Taking the end of the age seriously

By Razib Khan | November 28, 2010 2:19 am

I am about two-thirds of the way through Why the West Rules-for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future, and I have to agree with Tyler Cowen’s assessment so far. The author is an archaeologist, and though a little less shy in regards to general theory than most in his profession, he still seems to exhibit the tendency to focus on thick-detail without any elegant theoretical scaffolding. In some ways it is an inversion of Gregory Clark’s A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World, which manifests an economist’s preference for stylized system-building at the expense of the messy residual. Why the West Rules has added almost no broad-brush theoretical returns beyond what you could find in Guns, Germs and Steel and The Wealth and Poverty of Nations. Though the author has a lot of scrupulously footnoted detail which probably makes Why the West Rules a worthy read.

But this post isn’t a review of Why the West Rules, rather, it’s a lament as to the total intellectual unpreparedness of the West’s intellectual class for the de facto end of the age of white supremacy,* the high tide of which is documented in the final chapters of this book (I skimmed them chapters ahead of time). The de jure end of the age of white supremacy probably spanned the victory of the allies during World War II down to desegregation in the United States in the 1960s. But despite the official end of the ideology of white racial superiority, the white-majority nations of the world were and are objectively superior in metrics such as Human Development Index. On a per capita basis they will remain so for a while longer:

And yet the trend lines are converging between East Asian and developed white Western nations. We are now moving beyond the time when we can talk about ‘the West vs. the Rest.’ There are ~1.3 billion Chinese in China itself, which is approximately the total number of people of white European descent in the world.** In much of Africa China is a rising economic and social presence. There are likely more expatriate Chinese in Africa than there are expatriate whites. Enter “China + any region of the world” into Google, and you’ll come back with plenty of interesting results.

But from what I can tell Westerners, of all colors, are totally intellectually unprepared for the radical shift in geopolitics which is occurring as we speak. Kvetching about China’s trade surplus does not intellectual preparedness make. Most white liberals have an anti-colonialist outlook, and favor the liberation of peoples of color in the face of white supremacy. But this normative framework only makes sense in light of a model whereby white domination and agency are the preeminent considerations in the lives of the people of color. In much of the world that is not necessarily the case anymore. In Australia you have an inversion of the old narrative, insofar as an commodity boom driven by Chinese demand has arguably kept that nation’s economy relatively buoyant!

The white supremacy model (WSM) isn’t only found among white people. It’s very dominant among colored people who reflect on these issues. Indians are haunted by British colonialism. Latin Americans by Yankee imperialism. Middle Eastern Muslims by the Jewish-Western condominium. The Chinese still remember the de facto colonialism which their nation was subjected to after the Opium Wars.

In graphic terms what you have as a model is like so:

europerest

In the late 19th century the whole world became Greater Europe’s playground. Non-European thinkers had to respond to the European challenge. There was no other game in town. To some extent that response continued and elaborated after the collapse of European political hegemony in the 1950s and 1960s; ergo, postcolonialism.

This is probably more accurate today than the old model, and will certainly be more accurate within the next generation:

europerest2

800px-World_literacy_map_UNHD_2007_2008
Because of its population and economic dynamism China will naturally come to rival Greater Europe in its influence and impact on the rest of the world. No other nations besides East Asian ones have shown an ability to match Greater Europe in HDI. The map to the left of literacy rates is I believe a good predictor of potential median HDI and per capita economic productivity ceilings for the next generation or two. South Asia is the world leader in absolute concentrated human misery, both in illiteracy and malnutrition. I think India will be influential and powerful because of raw numbers, but there is no worry that it will be a per capita power. Africa is prospering thanks to the Chinese fueled commodity boom, but it too is low on the human and institutional capital totem pole to leverage its demographic dynamism. Australia is too small in population to be influential. If the trends in its economy remain, that it becomes in large part a commodity source for China, then I think it will be prey to being muscled by the East Asian superpower just as Latin American nations traditionally were by the United States, even without military intervention, because of the asymmetry in economic dependency. Latin American nations like Brazil are populous and on the ‘ascension graph’, but they have problems with wide variance in human capital, just like India.

In civilizational terms we are not going from a unipolar world to a multipolar world. We’re going from a unipolar world to a bipolar world. This means that there must be a revision to our intellectual toolkit. Critics of the West, whether they’re white or colored, still have a superficial understanding of the Dead White Men and their history. Islamic revisionists who make a case for the centrality and superiority of their tradition do so with the West as an explicit or implicit counterpoint. The indigenous traditions of India, Africa, or China, were not relevant to these arguments. Europe was the sun, around with other civilizational planets circled.

Not so any longer. Consider these headlines: China workers killed in Pakistan and Algeria: Xenophobia against Chinese on the rise in Africa. Or Brazil’s huge new port highlights China’s drive into South America. China eyes rail link to Chittagong. A pushcart war in the streets of Milan’s Chinatown. ‘Too Asian’? – Worries that efforts in the U.S. to limit enrollment of Asian students in top universities may migrate to Canada.

This is a different dynamic than the rise of the one-dimensional Arab and Soviet petro-states of the 1970s in a qualitative sense. China and its Diaspora are a full-throated economic counterweight to the two century international geopolitical and cultural dominance of Greater Europe. It is also a different dynamic than the migration of various colored peoples into Western nations after World War II, where these groups are slotted into the lower social and economic rungs, and draw hostility and contempt from some whites and patronizing sympathy and self-interested bureaucratic-managerial concern from others. Japan and the “Asian Tigers” were limited by their demographic modesty when set next to Greater European nations like the United States.

How should people readjust to this world? Obviously following economic statistics and political events are essential to recalibrating with judicious perspective and caution. The world’s intellectual classes, Western and non-Western, have been conditioned to white supremacy for so long that no one remembers a time when it was any different.*** One of the ironies of WSM is that non-whites rarely know the history or culture of other non-whites to the same extent that they know that of whites. In other words, South Asians know their history and that of whites, Africans know their history and that of whites, East Asians know their history and that of whites, etc. (the main exception may be Korea, which was colonized by the Japanese). It’s ironic because the implicit inference of WSM is that non-whites have common interests against the white master race. Though this is admittedly rational because the concerns, values, and motivations of the masters are more relevant than those of other helots. The term ‘master race’ has positive connotations while a ‘the cancer of human history’ has negative ones, but no matter, both indicate that the object of concern is worthy and of note. But the blind-spot in this mode of thinking is that colored people who supposedly have solidarity are totally ignorant of each other’s respective substance.

This was all of purely academic interest until the resurgence of East Asia, and China in particular. It is for example well known that Chinese have a strong racial consciousness. During the Maoist period this was dampened by ideology. China’s objective lack of development for most of the 20th century almost certainly suppressed some of the racial disdain which is an element of Han chauvinism. But the Chinese, like East Asians in general, have a degree of race consciousness which expresses on the surface to an extent that would be surprising and alarming to most whites, excepting perhaps Afrikaners, some white American Southerners, and partisans of nationalist parties in Europe. This predates the modern era insofar as the Chinese have a long history of dehumanizing ‘barbarians’ and looking down on dark-skinned peoples (e.g., see the reports of the legation sent to the Khmer kingdom of Funan, which lingered upon their nakedness and darkness of complexion). But the real genesis of contemporary attitudes may be rooted in the synthesis of Chinese folk attitudes and early 20th century racial anthropology, already evident in the writings of principals in the May Fourth Movement.

Contrary to the Chung Kuo science fiction future history I have no expectation that Han racism will lead to a genocidal war of extermination against the black and brown peoples of the world. Rather, the attitudes in common circulation in China and other East Asian nations must be understood by any politician, diplomat or businessman, who wants to operate in that region. Any dark-skinned South Asian who expects “Asian” fellow-feeling in China may be in for a surprise. Chinese opinions of people of African descent are even more checkered. During the days of Japan Inc. cultural fluency was already seen to be critical, but because China is one order of magnitude more populous than Japan in 30-40 years it will be much more of an international social and economic presence. Interestingly 20% of individuals on the internet are already Chinese nationals, vs. 5% of Japanese (though the difference in penetration rates is 30% vs. 80%).

