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Central Asia´s central role until 1800

Central Asia´s central role until 1800

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Published by: 2thirdsworld on Apr 24, 2009
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 CENTRAL ASIA'S CONTINUING ROLE IN THE WORLD ECONOMY TO 1800byANDRE GUNDER FRANKUniversity of Toronto96 Asquith Ave. Toronto, Ont. Canada M4W 1J8Tel:416-972 0616 Fax:416-972 0071e-mail: agfrank@chass.utoronto.caINTRODUCTIONAsia's rightful and historically documented place has been deniedby the dominance of excessively Eurocentric perspectives on earlymodern and recent world economic history - and social science!As the master [European/ist] historian Fernand Braudel (1979:134)astutely observed "Europe invented historians and then made gooduse of them." It is time to help right these Euro-[or Western-]centric mis-interpretations by historians, social scientists andthe general public by offering an interpretation of modern andeconomic world history, which again allots Asia its due.Contributing thereto is the goal of the author's ReOrient: GlobalEconomy in the Asian Age (Frank 1997).The present essay offers some indications of where and howCentral Asia fit - that is, continued to fit - into the mostlyAsian scheme of things. I say "continued" to fit, for two mainreasons: The first reason is that I have already argued for TheCentrality of Central Asia (Frank 1992) in Afro-eurasian historyfor several thousand years, at least for over a millennium and ahalf before, and still after, the beginning of the Christian era.The second reason is that this centrality, and even therelevance, of Inner and Central Asia has not only been overlyneglected but is even denied outright. Consider for instance thefollowing glaring example in which the history of largelyIslamic Central Asia during this period is largely dismissed bythe Cambridge History of Islam:Central Asia was thus isolated from the early sixteenthcentury ... and therefore led an existence at the margin ofworld history.... The discovery of the sea-route to EastAsia rendered the Silk Road increasingly superfluous....From the threshold of modern times Central Asian historybecomes provincial history. This justifies us in giving nomore than a rapid sketch of the following centuries (Holt,Lambton, Lewis 1970:471,483).This dismissal is unacceptable, both in principle and on factualgrounds. Admittedly, evidence is hard to come by; but the1
archaeological maxim applies: absence of evidence is not evidenceof absence.In his discussion of the supposed "decline" [his quotation marks]of the Central Asian caravan trade, Rossabi (1990:352) stresses"the paucity of precise information about this commerce."Nonetheless, he makes several observations, some more and othersless acceptable. To begin with, Rossabi observes that Chineserecords from the Ming dynasty suggest that this commerce did notdecline after 1400, but continued into the sixteenth century, andindeed even into the early seventeenth century. Moreover, likeSteensgard (1972) also, he observes that trans-continentalcaravan trade was not replaced by circum-Asian maritime trade.The latter had already estimated that European consumption ofAsian goods coming by caravan was still double that broughtaround the Cape by ship (Steensgard 1972:168). Both authors doobserve declining trans-Central Asian trade in the seventeenthcentury. We will examine below the extent to which and why,insofar as there was any decline, it was primarily cyclical andhow the eighteenth century witnessed a renewed recovery. Butfirst, it is well to place both this kind of Eurocentricideological dismissal and the real Central Asian economic recordin the broader world political-economic and cultural history ofwhich it was and remains an important part.EUROCENTRISMThe above-cited Eurocentric distortion of the real historicalrecord has its roots in Adam Smith and Karl Marx. Smith wrote inThe Wealth of Nations in 1776:The discovery of America, and that of the passage to theEast Indies by the Cape of Good Hope, are the two greatestevents recorded in the history of mankind (Smith1776/1937:557).Marx and Engels followed in their Communist Manifesto in 1848: The discovery of America, the rounding of the Cape, openedup fresh ground for the rising bourgeoisie. The East-Indianand Chinese markets, the colonization of America, trade withthe colonies, the increase in the means of exchange and incommodities generally, gave to commerce, to navigation, toindustry, an impulse never before known, and thereby to therevolutionary element in the tottering feudal society, arapid development.... (Marx and Engels 1848).Alas however, Smith - writing still before the industrialrevolution in Europe - was the last major [Western] socialscientist to appreciate that Europe was a johnny come lately inthe development of the wealth of nations. Smith still recognized2
Asia as being economically far more advanced and richer thananything in Europe. "The improvements in agriculture andmanufactures seem likewise to have been of very great antiquityin the provinces of Bengal in the East Indies, and in some of theeastern provinces of China.... Even those three countries [China,Egypt and Indostan], the wealthiest, according to all accounts,that ever were in the world, are chiefly renowned for theirsuperiority in agriculture and manufactures.... [Now in 1776]China is a much richer country than any part of Europe" (Smith1937: 20,348,169).However already by the mid-nineteenth century, Marx saw thingsfrom a new [European] perspective: England was allegedly showingIndia the mirror of its future and the United States was bringingprogress to Mexico thanks to its 1846 war against that country.But whats more, Marx alleged that the "transition from feudalismto capitalism" and the "rising bourgeoisie" in Europe hadtransformed the world, supposedly since the genesis of capital[if not capitalism] in the sixteenth century - also in Europe!Then with the spread of European colonialism in the second halfof the thy century, world history was re-written wholesale - andsocial science was [new] born, not only as a European, but as aEurocentric invention. Other social "scientists" may have risento dispute against Marx [and supposedly to agree with Smith], butthey all agreed with each other and with Marx not only that 1492and 1498 were the two greatest events in the history of mankind,but that ever since that history had been marked by the allegeduniqueness of [West] Europeans, which supposedly generated "TheRise of the West" and gave rise to "the development and spreadof capitalism" in the world.Foremost among these fathers [whatever happened to the mothers?]of modern social "science" was of course Max Weber. He allegedthat the European "Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism"made "General Economic History," and he assiduously studied "TheReligions" of various parts of Asia to show that - and supposedlywhy! - the poor Asians were incapable of doing as well. Webereven wrote a book to deny that the Chinese had, or were capableof managing, real cities; even though Song China had already hadcities of several million population, while [Western] Europe'slargest city had barely 100,000 in Venice - and Europe's reallylargest city was Constantinople/Istanbul in the east, which wasnot "western" or even very "European" [rational?]! Marx'sinvention of a supposed "Asiatic Mode of Production," and laterWittfogel's [anti-Marxist] ideas about Asian "hydraulic/bureaucratic" societies were all fashioned to this sameEurocentric end. Tawney turned Weber on his head [as Marx haddone to Hegel] and argued that in fact capitalism came first, andthen its spirit. No matter, for both agreed on the fundamentalswith each other and with Marx:the Rise of Capitalism in Europedue to European exceptionalism. And so of course, did Sombart who3

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