assumptions is misconceived. The rise of China will change the world in the most profound ways.
 Francis Fukuyama, ‘The End of History?’,
 John W. Dower,
 Ezra F. Vogel,
 Martin Jacques, ‘No Monopoly on Modernity’,
 Manuel Castells,