Where does this leave us? By the end of our lives those of us in early adulthood will live in a bipolar world. China and the West will together be drivers of consumption. When it comes to development aid or investment in poorer nations the West will have a substantive rival. These two will hold up the sky together. With this will come more prominence of Chinese culture, and a necessity for an understanding of that civilization’s history, its values. Though I’m making a pragmatic and utilitarian case for understanding and knowledge here, I do want to enter into the record than an appreciation of the history of the Chinese is an understanding of the history of a substantial proportion of humanity. It is part of our common history, just as Greece and Rome are.

With that, at the end of this post are a list of books which I’ve found useful, and obviously memorable, in trying to understand the shape of the Chinese past, and how the present came to be. Personal preference and bias is obviously operative. The fact that a standalone work on Xun Zi is listed below, and Mencius is not, says a lot about my personal evaluation of the two in relation to each other.

* I use “white” as a compound of both genetic and cultural qualities. So, Turks are not classified as white in this sense, while Ashkenazi Jews are, even though both groups are equivalently white when compared to “reference” populations which no one would deny are white, such as the English, in a genetic sense. So a person of Turkish ethnic origin who converts to Christianity, such as Boris Johnson’s ancestor (originally Bey), can generally be accepted as white because of their appearance. In contrast, someone who has noticeable non-white appearance, a South Asian for example, remains non-white despite their Christianity.

** You can do the back-of-the-envelope pretty easily. Europe, + 0.70 X USA + Canada + Australia + New Zealand + 1/3 Latin America is a good approximation. Of course a substantial proportion of the other 2/3 of Latin Americans have some white European ancestry, but whiteness a privilege which generally comes only through purity of blood, so they can be ignored.

*** I would peg the closing of the previous multipolar world to the second half of the 18th century, though the fact of European dominance did not ripen until the Opium Wars, which illustrated that even the greatest of non-Euroepan powers was ineffectual against European military mobilization.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, History
  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    the moral of this post is that knowing things is important. therefore, useless comments will be removed.

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  • http://www.nds-gear.com iEDGE

    Having the Chinese as a power to be reckoned with, while it threatens White Europe/America’s ‘domination’ of global politics, isn’t exactly that horrible – it’s not like a war is going to be started.

  • http://evolvingthoughts.net John Wilkins

    In Australia you have an inversion of the old narrative, insofar as an commodity boom driven by Chinese demand has arguably kept that nation’s economy relatively buoyant!

    Arguably nothing. Our total export is almost entirely primary industry and the Chinese demand has kept us afloat. We have little to no manufactures any more, and seem blithely ignorant of the need to prepare for when China decides it doesn’t need to buy our ore or chooses to pay only a small amount because it is simply the only major purchaser.

    Good article.

  • bob sykes

    There are two problems that might derail the coming Chinese ascendancy. First, the one-child policy has caused a serious sex ratio imbalance and is leading to a rapidly aging population. It is almost certain that significant population decline will set in soon. So, the question is whether demographics will allow the predicted ascendancy. China’s economic modernization might offset the loss of productive people.

    The other problem is the stability of the the Chinese state. This is not only a matter of disgruntled Uighurs and Tibetans, et al. The economic boom has not reached the rural population, and significant numbers of violent anti-state protests occur in the interior every year.

    Chinese ascendancy might occur despite these critical problems, but the problems might also make the ascendancy very short-lived.

    Another issue is whether the massive migrations into the white centers will so alter their culture that they go into rapid decline. Economists generally assume that more people is better, but the Turks and other Muslims in Europe and the Mexicans in the US seem to have expanded the territories of their failed homelands without any benefit to their new homes. The absolute decline of the white centers would create a vacuum that even a diminished China could fill.

    And then, of course, there’s India.

  • onur

    So a person of Turkic ethnic origin who converts to Christianity

    You should have meant a person of Turkish ethnic origin, as an Uyghur or Uzbek would hardly be classified as white even after converting to Christianity.

  • Jan Kees Mol

    your post (have to read the book) touches on almost every aspect of this changing world except one. What the West needs to do is fairly obvious (lose the blinkers). The others who are still acting as planets to the Wests setting sun need to lose the chips on their shoulders, and learn to play West en China off against each other. But the Chinese also need to adapt, if this world is indeed going to be bipolar, in ways that the West didn’t need to in the 19/20th c WSM- world.
    So, interesting times ahead.

    There are two problems that might derail the coming Chinese ascendancy. First, the one-child policy has caused a serious sex ratio imbalance and is leading to a rapidly aging population. It is almost certain that significant population decline will set in soon. So, the question is whether demographics will allow the predicted ascendancy. China’s economic modernization might offset the loss of productive people.

    The other problem is the stability of the the Chinese state. This is not only a matter of disgruntled Uighurs and Tibetans, et al. The economic boom has not reached the rural population, and significant numbers of violent anti-state protests occur in the interior every year

    the first seems more structurally worrisome than the latter, as it will be a major impediment economic growth, which is what is ameliorating the latter. the traditionally pattern with chinese dynasties is that they have 100-150 years of ramp up to ‘peak’ before the decline, so by that measure i think the communists have a little slack/patience.

    Economists generally assume that more people is better, but the Turks and other Muslims in Europe and the Mexicans in the US seem to have expanded the territories of their failed homelands without any benefit to their new homes.

    the analogy is of different weight. muslims, not just turks, are likely to go beyond ~15% of the total european population within our lifetime and even beyond, barring a) continued massive below replacement birthrates and very high birthrates among muslims (this does not seem to be occurring as many white european cultures are somewhat bouncing back and muslims tend to drop and converge with residence) b) massive immigration, which has been checked by legislation, but is structurally going to be constrained to sub-replacement fertility around the mediterranean. in contrast, people of latino ethnicity are already ~15% of the american population.

    though the ‘failed homeland’ is also arguable. turkey and mexico are crappy because of contrast effect. on a per capita basis they’re still way better than china. chart: gdp per capita

  • Jan Kees Mol

    and Bey is a honorific rather than part of the family name in Turkish

  • onur

    What do you think about atheist Turks (of whom I am an example)? Do you think they have equal (to Christianized or already Christian Turks) chance to be classified as White, less or more? I am not asking this because that I care to be classified as White but because that it is an interesting case of racial perception.

  • onur

    BTW, by classification I mean Western public perceptions, not official (including scientific literature) classifications (according to which Muslim Turks are White too).

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Do you think they have equal (to Christianized or already Christian Turks) chance to be classified as White, less or more? I am not asking this because that I care to be classified as White but because that it is an interesting case of racial perception.

    the name probably matters. but if you don’t look like a ‘beardo’ seems like there’s no issue. i’ve known several people who were half-turkish, and if their surname was european no one ever commented on their origin. and most turkish renderings of muslim names, e.g., ‘mehmet’, are exotic enough that americans might be confused. most americans, being rather stupid, are apparently unaware that the doctor mehment oz is turkish.

    You should have meant a person of Turkish ethnic origin, as an Uyghur or Uzbek would hardly be classified as white even after converting to Christianity.

    you’re right. i did mean turkish. but please note that people of eurasian ancestry with noticeable white/west asian/european admixture can ‘pass’ as white. so what you say is not necessarily true. the actress jennifer chang changed her name to ‘jennifer tilly’ has openly played white characters in film throughout her career. so the purity of blood demands in many areas are really applicant to people of african descent, who need to be diluted down sufficiently (e.g., rashida jones) to be plausible and acceptable to the public.

    But the Chinese also need to adapt, if this world is indeed going to be bipolar, in ways that the West didn’t need to in the 19/20th c WSM- world.

    true. the question is whether the chinese can plausibly operate in a westphalian system. historically they never have, as east asian states gave due deference to the primacy of the chinese state and centrality of chinese culture.

