|Table of Contents
Personal and Professional
Honors and Memberships
ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age
Essays on NATO and Kosovo, 1999
Andre Gunder Frank
The Asian Based World Economy 1400 - 1800
|Excerpts for comment and critique from the introduction, 28 October 1995
For in the past half century [and even century and a half], modern world and economic history has been [mis]read and social science theory has been written from the vantage point of the ascendance of the West, which in turn has also been interpreted in almost exclusively Eurocentric terms. This Western-centric bias in modern and economic world history is so well nigh universal as to make its documentation hardly necessary or even possible. Almost all modern and economic world history since 1500 and even before has (at least since the nineteenth century) been written as though it began in Europe and then spread out from there to "incorporate" and "modernize" first the Americas and then Africa and "traditional" Asia. The Colonizer's Model of the World: Geographical Diffusionism and Eurocentric History it was recently called by Jim Blaut (1993). Moreover, the ancient roots of this "modernizing" process of recent "capitalist" economic development and "enlightened" cultural/civilizational progress are also sought first within [Western] Europe itself and earlier on in Rome and Greece, while the "orientalising" influence of Egypt and Mesopotamia upon Greece and Rome is too often ignored. Even their ancient history is "Europeanized" as a supposed direct descendant of modern European developments, and they drop out of sight and out of mind again after their momentary "contributions" to European history have been extracted from a Eurocentric perspective. Afro-Asians' history is not regarded in their own right, and their place in world and economic history, as well as their far-reaching contributions to Europe itself, are completely disregarded other than 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!
A whole library full of books and articles has been devoted to explaining "The Rise of the West" in terms of its own supposed "exceptionalism." Interestingly, William McNeill (1963), the dean of world historians who used this title for his pathbreaking book, is among the few western historians to take exception to this exceptionalism. Not so E.L. Jones (1981), who revealingly entitles his book The European Miracle, and many others, like White Jr. (1962), Hall (1985) or Baechler, Hall and Mann (1988). They all find the rest of the world deficient or defective in some crucial historical, economic, social, political, ideological, or cultural respect in comparison to the West. Therefore, these authors also revert to an internal explanation of the presumed superiority of the West to explain its ascendance over the rest of the world. For all of them, the rise of Europe was a unique "miracle" and not a product of Eurasian history and of shifts within the world [system]. However, as the Islamicist and world historian Marshall Hodgson writes:
Hodgson (1993) and Blaut (1991,1992) derisorally call this "tunnel history" derived from a tunnel vision, which sees only "exceptional" intra-European causes and consequences and is blind to all extra-European contributions to modern European and world history. Yet, as Blaut points out, in 1492 or 1500 Europe still had no advantages of any kind over Asia and Africa, nor eany distinctively differnt "modes of production", and there would then have been no reason to anticipate the triumph of Europe or its "capitalism" three and more centuries later. The sixteenth and seventeenth century development of economic, scientific, rational "technicalism" that Hodgson regards as the basis of the subsequent major "transmutation" nonetheless also occurred, as he insists, on a world-wide basis and not exclusively or even especially in Europe.
In his excellent critique of Perry Anderson and others, Teshale Tibebu (1990: 83-85 emphasis in original) also argues persuasively that much of their analysis of "Feudalism, Absolutism and the Bourgeois Revolution" and "their obsession with the specificity ... [and] supposed superiority of Europe" is Western "civilizational arrogance," "ideology dressed up as history" and "Orientalism painted red," that is the "continuation of orientalism by other means. The other means is provided by theoretical Marxism." It also provided, we might add, the nefarious Eurcocentric concept and terminology of "THE Asiatic Mode of Production," of which there was nary a trace to be found anywhere in the myriad of real world productive and other relations anywhere in Asia itself. Nevertheless, this concept bequeathed Marxism with a systematic bias against Asian development, which was regarded as traditional, backward and stagnant.
The reverse side of the European exceptionalist coin has been the equally Eurocentric theses about "Orientalism," which have been justly criticized by Edward Said (19xx), Martin Bernal (1987), Samir Amin (1989), and Hichem Djait (1985) writing against Eurocentrism. All of them show how 19th century European liberalism invented a single "oriental" grab bag from which to distinguish European "exceptionalism." However, these critiques of Eurocentrism are limited almost entirely to an ideological discourse and critique of Eurocentrism. A world historical, not to mention world economic, alternative to Eurcocentric distortions of early modern world history is still wanting -- and the following are meant to be still very partial initiatives in that direction. [Teggart's (1919, 1939) Eurasian approach seems to have been too far ahead of his time, and many good histories of Asia or its regions on which we rely rarely have or offer a "world" historical perspective, though developments here and thee in Asia are no news to Asian historians who have reported them long since].
