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Andre Gunder Frank

5000 YEAR WORLD SYSTEM - 2003 UPDATE AND PREFACE for the Chinese Edition

for the Chinese Edition
Andre Gunder Frank and Barry K. Gills

It is much pleasure and a great honor to have our book translated into Chinese and thus to be permitted to address the Chinese reader in this Preface prepared especially for that occasion. We are thankful to our colleague and friend Gao Xian for taking the initiative and responsibility to bring this Chinese edition to life, to the Foreign Translation and ... for publishing the same, and especially grateful to Mr. [insert name] for the laborious and good work of making this translation of our difficult text.

We take this opportunity to address the Chinese reader in this Preface to do three things: 1] Make a brief review of the argument which situates it in the context of Western, including Russian, Chinese and other archaeological and other pre-historic work, 2] report on related work by ourselves and especially on advances by others during the now more than a decade since most of the present text was written, and 3] consider how the latter has permitted and obliged us to change our own views about the reality and scientific methodology set out in our original text that is presented here, as well as to relate this text about the last 5,000 years more directly to contemporary concerns at the present end and the foreseeable future of this period.


Our work and theses are deliberately global and humano-centric and where possible also eco-centric. Therein they differ sharply from most received research, teaching, and theory in the West, China, and elsewhere., which is very local and localized as well as covering a brief period, often deliberately so. School teachers of history the world over are mostly paid by the STATE to inculcate the children and later adults with state nationalism, or rather statism dressed up as nationalism in states that with very few exceptions are not uni-national at all. Similarly, pre-history in the hands of archaeologist are paid to dig up ruins, artefacts and skeletons on the basis of which to claim that THIS LAND IS MINE and has been so since time immemorial when God gave it to our glorious ancestors, blessed be their name; and others keep out on pain of being subject to ethnic cleansing. Western and Chinese archaeology resemble each other in digging >=elsewhere,@ in that much of the former has followed or even preceded Western colonialism especially in Southwest Asia and North Africa as well as in the Americas, while Chinese archaeology has tended to follow in the footsteps of Hanification first of the Chinese mainland and then of Taiwan and Southeast Asia, as Russian and then Soviet archaeology has followed the Russification of Siberia and Central Asia. Contemporary politics has played an immense role in the selection of research sites if only because state sovereingty and or colonialism has determined site access or the lack of it. For instance, the two generations of Soviet archaeology surveyed by Chernykh on whom we rely in this book is almost entirely limited to areas that were under Soviet control, irrespective of what close relations they may have had to other sites that bear analysis, but happened to be under outside Cold War control.

Another similarity among pre-historic work here and there, is the limitations imposed on the researcher by the archaeological record itself - that which has survived to our day. Stone better than wood buildings and furnishings, ceramic vessels more than natural fibre ones, metal much more so than other materials, dry better than wet climate, sunken ships more than other shipwrecked, not to mention dismantled, ones. Moreover, what was once left or buried needs still to be there and not to have been burglarized by generations of local or neighboring peoples seeking precious metals or stones or even only building materials, nor especially having been plundered by Western Museums for >=safe-keeping as the heritage of human kind,= such as many treasures from the Dunhuang Grottoes at the eastern edge of the Taklamakan Desert, which were then bombed to bits by intra-Western wars. Our work relies on all of these as secondary sources, but it also amplifies them through available written records and especially documented or where necessary inferred RELATIONS between here and there and everywhere.

We make some efforts to take account of climatic conditions and changes, but we have to do much better. We make faint efforts to pay attention to gender relations, while many others make none. For instance, contrary to the Gimbutas/Eisler theory that patriarchy was brought westward on horseback by barbarian warrior nomads, we cite evidence that gender relations have generally been less unequal and womens property and other rights greater among Central Asian nomads than in the Acivilized@ societies around them. Important Chinese studies by Gao Shiyu and by Liu Ruzhen support us and demonstrate the higher status of women among their northwestern neighbors than in the Han Dynasty and of the nomads= influence on raising the status of women during the Tang and Liao and Yan dynasties [both in Min Jiayin, ed. 1995]. We hope our Chinese colleagues will extend this work..

