Central asia's continuing role in the world economy to 1800



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European history have been extracted from a Eurocentric perspective. Afro-Asians' history is not regarded in their own right. Their place in world and economic history, as well as their far-reaching contributions to Europe itself, are almost completely disregarded. The major concessions are to note in passing the Asian origins of such "items" as numbers, compass, gun powder, etc. -- but omitting even printing, which originated in China - and was also used by the Arabs - many centuries before Gutenberg was born!
Yet, Asian economic growth and intra-Asian trade continued on vastly greater scales than European trade and its incursions in Asia until the nineteenth century. India did not switch from being a net exporter of textiles to being a net importer until 1816. Moreland's (1936:201) now classic History of India already argued that "the immediate effects produced by the Portuguese in India were not great." Van Leur (1955) then challenged the then dominant excessively Eurocentric interpretation of events also elsewhere in Asia, that
the general course of Asian international trade remained essentially unchanged (193).... The Portuguese colonial regime, then, did not introduce a single new economic element into the commerce of southern Asia (118)....In quantity Portuguese trade was exceeded many times by the trade carried on by Chinese, Japanese, Siamese, Javanese, Indians... and Arabs (165).... Trade continued inviolate everywhere (164).... The great intra-Asian trade route retained its full significance (165)....Any talk of a European Asia in the eighteenth century [a forteriori earlier!] is out of the question (Van Leur 1955:274).
Now, more and more especially Asian scholarship [eg. Chaudhuri (1978), Das Gupta and Pearson, eds. (1987), Arasaratnam (1986), and the Cambridge Economic History of India edited by Raychaudhuri and Habib (1982)] has confirmed van Leur's message that Asian trade was a flourishing and on-going enterprise into which the Europeans only entered as an added, and relatively minor player. Indeed, "the change comes only late in the eighteenth century, and in a way it is an endogamous game. Europeans finally burst out, and changed this structure,but they exploded from within an Asian context (Das Gupta and Pearson 1987:20).

In political terms, the hegemonic influence of China, India, and the Ottomans was considerably greater than that of the Europeans. Asian hegemony was not seriously threatened before the second half of the eighteenth century. Islam's geographic expansion continued through the sixteenth century. Hodgson (1974, 1993) and Djait (1985) are emphatic that Islam was still decidedly dominant [hegemonic?] in the world at the end of that century or even later and that any contemporary observer had good grounds for anticipating more of the same.


Thus, as Abu-Lughod (1989:388) put it succinctly "the decline of the East preceded the rise of the West." But the question comes: When did this happen, and why? Even the Europeanist Braudel points out that this change did not occur in the sixteenth century, as is so widely claimed and as even Wallerstein (1974) argues in this examination of the rise of the "modern world-system."
A more Asian-based alternative reading of modern and economic world history gives Asia more of its historical due. Two recent pioneering departures stand out: Janet Abu-Lughod (1989) described a h century Eurasian world system


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