Probably my favourite novel this year was The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver, which paints a picture of America in a few decades time in a state of economic and cultural decay, with China’s economic ascendancy taking place in the background. Of course, we all know about the Chinese economic miracle, but less people know about details such as the Belt and Road Initiative and attempts to put the yuan at the heart of oil trading that really drags Chinese hegemony from the mid-term future right into the near future. This got me thinking about whether all the current gender-political pre-occupation with Trump and neo-Nazis tweeting from their bedrooms is really missing the point, and that all eyes should really be on Chinese gender politics.
For sure, underpinning Chinese economic might and expansion is a certain Stage 2 masculine swagger, aided in part by close partnerships with Russia that take their lead from Putin’s archetypal Stage 2 masculinity. But it seems unlikely that the gender-political conversation in a Chinese context will simply repeat the current Western discourse, which is largely a Stage 2 society critiqued by Stage 3 media and civic institutions. It is more likely that China, given its authoritarian nature, will simply not allow such discourse, at least at such a blatant public level. So where does this lead?
I have previously suggested that the future of masculinity is one of extremes. In a Chinese future I could imagine a situation where the “official” story is one of intense Stage 2 authoritarianism. At the same time, I could imagine what can only be described at the moment as “unknown unknowns” as giving life to wild new manifestations of Stage 4 and 5 masculinity. I make this latter point partly to seek a silver lining to the cloud of authoritarianism, but also due to some reasoning. One of the reasons that gender politics has been stuck in a rut for the past 40 years in the West is because we are going round and around in a Stage 2-3 cycle. The shift to China may break that cycle, thus offering something new that we simply cannot identify in our current environment.