  • onur

    but if you don’t look like a ‘beardo’ seems like there’s no issue.

    Very few Turks have such beards (mostly some radical Islamist ones), Western-style shaving is the norm today.

  • http://ironrailsironweights.wordpress.com/ Peter

    the purity of blood demands in many areas are really applicant to people of african descent, who need to be diluted down sufficiently (e.g., rashida jones) to be plausible and acceptable to the public

    Rashida Jones is a very unusual case. Most people who are half-black* are much less Caucasian-looking than she is. Joakim Noah is largely black in appearance even though he’s three-quarters European.

    * = like most African-Americans, Quincy Jones probably has some white ancestry, but based on his appearance it can’t be much.

  • trajan23

    Peter,

    Quincey Jones, according to the tests that he took for the H.L. Gates’ ancestry special for PBS, is 66% Sub-Saharan African and 34% European. Hence, Rashida Jones is only 33% Sub-Saharan African in ancestry.

  • Insightful

    I disagree with Peter on this. Joachim Noah looks more ‘white’ than ‘black’ to me, but it’s all subjective anyway..

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    jones the father is part native american as well. and joakim noah only looks ‘largely black’ by the expansive american definition. he’s not largely black if you compare a western europe to a nigerian. he even looks less black than heidi klum’s sons or thandie newton, who are both half african and half european. which goes to show the power of african phenotype in the eyes of others (btw, quincy jones looks ‘more black’ than noah, so i’d peg his african ancestry around 50%). this is the old eugenic law of reversion. from lothrop stoddard on haiti:

    “From the very earliest days the colonists had been brought to realize one apparent fact, – the fact of that greater assimilative power of the black blood later formulated as the ‘law of reversion.’ once let the black principle enter a stock, and it seemed impossible ever to breed it out again….

    i believe this is really folk wisdom across american society, spanning color and ideology. blacks and white liberals also implicitly hold to the law of reversion through hypo-descent and a peace made with the fact that anyone with any visible african african is coded as ‘black’ by social convention.

    in contrast, eurasians and part-native americans are not subject to the law of reversion anymore. ben kingsely (aka krishna banji) plays indians, whites, assorted ethnics, etc., despite being half-indian. there is absolutely no concern if an actor/actress is 1/4 other in terms of their whites (dean cain, 1/4 japanese, keanu reaves, 1/4 chinese, rhona mitra, 1/4 indian, etc.).

    p.s. i too perceive noah to look black. but i think that’s because i have imbibed the law of reversion as part of my inculcation into american culture.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Quincey Jones, according to the tests that he took for the H.L. Gates’ ancestry special for PBS, is 66% Sub-Saharan African and 34% European.

    looks like the native american part is trace then, if it exists at all. i would have guessed he was less african in ancestry, but that goes to show that the features which doe for race are controlled by a much smaller number of genetic variants, which can vary a lot amongst those with the same ancestral quanta.

  • Insightful

    i would have guessed he was less african in ancestry, but that goes to show that the features which code for race are controlled by a much smaller number of genetic variants, which can vary a lot amongst those with the same ancestral quanta.

    Exactly why I said it is subjective because Peter is using similar determinants and running in the opposite direction as to why he thought Quincy was more African..

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  • TheDude

    I’m often skeptical as to the tenability of China’s course. Jared Diamond’s Collapse has a chapter devoted to China (ch. 12), and reading it reveals a number of basic insights into why China will be hard-pressed to level with the West: they can’t even get the basics of industrial civilization correct. From the world’s worst pollution, to galloping desertification of hitherto fertile agricultural land from misuse, to its almost complete inability to treat and provide potable water for its citizens, China has a long way to go before it can ever seriously challenge the West, or the US in any case, for dominance; that, coupled with the fact that the resource consumption of the world would double if China were to obtain a first-world standard of living. Not going to happen — simply can’t happen.

    Interestingly, one of the only places I’ve ever seen an appreciation of the implications of China’s ascent is Misha Glenny’s McMafia (thought this is not the book’s focus), which stated the obvious — yet ignored — truths of inimitable corruption, the widest disparity in wealth on the planet, and the frequent but unreported riots/strife engendered therefrom. Chinese cohesion is being strained.

    It also becomes obvious that China’s rise is a function of the fact that it treats its citizens as expendable, and that there is no management or any expenditure on controlling the externalities associated with its industrialization. State policy consists of keeping occupational health and safety statutes wafer-thin (to the extent they exist at all), as it is easier to simply compensate the families of those maimed and killed at work than to put any meaningful appreciation on the value of human life by mandating widespread, even minimal, reform. How long can this, which is unthinkable to anyone with any self-respect, last?

    Why is the Chinese government reluctant to allow its currency to float, and necessarily appreciate, in value? To do so would result in runaway domestic inflation — so long GNP growth!

    Regarding its human material, I have a friend from China (also an engineer) whose parents spent an arm and a leg so that he could be educated in the West. He told me that everyday sees the creation of innumerable new “schools” whose curriculums are slipshod and whose graduates, while perhaps intelligent, are not sufficiently skilled or educated in any meaningful way. And of course, because China can provide professional employment to only a few — invariably its elite — it is these millions who stream overseas to find work elsewhere. Will they return?

    China may very well bestride the world, but it will do so on shaky legs, and the policies that currently enable it to do so will undermine its ability to do so on the long run. Their complete inability to innovate aside, there’s a reason “Chinese” has historically been an adjective for languor and stagnation. And while the above is by no means an apologia for the West, perhaps I’m just an out-of-touch “White Supremacist”.

  • Ian

    “which goes to show the power of african phenotype in the eyes of others”

    One of the mistakes people make in terms of racial mixing is that all white genetics are the same. The aren’t. Northern Europeans (English, Germans) tend to mix differently with Africans than do southern Europeans (French, Spanish, Italians). Surely there’s some confirmation bias in there, but having been told that as a child, I can see the difference. Northern European + African tends to produce broader features (which people see as African) with lighter skin (which people tend to ignore). Southern European + African tends to produce narrower features but often darker skin. Once you straighten your hair, it’s the broader features that people see as “black”. People are more “forgiving” of slightly darker skin – you can pass for white even if you fail the “brown paper bag test”…as long as your features are narrow (assuming, of course, that your hair is straight…but that’s easy enough to alter).

  • http://lablemminglounge.blogspot.com Lab Lemming

    I agree with the general point that China is already becoming a superpower and westerners have a poor understanding of the country. But I think that defining Asian ascendancy as India + China does a disservice to almost a billion Asians who do not live in those two countries. Non-Chinese east Asia (south and north) is also developing rapidly, and people from Malaysia to Korea are making similar economic leaps. The development of civil society in Indonesia is one of the least publicized success stories of the last decade. I think that how the mid-size Asian countries progress with each other and with the two regional superpowers will be at least as interesting as how the west reacts.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Their complete inability to innovate aside, there’s a reason “Chinese” has historically been an adjective for languor and stagnation.

    perhaps you’re not retarded, but you know that the adjective only came into being in the late 18th century? the european sinophiles of 1700 had different opinions, in large part due to the dynamism of the ching during that period and the conventional economic and demographic intensive expansion occurring in their domains. anyway, your whole comment is riddled with tendentious assertions (e.g., china doesn’t have the world’s highest equality, though these sorts of numbers can be fudged of course, you still shouldn’t make the claim when it isn’t a certain fact). the argument could be made you’re making, but you didn’t support them at all, so i’m liable to dismiss. don’t comment on this thread again. otherwise i’ll ban you (some of your earlier comments are OK, but you haven’t been around enough that i’d give you license to pop-off). you’ve definitely pushed me to closing this thread earlier, since the opinion/information ratio is skewed in an unpalatable direction. not interested in reading repetitive crap i’ve read elsewhere.