We have serious doubts about, to the point of negation of, Acivilizations@ (Frank 2001, 2002]., which have played so large a role in received historiography and pre-history, Western, Chinese and otherwise. We challenge anyone to find a past or present civilization with an identifiable - let alone pristine - beginning and end, temporal, territorial, cultural, or social. Until someone can do so, we prefer to work with and on a socio-cultural-political-economic WHOLE composed of many different and ever changing PARTS. One of our main tasks is to identify this [or several?] whole/s and to analyze it/them holistically. The principal instrument in this inquiry is to identify CONNECTIONS and LINKS in a NETWORK or SYSTEM. These links may be of any kind, including being subject to and having to react to the same forces. The heuristic research question is whether A here would be as it has been and is or not and HOW in the absence or presence of links to B there, which in turn is different because of its links to A C or to C, so that A and C may in turn influence each other through their mutual interaction with B.

Tracing these links and influences outward from any point to another most distant other point/s then begins to map the WHOLE and its identifiable boundaries at a particular time. Indeed, doing horizontally integrative pre/history across as much of the globe as possible at any ONE TIME and eventually at EACH point or period in time offers a methodological definition of the WHOLE/SYSTEM in that it shows THAT and perhaps even HOW A here and B at a long distance there dance to the same rhythm, expanding and contracting at the same times. The reasons for such simultaneity may be common reactions to shared climactic change, which however is always socially mediated; or it may be social relations, such as trade, war, cultural diffusion, etc, themselves.

Schematically these relations could be mapped by a series of chain of ellipses that are interlinked, and which each have major and minor urban or oasis centers that are in turn interlinked inside and among the ellipses as in a network with bigger more widely interlinked and smaller less linked urban knots. Experience seems to suggest that the extension of the whole system differs according to what criterion the researcher prioritizes. Thus our co-author David Wilkinson is a political scientist and civilizationist prioritizes political relations within and -often military - among socio-political >=units.@ Therefore he dates the emergence of what he called Central Civilization from 1500 BC, all the while recognizing that economic relations emerge earlier and spread out wider than political ones; so that he can accept Frank and Gills= recognition of a single systemic whole already 1500 years earlier in 3,000 BC; and he encourages us to probe still ever farther back and outward. Military relations are also wider than political control, though they do not extend as far out as do economic relations. That is so even though the military ones more often than not are undertaken to promote economic ones or at least to shape economic relations to one=s interest, such as establishing colonies or access to raw materials or markets, and most often to exercise control over trade routes.

A major example is the relations between Han China and Imperial Rome. In his important study of their >=correlations,@ Francis Teggart [1939][ demonstrated that and why changes in political policy and events in Han China repeatedly had immediate political economic repercussions in Rome. And of course the famous study of TE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE by Gibbon [19xx] falls short in attributing the same only to the arrival of the >=barbarian=> Huns led by Attila without analyzing how and why as in a set of dominoes stretching from the northwest frontier of Han China to Rome each falling nomad domino also pushed the next one westward across Asia until the last one also pushed over Rome, which had already been weakened by the same continental economic forces that had simultaneously also weakened the Han Dynasty as well as Kushan India and then Parthian Persia, as well as all of the trans- Central Asian Silk Road that connected them all.

Our main analytic tools and related propositions are set out in our introductory chapter and may be briefly summarized:

1] There is a Eurasian wide World System, which has received no recognition and if anything only neglect or outright denial by Western, Chinese and other scholars alike.

