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 things like domestic and foreign policies.
It 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 draws on years of study to show in the words of Lucien 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 infamous book Mao which has been banned in the PRC since its publishing due to its "realistic" portrayal of Mao Zedong. Terrill is currently banned from entering the People's Republic of China.