  • omar

    Fascinating post. There has been a spate of books and articles about the coming Asian age, but they miss many of Razib’s questions. Unfortunately, the academic reaction to colonialism, white guilt, subversion by intelligent enemies of Western dominance (Edward Said, in my opinion, is in this category; I have a hard time believing that an intelligent person like him could seriously believe all the BS he put into his book. Of course, he cannot be held responsible for the outer limits of nonsense that “orientalism” has reached in the wider world) and so on have completely muddied the waters, so that a lot of scholars in Western Universities (still the predominant academic resource on this planet) seem to be blind sided by a new situation that does not fit into their worldview.
    Just as an aside, there seems to be a widespread notion that Asia (as in India and China) was the richest and most developed part of the planet for most of the last 2000 years and Western dominance is the exception rather than the historical rule. This book argues that is not the case and I think its right to say so. No Asian country reached the level of organization and development achieved by Rome until rather recently. While China and India had more people and more aggregate wealth, I dont think they can be regarded as having been more “developed” than Europe or the mediterranean/Levantine world for most of the last 2000 years. Or at least, that is my impression, I am willing to be convinced otherwise.
    Also, it is common to put Western dominance purely in terms of weapons. I suspect that institutional development (and intellectual development) was even more important than particular weapons. Weapons were decisively advanced by the nineteenth century, but the balance of power had shifted in the eighteenth. Again, I am willing to be convinced otherwise.
    Finally, a very speculative aside; In my personal experience, South Asian intellectuals tend to come from a narrow privileged class and grew up imbibing the counter-narrative supplied by Western dissidents (fabians, gandhians, post-colonial scholars and so on) ,with rather limited personal experience of the vicious side of South Asian poverty and traditional culture. I would guess that they are (statistically, not universally) more likely to repeat the WSM narrative (or rather, its internal counter-narrative of White guilt) than Chinese scholars. But I know no Chinese scholars, so I dont know if this psychologizing has any relationship to the truth. I say this because while Chinese intellectuals may be intensely nationalistic and even racist, I expect that many of them have personally experienced very wrenching traumas in the last century. So wrenching that it is not easy to live completely in a “China always good, White man bad” narrative. Is there anything to this notion or am I completely off track here?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    The development of civil society in Indonesia is one of the least publicized success stories of the last decade. I think that how the mid-size Asian countries progress with each other and with the two regional superpowers will be at least as interesting as how the west reacts.

    that’s a good point, but it seems the “asian tiger” +/or ASEAN was widely reported in the 1990s, before the bloom came off them in the asian flu period. though indonesia’s semi-stability after the chaos of the late 90s is notable. sometimes no news is good news.

    also, s. korea & taiwan are basically developed countries now.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Just as an aside, there seems to be a widespread notion that Asia (as in India and China) was the richest and most developed part of the planet for most of the last 2000 years and Western dominance is the exception rather than the historical rule. This book argues that is not the case and I think its right to say so. No Asian country reached the level of organization and development achieved by Rome until rather recently. While China and India had more people and more aggregate wealth, I dont think they can be regarded as having been more “developed” than Europe or the mediterranean/Levantine world for most of the last 2000 years. Or at least, that is my impression, I am willing to be convinced otherwise.

    no, the book does suggest that song china, 1000-1200, was probably as developed in terms of per unit energy usage as imperial rome. i think one can make a good case that china repeatedly did achieve near roman levels before the modern period, in part because of the dynastic cycle which produced a ‘strong state’ over and over and squeezed economic productivity out of the margin through economies of scale and intensive agriculture.

    one issue to remember is that ‘wealth differences’ are really more relevant in the aggregate in the pre-modern era. the differences on a per capita level are marginal, on the order of 10-50% or so between the wealthiest or poorest region. this partly because of the reality of ‘malthusian catch-up.’ the collapse of rome did probably lead to a withering of a primitive manufactured goods economy, as well as coinage and elite literacy. but the decline in population in some areas may have also meant that peasants had more land on a per unit basis (though again, this is balanced against the uncertainty introduced by the risk of violence at the hands of brigands and warlords, as well the total localization of the economy). basically what i’m saying is that the ‘wealth of asia’ from an elite perspective is really just that there were way more people to steal from. the fact that bengal has so many people is actually a testament to its primary productivity, despite the abject poverty on a per capita basis after the frontier closed and there was a switch from extensive to intensive agriculture.

  • http://ironrailsironweights.wordpress.com/ Peter

    he [Joakim Noah] even looks less black than heidi klum’s sons or thandie newton, who are both half african and half european

    Why the “even?” Newton and the Klum children are half black, Noah is only one-quarter.

    you can pass for white even if you fail the “brown paper bag test”…as long as your features are narrow (assuming, of course, that your hair is straight…but that’s easy enough to alter)

    Come to think of it, Joakim Noah’s hair is a big part of the reason why he appears so African. If he straightened it or shaved his head, his outward racial appearance would be quite different. Rumor has it that Vin Diesel shaves his head so that he is not limited to playing black characters.

    The development of civil society in Indonesia is one of the least publicized success stories of the last decade.

    Perhaps. On the other hand, recent history shows all too well that any Muslim nation can go fundamentalist at any time. Indonesia surely is not immune.

  • omar

    yes, the book does mention that Song China reached Roman levels of development (as defined by this author), but overall he thinks that the “West” has had an edge over East Asia for most of history. I am actually in the middle of the book right now, but I have not yet seen any separate discussion of India. It seems the author is focused on China as the East and West Asia/Mediterranean and Europe as the West…very little mention of India or the “East Indies”. Does he mention them later in the book?
    btw, have you read “somebody else’s century” by Patrick Smith? http://www.amazon.com/Somebody-Elses-Century-Post-Western-World/dp/0375425500
    Its a very different kind of book, but touches on a lot of your questions from a different angle. I look forward to your comments on it…and those of others on this blog.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Perhaps. On the other hand, recent history shows all too well that any Muslim nation can go fundamentalist at any time. Indonesia surely is not immune.

    indonesia is a boundary condition. it’s split between the conventional orthodox muslims who verge into fundamentalism, and a self-conscious ‘traditionalist’ ‘javanese’ element based out of java which is more obviously synthetic. indonesians for example don’t have ‘muslim names’ quite often, and it is one nation where large numbers of javanese muslims converted to balinese hinduism after the 1960s because of nationalist reasons. do you know something about indonesia specifically, or are you talking out of your ass?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    yes, the book does mention that Song China reached Roman levels of development (as defined by this author), but overall he thinks that the “West” has had an edge over East Asia for most of history. I am actually in the middle of the book right now, but I have not yet seen any separate discussion of India. It seems the author is focused on China as the East and West Asia/Mediterranean and Europe as the West…very little mention of India or the “East Indies”. Does he mention them later in the book?

    not so far. i’m over 2/3 of the way through. he specific says early on he won’t be talking about india or southeast asia. not too important for his point. which is correct. only china really is in the same league as rome. in many ways historically india is in a grey land, as it is part of the west eurasian biological and cultural network, but not totally integrated.

    and it’s surely empirically true that the west does have the edge over east asia for most of history. impressionistically and qualitatively i totally endorse his periodicity, saying that the 500 AD was the only turn-around point. that part of the book was kind of like a ranking system which showed that harvard is the number #1 school in the country ;-)

    http://www.amazon.com/Somebody-Elses-Century-Post-Western-World/dp/0375425500
    Its a very different kind of book, but touches on a lot of your questions from a different angle. I look forward to your comments on it…and those of others on this blog.

    yeah, i saw it. i’m kind of avoiding journalists’ books. you can get that in the economist. i mean, honestly i’m pretty sure i could write the same sort of book if i took a lot of trips to east asia (and i wouldn’t make basic errors in history as journalists tend to).

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    also, let me make one thing explicit about this post: it is in part my cry that the titans are now facing the possibility of rising olympians. the titans in this case, the old gods, are white men, who loom so large in the imagination of intellectuals of all colors shaped by postcolonial theory, third worldism, and all the confusing post-marxisms which replace various identities for class. instead of a simple manichean narrative where all is placed at the feet of the white men, there needs to develop a nuanced dualism on the part of the oppressionologists. as observed above, the best opportunities are probably to be had by generating some sort of bidding war between the two camps of all-powerful divinities on the part of mortals.