2] The motor force of change and transformation in this System is and has long since been competitive capital accumulation, which according to most scholarship, Marxist and other, does not begin until 1800 AD or 1500 AD at the earliest. We demonstrate that essentially the same process is thousands of years old and the driving force of history and even some pre-history. 3] We can identify center-periphery relations within the system, though not necessarily with a single systemic center and its peripheries

4] There may be alternating periods of hegemony during expansion and rivalry during contraction within the system, but the longer we study it the more persuaded do we become that hegemony has been much more partial and rare than previously thought. 5]Although capital accumulation is very old and still ongoing, it is not steady. On the contrary, the process of capital accumulation and its derivative social and political changes is cyclical. In this book in chapter 5, we identified expansive A and contractive B phases as far back as 1750 BC. Then Frank [1993] pursued this cyclical pattern more than a millennium longer to 3,000 BC. Now Frank and Thompson have taken it still further through the 3rd and 4th millennia BC, and other scholars are trying to do the same.

However, the book brings together chapters by authors with differing views on these matters. Arguing in favor of these propositions are the contributing editors Frank and Gills, and contributors Friedman and Eckholm, and Wilkinson. Arguing against us in defense of more traditional also Marxist analysis are Amin and Wallerstein, and attempting to have a foot in both camps is Abu-Lughod.

Beyond these still on-going disputes even among ourselves, a number of important questions remain outstanding:

Part of the Indian sub-continent plays an important role in the system as a whole until about 1750 BC, but seems to disappear from the archaeological record for an entire millennium untill it reappears in the mid-first millennium BC. How can that be? Hard evidence for the connection of China with an Afro- Eurasian system that extends through the Mediterranean to the Atlantic appears only in the mid-first millennium BC.

These relations between events in China and elsewhere in Asia occurred in the lifetime of Confuscius and Tao, which was called the >=Axial Age@ by Karl Jaspers and others, who observed that other major religious and philosophical movements were also born simultaneity during the mid-first millennium alll accross Eurasia, including Buddhism, Zoroasterism, Janism, Pythagorianism, Ionian philosophy and the major Hebrew prophets Ezekiel and the second Isaiah. Others have already suggested that this simultaneity in timing was probably not accidental, and we argue that they were the similar responses to common conditions of a Eurasian-wide mid-millennial economic contraction. Yet evidence of connections from Russia and Siberia extends all the way to the Pacific. China, of course, is not China. Many peoples, settled and nomadic, Han and countless other nationalities came together over the long course of history, and most were sometimes slowly sometimes rapidly Han/Sinofied. What we now know as China and Chinese is the result of this long and still ongoing process that included an important element of expansion through a previous jungle in a south-easterly direction. Nor was that a constant process, for also it had periods of acceleration and deceleration and even retreat, also from what is now labeled as Southeast Asia. Our familiarity with this process is still all too limited, and it is almost nil regarding how its phases fit in with those across most of Asia toward the West [but see the section below about more recent work]. We are missing something in China and East Asia. Hopefully the publication of this book there will encourage our Chinese colleagues to pursue these questions and find evidence for much earlier systemic relations. Take to heart the archaeological, indeed scientific, saying that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Even so as a result, we believe in this book and elsewhere [see section on new work below] to have offered enough hard empirical evidence to ground our assertion and analysis of a SINGLE AFRO-EURASIAN SYSTEM stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific already 5 thousand years ago. The development and transformation of this system as a whole then helped shape and re-shape most of its parts, their relations with each other, and their relations with the whole system itself. Therefore we contend that not only is it necessary to study the whole that is more than the sum of its parts in order to understand the whole - then or now - for that is obvious. But we contend further that it is equally necessary to study the whole at any ONE TIME if we wish to get a minimally adequate understanding at any time of any of its parts, be they China or Europe or North America or anywhere else. If this holistic requirement held already thousands of years ago, all the more so must we examine global developments in order to understand and make policy choices in and for any part today.