In recent years, Fernand Braudel's Perspectives of the World and Immanuel Wallerstein's Modern World System deliberately try to break away from some of this Eurocentrism. So did Frank's (1978) World Accumulation 1492-1789 and the above mentioned Samir Amin. Yet the last three [Frank even in the title!] still mark 1492 or thereabouts as a breaking point, and they still read all succeeding history as having been centered on Europe and its westward and eastward expansion. Only Braudel (1982:57) writes that "I do not share Immanuel Wallerstein's fascination with the sixteenth century" as the time the modern world-system emerged in Europe. Braudel is "inclined to see the European world- economy as having taken shape very early on." Nonetheless, he also concentrates on the emergence and expansion of a supposed autonomous "European world-economy"-- even though his book is replete with evidence that Europe was part and parcel of a wider world economy, whose main economic activity in all manner of ways remained in Asia through the eighteenth century (Frank 1994 a,b cites Braudel chapter and verse to this effect). Indeed, Wallerstein (1989, Palat and Wallerstein 1990) also supplies abundant evidence of economic life Asia in close relation with that of Europe before the latter supposedly incorporated the former into its "Modern World-System."
Or, 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." The historical evidence shows rather unequivocally that this "Great Transformation" (Polanyi 19xx) or "transmutation" as Hodgson calls it, was not completed or even far advanced until the end of the eighteenth century or the beginning of the nineteenth. Until then there was still the "Perspective of the World in Asia Before European Hegemony in the Modern World- System" to combine the titles of Braudel, Chaudhuri, Abu-Lughod and Wallerstein.
Such a reinterpretation of modern and economic world history has other far-reaching implications: cultural connotations that contradict the Eurocentrism of alleged European "exceptionalism;" theoretical ramifications for our reading of history in general and economic history in particular, and for the analysis of the world system and its cycles of economic and hegemonic expansion and decline; and political or ideological significance, which questions the utility of "capitalism" [or for that matter "feudalism" or "socialism"] as a category of scientific analysis and political policy. This article pursues these important tasks by building on the aforementioned pioneers and by carrying our own work on The World System: Five Hundred Years or Five Thousand (Frank and Gills 1993 and also see Frank 1994 a,b) forward further through the early modern period.
THE ASIAN ECONOMIC TRAIN AND THE EUROPEAN CABOOSE
So-called "European hegemony" in the modern world system was very late in developing and was quite incomplete and never unipolar. In reality, during the period 1400-1800, sometimes regarded as the period of "primitive accumulation" of capital leading to full capitalism, the world system was still very predominantly under Asian influences. The Chinese Ming/Qing, Turkish Ottoman, Indian Mughal, and Persian Safavid empires were economically and politically very powerful and only waned vis a vis the Europeans toward the end of this period and thereafter. Therefore, if anything, the modern world system was under Asian Hegemony, not European. Likewise, much of the real dynamism of the world economy also still lay in Asia throughout this period, not in Europe. Asians were preponderant in the world economy/system in production, capital formation, trade, and hegemonic power until circa 1750. Thus, the "locus" of accumulation and power in the modern world system did not really change much during these three centuries. China and India in particular remained first ranked overall (i.e. areas in surplus and also the areas of largest GNP), with West Asia not far behind. Europe was a deficit area and clearly of less significance than Asia in the world production system and in size of GNP. It is also difficult therefore to detect even any significant change in the relative position among the Asian powers, Europe excluded. Europe did not emerge as a challenger "NIC" until the 18th century, Before that time its profits were based on imports not exports, the sine qua non of industrial ascendance, then as now. The fundamental shift in locus in the modern world system, and of industrial centres in particular, did not occur until the period of transition 1750- 1850. That is when the fundamental hegemonic shift to Europe began to take place, and not before.
This prominence and ascendancy of Asia until the recent past puts the present [and future?] economic resurgence of Asia in a rather different light than the darkness shed on it and the world as a whole by received Eurocentric writings of history, social science, development theory, etc.
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