  • http://ironrailsironweights.wordpress.com/ Peter

    I don’t know much about Indonesia specifically, but we have the tragic example of Iran. Just over 30 years ago women often wore miniskirts in the streets of Tehran. And of course Iran is outside the orthodox stream of Islam due to the Shiite dominance. Also, while it’s still too soon to tell, Turkey may be veering in a more fundamentalist direction, and given that it’s long been the most secularized and democratic of major Islamic nations, it could be argued that Turkey is outside the orthodox stream as well.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    I don’t know much about Indonesia specifically, but we have the tragic example of Iran. Just over 30 years ago women often wore miniskirts in the streets of Tehran. And of course Iran is outside the orthodox stream of Islam due to the Shiite dominance. Also, while it’s still too soon to tell, Turkey may be veering in a more fundamentalist direction, and given that it’s long been the most secularized and democratic of major Islamic nations, it could be argued that Turkey is outside the orthodox stream as well

    there are possible analogies to be drawn, but there’s a huge difference between iran and turkey, and indonesia. the big one is that indonesia is so ethnically diverse, and non-islamic religious traditions are acknowledged parts of the nation’s identity in a way that they no longer are in iran and turkey (and in fact, in a way that is not acknowledged in pakistan). it is possible that indonesia could slouch in a fundamentalist direction, but, you’d have to coordinate many different ethnic groups in the same direction. the dominant indonesian ethnicity, the javanese, (albeit, only plural majority) are far less islamically ‘orthodox’ in orientation than the more marginal ones, like those of aceh or of southern sulawesi. this has to do with the fact that javanese muslims often have a compound identity, and take pride in the hindu kindom of majapahit, which is viewed as a precursor to modenr indonesia. megawati sukarnoputri, when she was president, prayed in a hindu temple (her paternal grandmother was a hindu from bali). for which she was attacked by fundamentalists. but, it goes to show that non-islamic traditions are part of indonesian culture in a way they just wouldn’t be in iran and turkey. the shah was more tolerant than his successors, but he abolished the death towers of the zoroastrians because of their offense to many.

    in any case, i do think that indonesian islam is shifting toward world normative islam, of an arab form. but an analogy to iran or turkey is worthless. don’t talk about this anymore, since you don’t know any real facts which would add further value.

  • J

    That’s an interesting observation by Ian.

    My family is biracial and our mixed Northern European/African family members do have the broad facial features. I will have to keep my eyes out for further examples to weigh against his observation.

    For an especially interesting biracial phenotype, check out MMA fighter Jonathan Brookins. http://topmmanews.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/jonathan-brookins.jpg

    He is white/black, with pale skin, blond hair and blue eyes, yet an almost entirely african face.

    I wonder if, in countries with a relatively long history of racial mixing (like Brazil), there is evidence of positive selection in alleles contributed by the various races, a kind of beginning for a “new race”, for lack of a better word.

    “On the other hand, recent history shows all too well that any Muslim nation can go fundamentalist at any time.”

    If most Senegalese are anything like the islamic Senegalese immigrants I know, that’s one muslim country you can mark down as in little danger of “going fundamentalist”. Although, the immigrants I know are from the guer (noble) caste, so they may not be much like the majority of the population.

  • Clark

    It seems to me that much as one couldn’t at the time of Napolean predict the mores and values of late 20th century westerners one can’t predict how Asia will evolve as their populations become wealthy. So I’m a bit cautionary about making too much by way of predictions. I suspect that just as China of 2010 bears little resemblance to Mao’s China so the China of 2060 will bear little resemblance to today. Likewise with many other nations. There’s too many unknowns. (How will eventual unification of Korea go? How will industrialization play out in nations like Viet Nam once China prices themselves out of the market? What if there is an accidental war over Taiwan or N. Korea? etc.)

    I do agree completely that western “elites” aren’t really grappling with the issue. I constantly hear people bemoaning the relative loss of American dominance in things like science. (We still dominate to a ridiculous level, but nowhere near what was true of the 60′s) But I think that’s a good thing. Progress will come faster if we have health and engineering research spread out more equally around the world. We should want a equality of education and research and not American dominance. Given the size of Asia that will mean their domination. Contra what a lot of Marxists argue I simply don’t think American strength depends on our relative place in the world. Quite the contrary I think in some ways we are uniquely posed to take advantage of the huge changes in Europe. It’s just that I don’t think anyone knows what they will be. Certainly China hasn’t developed the past 15 years the way people predicted when I was in college.

    The biggest issue to me isn’t religion or the like (although that seems to be the dominant issue in the comments) Rather it’s the economic value of relative values that are quite open to dispute such as intellectual property. Right now the US has a lot dependent on intellectual property whereas nations like China clearly don’t value intellectual property at all. I think the US has largely failed in trying to enforce that value too. They need to adapt. Some companies have. (Think Apple and its quick evolution) China sees this too, thus their attempt to leverage Linux into something uniquely Chinese for both computers and phones. We’ll see if that works any better than Japan’s attempt to beat the US by taking over the Supercomputer market in the 80′s. I tend to think economic prosperity in the new economy demands a strong openness. Even many European nations are moving in that direction and are arguably more open now than the US. Can Asia match that? We’ll see. Obviously some places like Singapore are trying in at least some areas. (And Singapore has a lot the US ought look at emulating as well as much that seems disturbing)

    Racism and openness seem somewhat at odds, but the interplay can be tricky. The best solution to racism is to simply interact with others in a regular way. (As opposed to the still semi-segrated way blacks and whites in the same schools encounter each other frequently in say far too many high schools. Self-segregation is segregation still) The real question will thus be immigration into Asia. And I don’t know of a way to predict that. Certainly Japan has staved off real immigration. Will that change in the future? Depends upon unpredictable things.

  • Clark

    BTW – regarding the knowledge of whites by non-whites versus the opposite. You find this typically when one group is more powerful than the other. The typical Canadian knows a lot about American government. Often more than the typical American. But the typical American knows little about Canada beyond it being where cold weather comes from. That, despite Canada being the US’ largest trading partner. (Something else Americans typically don’t know) When you consider how much Canadian policy affects the US versus the inverse though this really isn’t that surprising.

    I suspect the same situation plays out in Asia only with the addition of English becoming the international trade language and language of science. Typically when learning a foreign language you learn about the culture and history. (At least that’s how my French and Russian classes were taught) So as Asians learn English for pure economic reasons they become educated about the whites and particularly Americans and British in a way Americans never do.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Certainly China hasn’t developed the past 15 years the way people predicted when I was in college.

    what did people predict? i guess i was a china skeptic until 2008 or so. i still think the bubble will burst and they’ll be in for a major course correction, but i don’t think it will be systematic collapse. more like an ‘asian flu’ writ large.

    The best solution to racism is to simply interact with others in a regular way.

    the interactions have to be positive. and there has to be top-down pressure. white minorities in latin america and south africa are quite racist. white near exclusive majorities in eastern europe are very racist. is the american south more racist than new hampshire? depends. s. korea is having a lot of immigration of young women from phillipines and vietnam as brides for less eligible men btw.

    BTW – regarding the knowledge of whites by non-whites versus the opposite

    yes. men around the world dress like latter day puritans (suits), know english, and date the calender by the birth of jesus christ. much of this will not change.

    but much of this is still superficial. japan still remains remain, even if highly modified. even ‘americanized’ nations like the phillipines in asia remain distinctive in culture, which goes back to the spanish, and beyond.

  • Chuck

    “But this post isn’t a review of Why the West Rules, rather, it’s a lament as to the total intellectual unpreparedness of the West’s intellectual class for the de facto end of the age of white supremacy”

    I thought the Western intelligentsia’s preparation was diversification. The goal is to globalize the ‘west’ and make it the center of the globalized rising world. That way ‘we’ get to rule, through being everyone. From the liberal perspective, that is the final metamorphosis of the West, being the end of itself (as a cultural tradition) and the beginning of global civilization, proper.