In the time since we did this book a decade ago, there has been considerable progress In research and writing along these lines of which we would like to inform the Chinese reader as well. Therefore we requested colleagues to each write a paragraph summarizing their own related work during the past decade. Here is what they wrote:

Robert Denemark in the USA informs about the publication of the proceedings of a conference we held in Lund, Sweden. The book is WORLD SYSTEM HISTORY: THE SOCIAL SCIENCE OF LONG-TERM CHANGE [Routledge 2000] and it was edited by Robert Denemark, Jonathan Friedman, Barry K. Gills and George Modelski, and published by Routledge in 2000. This book is designed as a fundamental starting point for the transdisciplinary study of continuity and change in the global social, economic, and political system over the longest of historical terms. It includes four chapters on the major perspectives of students of world system history by Gunder Frank and Gills, Modelski, Wilkinson, and Chase-Dunn and Hall. Five chapters on specific regions in long-term perspective, and five chapters on global macro-historical processes including information, the environment, productivity, war and world cities follow. Two final chapters offer comparisons, cumulation and future directions in the study of world system history.

Kristian Kristiansen writes from Sweden: My main contribution in the world system field of research is still my book EUROPE BEFORE HISTORY [Cambridge University Press 1998] . Here I propose en cyclical change between center/periphery interaction at 3-400 year intervals (Fig 226). Periods of international contact and the adoption of new technologies and value systems change with periods without international contacts (some of them dark ages of restructuring in the centers), characterized by migrations and social changes in the European periphery. Right now I am working on the identification of the transmission of new institutions from Mediterranean centers to Europe during the early Bronze Age, also employing texts. I identify the institution of Divine twins and twin rulers as a dominant religious political institution during this period from India to western Europe article "Rulers and Warriors" Symbolic Transmission and Social Transformation in Bronze Age Europe", which appeared in Jonathan Haas, (Ed) FROM LEADERS TO RULERS [ Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers 2001].

David Wilkinson in California reports that since 1993 I have been engaged in mapping the spatio-temporal boundaries of historic world systems (WS); locating small, short-lived and overlooked WS in Africa; testing, and generally confirming, some of A.G. Frank's proposed phase-timings against data; and time-mapping the polarity structures of the major world systems, a long undertaking still in process. Among the world systems whose power structures I have sequenced is the Far Eastern (at 25-year intervals, 1025 BC--AD 1850). For that system, I have also reviewed the evidence for the reality and duration of its systemic autonomy.

Sing Chew, also in California, writes that efforts were made to understand and periodize long-term ecological changes and crisis as a consequence of five thousand years of accumulation, urbanization, and climatological changes. Ecological changes and crisis have been analyzed through an examination of the periodicity and nature of Dark Ages, and what Dark Ages mean for long-term world system evolution. Dark Ages are ages of redistribution (material and political)and ecological rejuvenation of the world system. These findings have been reported in WORLD ECOLOGICAL DEGRADATION (3000BC - AD2000) Volume 1[Altamira 2001], and the forthcoming Volume 2, DARK AGES: ECOLOGICAL STRESS AND SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION..

John McNeill in the US informs that in the forthcoming THE HUMAN WEB, he and William H. McNeill organize the human experience over millennia into the story of networks of interaction involving the exchange and flows of information, technologies, beliefs, plants, animals, diseases and much else. While on one level all of humankind is connected, more vigorous interaction historically took place within smaller webs of interaction. Over time these tended to grow and to merge, often a brutal business, and in the past 500 years became increasingly unified and global.

Thomas D. Hall in the US has long been active in studying long-term social change. In addition to his numerous articles and two books with Christopher Chase-Dunn [RISE AND DEMISE: COMPARING WORLD SYSTEMS [ Westview 1997]; and CORE-PERIPHERY RELATIONS IN PRECAPITALIST WORLDS [Westview 1991], now out of print but on-line at IROWS]. He is editor of A WORLD-SYSTEMS READER: NEW PERSPECTIVES ON GENDER, URBANISM, CULTURES, INDIGENOUS PEOPLES, AND ECOLOGY [Rowman & Littlefield 2000]. Along with Susan Manning they have published Rise and Fall: East-West Synchronicity and Indic Exceptionalism Reexamined, " SOCIAL SCIENCE HISTORY 24:4(Winter 2000). Most of Hall's work centers on indigenous populations and state-nonstate relations globally. He has a strong interest in the role of pastoral nomads in long-term change. He has also collaborated with Peter Turchin, a biological ecologist on an article advocating the use of population ecology models to gain additional insight into long term change [forthcoming in the electronic JOURNAL OF WORLD-SYSTEMS RESEARCH]. A full listing of his publications is available on his web page:

