The book goes into in-depth explanations about the new and powerful Chinese "empire" and how it affects American society and ideology. It also delves deeply into the psyche of the Chinese government's internal workings and explains China's view on domestic and foreign policies.
Terrill's argument connects an ancient dynastic China with the China of today and their blend of idealism and realism, attachment to doctrine, paternalism, and the obsession with national unity. Terrill, a Harvard PhD in Political Science, draws on his professional training and years of visiting China to show in the words of Lucian Pye, "a civilization masquerading as a nation". He depicts China's longer-term future, not as having a clash of civilizations, but instead of the universals of human nature and social change. Terrill is also the writer of the biography, Mao which was first banned in the PRC for its "realistic" portrayal of Mao Zedong, then published to become a best seller.