    Apart from possibly China, which may not accept (the ultimately western based) liberal world order — things look to be going fine.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    chill on sarcastic snark chuck. hard enough as it is to extract real facts from the commenters.

  • Clark

    Back in the early 90′s you had two main groups. One thought there’d be a move away from liberalization back towards being economically closed and an other who thought social liberalization would happen inexorably as economic growth took place. Instead you had the success of a middle ground where there wasn’t real political liberty but there was economic growth. I think most now think China amazingly made a “contract” with the rising middle class that so long as they didn’t push to political liberalization they’d get economic increase. The other thing a lot of people feared was how China’s corruption would deal with the concerns of individual people. Yet, unexpectedly again I think, China showed that they are very concerned with such concerns. Presumably due to the history of uprisings over the past few thousand years.

    Say what one will about China, but their leadership has been pragmatically efficient in a way I don’t think anyone expected. There are still lots of worries (is there a housing bubble? What about the “lawless” west in China) but thus far China’s avoided most of the expected pitfalls. It’s kept its central power while managing pretty impressive economic growth. It’s also avoided (thus far) the pitfalls that beset Japan in the 80′s relative to competition with the US.

    Like you I still expect a major failure. Eventually the law of averages catches up with you. And I honestly really fear a massive economic problem in China. We’re so dependent on them. But since I’ve been so wrong in the past I’m not about to bet against China’s government. From everything I can see they are all too aware of their options and dangers.

    (Note: I’m anything but a China expert – I’m just going by my memory of mainstream articles the past 20 years)

    Good point about racism. It has to be interactions on a level of equals. I think for all the problems in the US (which is why I brought up de-facto segregation within US schools) I still think the US has been good about doing this. Even in the south. (Which isn’t to say there isn’t a long way to go) And for all the European criticism of the US I think only now are they really starting to grapple with the same issues the US did decades ago. (And not just racial prejudice, look at German/Austrian prejudice or French/German prejudice within Switzerland, etc.)

    I agree about Asian cultures not being totally Americanized. However I think the very nature of modern media provides a levening effect. That goes well beyond just dressing like American businessmen. Right now regional differences in the US are a pale shadow of what they were even 30 years ago. Primarily due to TV and fluid economic movement. That will repeat on a global scale eventually. What’s more interesting to me is what the various Asian cultures bring to the table. Much like immigrants have significantly changed what it means to be American. And not just with ethnic foods which become uniquely American foods. But on so many levels. Buddhism in various guises has become part and parcel of American culture for instance – transformed and understood superficially yet still absorbed. Chinese medicine underlies a lot of “alternative medicine” practiced by tens of millions of Americans even when they don’t understand the connections their chiropractor uses. All of that will accelerate on a massive scale as Asian countries become more dominating. (Look at Japanese influence on the world the past 30 years, and China will have far, far more power than China)

    What I suspect we’ll end up with initially is a mobile cosmopolitan class in all nations, with more in the west, that absorb aspects of Asian culture. Just as there are small town vestiges of old American culture in places like Idaho in opposition to cosmopolitan American culture, you’ll have the same in Asian cultures. Slowly such places will either become more isolated or more contaminated until the new cosmopolitan culture becomes dominate. (Say over 50 – 70 years, much as like small town America today is still highly affected by mainstream American culture in a way that it wasn’t 50 years ago)

    As I noted though, there’s tons of stuff that could prevent this from happening. Primarily the ascendency of new totalitarian groups due to natural disasters, economic collapse, or even war. Or war might accelerate the trend. I make no predictions. Even my cosmopoltan evolution argument is undermined by American tendency to want only American news and little to no international news. (Although this isn’t nearly as true in other countries)

  • http://www.riverellan.blogspot.com Tom Bri

    It’s certainly a truism that Americans don’t know much about other countries, Asia in particular. But Asians have, in general, a weirdly distorted view of America. I believe it is all the dumb American movies they watch, and TV. I suppose the more thoughtful ones realize intellectually that America isn’t like the movies, but emotionally…

    Consider how badly Europeans misjudged America in the first 40 years of the 20th century.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    clark, yes, i remember that debate back then. i am younger than you, or, i paid less attention, but it seems that china was being plugged into a developmental arc based on preconceptions. it was kind of the inversion of ‘confucians’ who argued that western democratic liberalism couldn’t work in a confucian society, when taiwan and south korea have had them for a generation (japan’s de facto one party rule “didn’t count”).

    much of your argument about the synthesis of global culture is probably right. but a diminution of old regional identities is giving way to new cultural fractures. e.g., red vs. blue america. the american ruling class is now bifurcated as the eastern establishment has split in half.

  • Clark

    Razib, I think a lot of the fractions are overblown. Like debates between a protestant sect that splits in two over some obscure verse of scripture but which look pretty similar to outsiders. Most American fractures are more akin to fans of two sport teams that play the same game with mostly the same strategies. The range of differences between even the most liberal democrat and the most conservative republican pale compared to the huge range of differences among the political class in most other countries. (Even more American ones like Canada)

    That’s not to deny the problems of polarization in American life of late. Just that I don’t think it can best be understood in terms of content.

    Tom, the media does offer a really distorted picture of America. I remember picking up a German hitchhiker and he had so many weird ideas of America it wasn’t funny. Not so much wrong (i.e. most westerners do own guns, for instance) but just reflected through a funhouse mirror (most westerners probably don’t think they’d ever use their guns in violence but shoot tin cans or gophers) Americans are used to soldiers everywhere. I don’t think I’ve ever gone to a Walmart without seeing someone in uniform and the nearest military base is 40 miles away! But once again the context is different than the European imagined. This isn’t like soldiers everywhere in 1930′s Germany but reservists headed home and no one honestly thinking much of them as a soldier. (Nor do they get to carry guns) While there’s a lot more violence in American than Americans really care to admit, it’s nothing like what Hollywood portrays. I suspect most of us have driven through the high crime areas of Los Angeles, for instance, without feeling particularly worried about being car jacked or shot at.

  • Chuck

    Razib,

    “chill on sarcastic snark chuck”

    I was serious about my comment.

    There are several major views of the world order, of note:

    1. Some type of vulgar liberalism: http://www.democracyjournal.org/article.php?ID=6680
    2. And a Liberal world order: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2007/12/the_rise_of_china_the_future_o.html

    The second is based on the universalization of Western Liberal ideas (liberal democracy). Creating a diverse cosmopolitan center is one of the methods of promoting and securing the West’s place at the center of that order.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    ok, thanks for the links. bookmarked.

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  • http://www.scholars-stage.blogspot.com T. Greer

    Razib-

    I have posted an extended introduction (in the form of a grad syllabus) on China’s strategic tradition/military history & thought. Those interested in reading it may find it here: http://scholars-stage.blogspot.com/2010/10/chinese-strategic-tradition-syllabus.html

    I would add the following books to the ones you highlight above:

    Chinese Machiavelli: 3,000 Years of Chinese Statecraft by Dennis and Ching Ping Bloodsworth’s

    [url: http://www.amazon.com/Chinese-Machiavelli-3000-Years-Statecraft/dp/0765805685 ]

    The Pattern of the Chinese Past by Mark Elvin

    [url: http://www.amazon.com/Pattern-Chinese-Past-Mark-Elvin/dp/0804708762/ref=wl_it_dp_o?ie=UTF8&coliid=I2G27ZA5U5RP61&colid=1XHMLUBIBH36Z ]

    The Great Wall of China: From History to Myth by Arthur Waldron

    [url: http://www.amazon.com/Great-Wall-China-History-original/dp/052142707X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1285955156&sr=1-1 ]

    Zhuangzi with Essential Commentaries trans. by Brook Zipyorn

    [url: http://www.amazon.com/Zhuangzi-Essential-Selections-Traditional-Commentaries/dp/0872209113/ref=wl_it_dp_o?ie=UTF8&coliid=I3T9TSKCUJ1IDC&colid=3KG9MOOA2RGVH ]