Alf Hornborg in Sweden has argued in THE POWER OF THE MACHINE. GLOBAL INEQUALITIES OF ECONOMY, TECHNOLOGY AND ENVIRONMENT [Altamira Press 2001] that a new kind of systemic logic is introduced when high-quality energy and "negative entropy" (i.e. "order") is traded over long distances. Early examples include the Mediterranean trade in cereals to feed Greek and Roman slaves, which augmented the buildup of infrastructure (order) in Athens and Rome at the expense of ecological complexity in North Africa. Britain's "industrial revolution" similarly occurred at the expense of ecosystems and soils in Georgia, social structures in West Africa, mines and forests in Scandinavia, etc. As it may well prove impracticable to quantify and empirically demonstrate this logic in terms of thermodynamics - although thermodynamics are important for analytically grasping it - Hornborg suggests that we think in terms of the unequal exchange of (human) time and (natural) space. Technological infrastructure in the center saves time (by increasing speed) and space (by intensifying land use) for a global minority, but at the expense of (labor) time and (natural) space in the periphery.

Jonathan Friedman writes from Sweden: Friedman has worked in the analysis of the social and economic relations in Ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern societies, in which categories of redistributive and prestige relations hide a dynamic commercialized economies organized in larger global systems with crucial accumulation of abstract wealth similar in many ways to modern capitalism. These studies also stress the existence of cycles of hegemonic expansion and contraction in relation to changing class and ethnic relations and a number of processes that are remarkably similar to the modern world.

Kaisa Ekholm also in Sweden has finished a book manuscript on the Bronze Age from 2000 to 1200 BC, which traces the systemic relations between Greece, the Southwest Asia and Egypt. It demonstrates how cyclical expansions/contractions finally lead to total collapse and the end of the Bronze Age. This book is part of a project on the "future as history: the comparative anthropological analysis of hegemonic decline" which includes other sub-projects on the Hellenistic Period through the Roman Empire, and late 19th and early 20th century European world system. Ekholm and Friedman have also analyzed the historical articulation between Central Africa on one hand and Pacific Islands, and European colonial expansion, which shows how contemporary social and cultural formations emerged within that global system.

Claudio Cioffi-Revilla in the US founded the Long-Range Analysis of War (LORANOW) Project and now directs the new Center for Social Complexity ( The LORANOW Project has expanded from its original focus on measuring and modeling the long-term dynamics of warfare, to an enhanced focus on recording and modeling the origins and long-term dynamics of polity systems and networks thereof. A Handbook of Ancient Polities in four volumes (West Asia, East Asia, Andean Peru, and Mesoamerica) is in preparation. Investigations continue through computational approaches (agent-based simulations and computer-based cartography). The LORANOW archives are deposited at the Harvard-MIT Data Center at

Last but not least, we would like to mention some recent work in China itself: A revisionists view of Chinese ancient history is gaining currency contra the old notion of a single center in the North- Yellow River Valley that developed first and then diffused outward to other areas. Instead Chinese colleagues are now arguing that the archaeological evidence shows that there were several important centers or even distinctive 'civilisations' in the area now known as China, which had mutual co-existence and influence on each other for a long period. The south also seems to have hosted civilisations as advanced as that of the north. For example there were 3 major jade using cultures in the 4th millennium BCE: Liangzhu on the southeast coast; Hongshan in the north and northeast (which produced cylindrical tubes of carved jade). Excavations of these early sites in 4th and 3rd millenniums BCE have revealed organised settlements, each with very distinctive arts and artifacts, including ritual jade (.carved)objects. Excavations from the second millennium BCE have revealed unprecedented hoards of sophisticated jade and bronze objects located in sites that are far from the traditionally acknowledged center of power in the Yelow Rver Basin. [Jessica Rawson, 1996, ed. MYSTERIES OF ANCIENT CHINA: NEW > DISCOVERIES FROM THE EARLY DYNASTIES, London: British Museum]