    The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China, 221 BC-1757 AD by Thomas Barfield

    [url : http://www.amazon.com/Perilous-Frontier-Nomadic-Empires-Discontinuity/dp/1557863245/ref=pd_sim_b_5 ]

    Retreat of the Elephants: An Environmental History of China by Mark Elvin

    [ url: http://www.amazon.com/Retreat-Elephants-Environmental-History-China/dp/0300119933/ref=pd_sim_b_1 ]

    Son of the Revolution by Liang Heng

    [url : http://www.amazon.com/Son-Revolution-Liang-Heng/dp/0394722744/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1291013835&sr=1-1 ]

    Hungry Ghosts: Mao’s Famine by Jasper Becker

    [ url: http://www.amazon.com/Hungry-Ghosts-Maos-Secret-Famine/dp/0805056688/ref=wl_it_dp_o?ie=UTF8&coliid=I1E16KZ63VSHJJ&colid=1XHMLUBIBH36Z ]

    Seven Military Classics of Ancient China trans. by Ralph Sawyer

    [ url: http://www.amazon.com/Military-Classics-Ancient-History-Warfare/dp/0465003044/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1291015288&sr=1-1 ]

    And on the literature/cultural side of things:

    The Peony Pavilion by Xiangzu Tang

    [url : http://www.amazon.com/Peony-Pavilion-Mudan-ting-Second/dp/0253215277/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1291014076&sr=1-1 ]

    Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong

    [url: http://www.amazon.com/Three-Kingdoms-Historical-Novel-Part/dp/0520224787/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1291014175&sr=1-1 ] (Also recommended is the recent movie adaptation of this book – held the record for largest box office release in the country ’til Avatar showed up.)

    The Good Earth by Pearl Buck

    [url : http://www.amazon.com/Good-Earth-Enriched-Classics/dp/1416500189/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1291013968&sr=1-2 ]

    The True Story of Ah Q by Lu Xun

    [ url: http://www.amazon.com/Story-Bilingual-Modern-Chinese-Literature/dp/9629960443/ref=wl_it_dp_o?ie=UTF8&coliid=I32N1E7AMEE64R&colid=1XHMLUBIBH36Z ]

    Finally, here are a couple of book suggestion for Razib and other civilizational dynamics nuts like him; these will not appeal to readers new to Chinese history:

    http://www.amazon.com/Rise-Chinese-Empire-B-C-D/dp/0472115332/ref=wl_it_dp_o?ie=UTF8&coliid=I3KRYXLAJ3V7NH&colid=3KG9MOOA2RGVH

    http://www.amazon.com/Envisioning-Eternal-Empire-Chinese-Political/dp/0824832752/ref=wl_it_dp_o?ie=UTF8&coliid=I2AIA9HVXI8650&colid=3KG9MOOA2RGVH

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    thanks!

  • http://www.accidentalblogger.typepad.com Ruchira

    But the blind-spot in this mode of thinking is that colored people who supposedly have solidarity are totally ignorant of each other’s respective substance.

    Very true. My own ignorance of the history of Asia and Africa is vast. A special point of interest for me, being Indian born, is how oblivious the current crop of Indian and Pakistani youths are of each others shared history. I am of a generation which was born soon after the Indian partition and hence was somewhat aware of the then recent and more remote histories. Also, some of us had families which lost their homes in the Hindu-Muslim population exchange in the eastern and western wings and were therefore better educated about the geography also. Even in those early post-partition days, my friends from the south or the west of India were blissfully indifferent to the partition narrative as a human story as opposed to a political one. The current generation of Indians and Pakistanis are probably even more ignorant, partly due to indifference and also perhaps due to a revisionist telling of how Pakistan came to be a separate nation. The former is more an Indian phenomenon and the latter a Pakistani one, mostly because Pakistan’s identity was determinedly grounded in defining itself as “un-India.”

    As for China, I agree largely with Razib’s broader premises, provided of course that China’s economic and political trajectory continues along the current lines. However, China, despite its population and global presence, is still a secretive and authoritarian society. There is much that is inscrutable about the workings of the system within China. The one-child policy and the resultant aging work force is one of the more obvious problems in the future. The stability of a totalitarian society which controls a very large geographic expanse with disparate cultural and linguistic mores is never a sure thing. The religious and cultural centrifugal forces operating out of Tibet and the western Muslim regions may actually prove to be less of a headache (easily quashed) than a possible north-south rift based on language and economic interests. I have often wondered if the south, which too has seen rapid growth, may no longer comply with the current set up where all the shots are called by the mandarins from Beijing and Shanghai. Do the southern Chinese wish for some kind of autonomy or loose federation, with Hong Kong as the center of Cantonese China? Also, given the working conditions and wages in blue collar factory jobs and a very large number of underemployed educated youth, is a massive Chinese labor uprising possible?

  • MNA

    “However, China, despite its population and global presence, is still a secretive and authoritarian society.”

    This is a common notion in the west. However, you have to realize that China’s political system isn’t that much different from the rest of East Asian ‘Democracies’.

    Japan was a tightly controlled one-party system from 1940 until last year. Korea went through a period of dictatorships from WW2 up until about 20 years ago. Taiwan was a tightly controlled one party system not allowing much freedom until about 10 years ago, when free elections were finally held in the late 90′s.

    There is actually not much difference between the political system in China today and the political system of Taiwan 30 years ago. As Taiwan turned democratic by itself in the 90′s, so might China. In any case, it’s important to note that China’s at least progressing in the right direction. We can debate about the speed of progress all we want, but you cannot deny the fact that today’s China is much more free and democratic than the China of 1989.

  • http://www.accidentalblogger.typepad.com Ruchira

    MNA: It is not authoritarianism per se that can create a line of fracture. I also pointed to China’s size. Taiwan, Japan, Korea (you forgot Singapore) are much smaller countries, and therefore easier to control by a centralized “strong” government. I don’t know if a tight political rein can be as easily sustained over a long period of time when the area to be controlled is as large as China.

  • Clark

    MNA, saying it’s not much worse than other areas used to be is damning with faint praise to be sure. I agree with your point largely, but I’m not sure this entails China following the Korea or Taiwan models for various reasons. (Not the least of which being China being a superpower whereas those nations were highly dependent upon the US)

  • Danny
  • http://the-apple-eaters.blogspot.com ren

    It’s fruitless to be comparing the level of development in the Roman Empire with the Chinese Empire for so many reasons, the most obvious would be that Roman provinces were already developed civilizations while newly Chinese provinces in the south were tribal by social structure, primitive by agricultural standards, mountainous and impassable in terms of geography, and lethal in terms of tropical disease. Next, we can look at the devastating effects of war, which basically wiped out half the North China Plain every time a new dynasty or new nomad group made its way into history. The Mongols depopulated the whole of Sichuan province, the Manchus depopulated the Jianghuai region. You have to really be familiar with Chinese history to appreciate the scale of destruction. I don’t think Rome ever suffered such a scale of destruction either when it was rising to prominence, in civil wars, or in foreign conflicts, and their barbarians worries consist merely of the Huns and the Germanics, when there are dozens of equivalent barbarian groups in Chinese history. Further, the center of the Roman Empire was the Mediterranean, and logistics by ship was always several times more efficient than overland travel in ancient times. And then there is the weather. The North China Plain goes through severe periods of drought while the South China drainage systems goes through severe periods of flood. The Med. region by contrast is a lot more stable. In terms of ideas and cultural inheritance that stimulate productivity and innovation, the Roman Empire was the amalgamation of many civilizations while the Chinese Empire was an isolate. I think we can go on and on why comparing Rome with any Chinese period is faulty.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    I think we can go on and on why comparing Rome with any Chinese period is faulty.

    you make some valid points, and some specious ones. but the comparison here is simple: energy utilization per person. that aggregates all the detail you point to. you may think this is not interesting, but that’s not relevant, you don’t get to determine what’s interesting in this comment thread or post, that’s determined by me, and i already laid down the ground rules. using pollution records one can, for example, compare imperial rome to song china. that is useful, if not totally illuminating.

    I don’t think Rome ever suffered such a scale of destruction either when it was rising, in civil wars, or in foreign conflicts, and their barbarians of the north were only the Huns and the Germanics, when there are dozens of equivalent barbarian groups in Chinese history.

    you should take your own advice and attend to the details of history instead of speculating about something you don’t know about. so, really quickly

    - gaul (france), britain, most of iberia (spain), most of africa (northwest africa really), the balkan hinterlands, were all ‘barbaric’ when initially conquered. granted, gaul had a much more developed economy and social structure than germany, but it was barbaric nonetheless. britain, celtiberian spain, the heart of the balkans even more so. your fixation on germans, and huns (who are very late) totally misses this reality. only over time was gaul, the balkans, and spain fully latinized. this serves as a clear analog to china south of the yangtze. whether britain every became latinized is up for debate.

    - comparing rome and china is problematic in that china had repeated cycles of integration and disintegration. rome only had one. the crisis of the third century, and finally the later total collapse of the rhine frontier in the 5th century, did lead to a major demographic regress in the western roman empire. i would argue that probably the regress did not match north china anywhere except two places: britain and the interior balkans. but it is up for debate.

    your comment is an excellent illustration of what i’m talking about. you know a good deal about china (just so you know, i might not be chinese, but i do now all the things you’re alluding to, so i can judge your high level of knowledge), but you’re sketchy on rome. so how can you even make the comparative assessments you’re making? it would be one thing if you were happy to rely on coarse cliometrics, but you’re appealing to the importance of fine-grained detail, when you lack that yourself in one of the areas you speak of.

    (i could say much more of your unsubtle confusions about roman history in your comment, but you don’t have the background from what i can gather to evaluate them, so i didn’t go into a “fisking” frenzy. i don’t see the benefit of that)

  • http://the-apple-eaters.blogspot.com ren

    “energy utilization per person. that aggregates all the detail you point to. you may think this is not interesting”

    I don’t recall saying this was not useful or not interesting. I think you are mixing me up with someone else.

    “gaul (france), britain, most of iberia (spain), most of africa (northwest africa really), the balkan hinterlands, were all ‘barbaric’ when initially conquered”

    And these places were more developed than the Southern Song? I thought we were talking about Egypt or Anatolia.

    “gaul (france), britain, most of iberia (spain), most of africa (northwest africa really), the balkan hinterlands, were all ‘barbaric’ when initially conquered. granted, gaul had a much more developed economy and social structure than germany, but it was barbaric nonetheless. britain, celtiberian spain, the heart of the balkans even more so. your fixation on germans, and huns (who are very late) totally misses this reality”

    I was comparing the barbarians that rampaged the 2 empires, not conquered aboriginal groups that on and off slaughtered settlements.

    “you know a good deal about china (just so you know, i might not be chinese, but i do now all the things you’re alluding to, so i can judge your high level of knowledge), but you’re sketchy on rome.”

    I may not be as familiar with Roman history as I am with the Chinese, but how was I being sketchy on Rome? My point was that each civilization has to be dealt in terms of its own circumstances. The only universal criteria is how long a civilization lasts, and we all know which one is still going strong and about to make a superstar comeback. In that sense, we don’t even know where America will be in the year 2050, besides its dominant media industry. It might very well be only slightly better off than Latin American countries after shining for about a century or 2 at the most, but if even recent Chinese history is any reference, China will be churning out that restless individual who ventures and starts an economic empire in Nigeria, , for centuries to come. I think you even implied that I’m being Sinocentric in your statement, but I think I’m just being objective.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    I was comparing the barbarians that rampaged the 2 empires, not conquered aboriginal groups that on and off slaughtered settlements.

    yes, you don’t know enough about the barbarians to even understand what i’m getting at re: the roman empire. could you have a reasonable discussion with someone who only knew abut the manchus and mongols, and not the xiongu or xianbei or an lushan and his confederates? would you enjoy having to remedially fill in the context for someone who only knows the first emperor and the a few vague details of kublai khan, and the later long decline of the qing?

    , but how was I being sketchy on Rome?

    i was being generous. compared to the average person you know a great deal (e.g., most people couldn’t refer to the huns because they wouldn’t know), but you don’t know anything to really compare X to Y (rome to china). how can you compare details whereof you know not in terms of correspondences?

    The only universal criteria is how long a civilization lasts

    don’t assert criteria again. it may be yours, but i already stated that the criteria here was implicitly in terms of energy utilization per person. i made it explicit in the comments. you can have your opinion on your blog, but don’t assert it here again. i already set the terms of the discussion.

    I think you even implied that I’m being Sinocentric in your statement, but I think I’m just being objective.

    you’re obviously sinocentric in an objective sense of knowing china rather well in relation to what you know of rome, but i have no idea if you have a normative bias, nor do i care. most westerners are eurocentric in that they can not compare rome to china because they do not know china. most arabs are eurocentric in that their comparisons of the islamic world invariably take europe as the reference. my point is that to get a better sense of the patterns you need thicker data set which is cross-cultural. so, for example, muslims regular assert the superiority of the social complexity of islamic civilization in the early medieval period. roughly the ummayyad and abbassid caliphates. in relation to europe this probably unassailable. but it is not unassailable in relation to china, especially the period between 600 and 750. i think terms of social complexity and per unit energy utilization the tang were superior to the ummayyad (who overlapped with this time frame), though the abbassids may have surpassed the tang during their disintegration phase after 750.

    my overall point in this post is that sort of analysis is rarely found in discussions because muslims today focus on the west and its history as a reference and refutation. this is ahistorical, clearly the arabs of khorason in north persia in 700 were more concerned with china than francia. with you, the problem is that you don’t even know enough roman history that i can engage with you, because you make assertions which i need to expand upon in detail before i can proceed any further if i want to be intellectually honest. i could also just state: “you’re wrong,” but in that case we’re not having a discussion, and it’s useless for me to proceed at any rate.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan
  • http://the-apple-eaters.blogspot.com ren

    I’m just gonna say one thing.

    A country like Saudi Arabia has way more energy utilization per person than China has.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    one word: specious.

  • Matt

    Rome and contemporary China were both roughly contemporous large scale states of contemporary period, extent and roughly technology, so seem comparable on that basis. Clearly there are differences between them.

    A book that compares the two is Rome and China: Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Rome-China-Comparative-Perspectives-Ancient/dp/0195336909. I’m not aware of any other book with a similar focus, though I don’t know enough history to know if this one is good or not.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    matt, i found it in a little on the thin side (i read it). not a topic that is easy to address in 250 pages.

    one minor addendum is that is that of course “china” here means simply the qin/han period. obviously song china in the details is harder to compare to imperial rome, because in the intervening period there were some improvements in the technologies to allow for greater per unit primary production (e.g., three-field rotation, champa rice and its successors, etc.). according to ian morris though imperial rome had greater per person energy usage than qin/han china. he seems to chalk this up mostly to the ease of water-born transport in the roman empire, which the chinese only matched through artificial means (grand canal, etc.).

  • omar

    I dont get the “how long a civilization lasts” bit. Civilization in the mediterranean region has lasted over 2000 years and is still going strong. It has had its ups and down, but hardly more than China has had. So what exactly is the point of that boast?
    The future is already here, its just not equally distributed (William Gibson).
    If we are to make guesses about the future, my guess is that the elite will be cosmopolitan and transnational, not “Chinese” or “Roman”.

  • Justin Giancola

    You know what would be a really awesome feature is if you could put little thumbs up next to people’s comments you really agree with! Like the “likes” on facebook. Sometimes I want to show appreciation for a well informed comment!

    They could be tallied anonymously if thought more appropriate? could even be applied to the articles themselves.

  • Justin Giancola

    Would help me not feel abliged to read through 60+ comments on an already lengthy post! :)

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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