This has fueled the re-theorisation of ancient 'Chinese' history that the power and the territory of China's early states and their ruling elites may not have been as centralised as has been thought up to now. We welcome this revision, and offer that multi-centric development in the world system is the normal pattern not only within China itself, particularly at this early stage, but a pattern that reasserted itself many times in China's long history. That is there were repeated periods when the centralized imperial state broke down and a multi-state system prevailed. There have thus always been many peoples and many states influencing the course of China's and East Asia's historical development. Gills argued that already in 1993, in a book edited by Stephen Gill on GRAMSCI, HISTORICAL MATERIALISM AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, [Cambridge University Press].

Finally, we may mention that we author / editors have also done some more work along these lines, although during the past decade we have concentrated on more recent times. Barry Gills can mention his " World system analysis, historical sociology and international relations: the difference a hyphen makes,'' which discusses a historical dialectic between 'capital versus oikos' and 'free versus unfree labour' throughout world system history, in Stephen Hobden and John M. Hobson, eds, HISTORICAL SOCIOLOGY OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, [Cambrige University Press, 2002]

Andre Gunder Frank returned to Chapter 5 of this book to extend and revise "Bronze Age World System Cycles" back through the Third Millennium in CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY [August-October 1993]. A decade later he and William Thompson once again returned to this theme with far more data to check, fortify and further revise " West Asian Bronze Age Economic Expansion and Contraction Revisited." William Thompson has also prepared several empirical studies of his own on related themes.

Most of Frank's work during the past decade was however devoted to the period AD 1400 to 1900. In particular Frank published ReORIENT [University of California Press 1998] those title in the Chinese translation is SILVER EMPIRE [TRANSLATOR PLEASE REPLACE BY CHINESE] [Foreign Translation and Compilation Press 2000]. The book explores the implications for the early modern period of using the longer 5,000 year perspective in the present book. The result is a complete reversal of Eurocentric historiography and social theory and a global history in which Asia, and particularly China are predominant in the world into the nineteenth century, which Frank is now trying also to Reorient. The Chinese edition of ReORIENT has a new foreword by the author, which also explores its implications for the present and near future, in which China and East Asia are again resurgent. Therefore we are reluctant to repeat this same argument here again, other than to quote a couple of general conclusions

"1] Since Asia and especially China was economically powerful in the world until relatively recently, it is quite possible that it soon be so again. 2] Chinese and other Asian economic success in the past was not based on Western ways; and much recent Asian economic success was not based on the Western model". 10] It is noteworthy that these economically most dynamic regions of China today also are still or again exactly the same ones as in Qing and even Ming China, as also reflected in this book: They are Lingnan in the South, still centered on the Hong Kong - Guangzhou corridor, and linked to the South China Sea trade; Fujian, still centered on Amoy/Xiamen and focusing on the Taiwan straits trade also in the South China Sea; the Yangtze Valley, centered on Shanghai that is already taking the lead away again from the previously mentioned regions; and Northeast China whose economy now, as also already over two hundred years ago, is tied into quadrangular trade relations with Siberia, Korea, and Japan around and through the North China Sea. And all of these in turn were and still or again increasingly are important segments of world trade and of the global economy. " Frank's DEPENDENT ACCUMULATION AND UNDERDEVELOPMENT [1978] was also published by Yilin Press in its Humanities and Society Series in 1999].