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Andrew L. March:
The Myth of Asia

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from Andrew L. March, "Myth of Asia", in The Idea of China, (New York: Preager, 1974), 23-43, 61-67

THE MYTH OF ASIA

By the thirteenth and especially the seventeenth and later centuries when real information became available to Europeans, China had already long been categorised geographically as a sub-region of Asia sharing with the other sub-regions a common lot of 'Asian' characteristics. The strongest heritage of premodern western geographic thought with respect to China is simply this: China is in Asia. The old function of Asia has to a large degree merged with the modern idea of Communism in an indispensable counterpiece to the idea of Europe (western civilisation). And it is China that is most extremely Asian and un-Euro-American, at the opposite ends of the earth. This is the tradition that is appealed to by formulations such as 'Asian Communism with its headquarters in Peking China'. It is still used to help explain much of what is asked, expected, feared, and advocated with respect to China. But the region 'Asia' is a relic of history, and there is no cultural or historical entity that can rationally be subsumed under this single term.

A formal region is an area with spatial coherence - common location - and one or more other defining common characteristics.' Asia has one common characteristic besides spatial coherence: it is a continental landmass distinct from the surrounding oceans. But it is almost never spoken of in this primary sense. The ambiguity of the bounding continental shelves and islands, the equivocal place of Russia, and the impossibility of consistent separation from Europe, Africa, Australia and the Middle East, mean that in practice definition is abandoned and 'Asia' becomes a shorthand substitute for a list of contiguous lands.from Afghanistan to Japan south of the Soviet boundary and south-cast to include Indonesia and the Philippines.

What is predicated about a formal region usually by implication holds for its parts as well (if Asia is hot, then so is India) except where there is aggregation (Asia may have a huge population but it does not follow that Laos does). It is natural but illogical to assume that characteristics other titan the defining ones must be common to a formal region. There is even less reason to expect that what is true of one part must be true of the others, unless it is included in the original definition of the region. Yet a thoughtful geographer can say of the formal region that "whatever is stated about one part of it is true of any other part". If an author can make this slip writing about regions in the abstract in a book devoted to the subject, it is easy to see how illogical concrete thought may be about so vague a thing as Asia. Asia, in fact, is more a literary and psychological construct than a geographical one, and by a kind of double synecdoche there is associative leakage from one part to the other by way of the whole; it is a composite assembled from Persia, Egypt, India, etc, and each of these countries is expected to share more or less in all 'Asian' traits, notjust those originally derived from itself. Regionalisations like this one are also examples of Erikson's 'relatively simple subverbal, magic design', providing some of the most important frameworks for group-identification, the division of the human race into 'we's' and 'they's, and so, with all their connotations, they connect with the deepest social emotions and values.

From the Greeks onwards Europeans have always thought of the world's lands as composed of two or more continental parts.2 A threefold division-Asia, Lybia (Africa), Europe

prevailed both in antiquity and in the Middle Ages. But the Greeks had at first preferred a division into only Europe and Asia, counting Africa with Asia;' and both Augustine and Orosius, who accept the threefold division, mention a secondary tradition that divides the world in two, putting Africa, how ever, with Europe.6Thus the two basic regions have always been Europe and Asia, with Africa included now in the one, now in the other, but usually making a separate third region. In the Middle Ages this ecumene was commonly depicted as a T in an 0 (Fig I), corresponding to Augustine's explanation:

I say Asia meaning not that part [ii, Asia Minor) which is a province of this greater Asia but what is called Asia as a whole, which some count as one of two parts but most as one of three parts of the whole world [totius orbis] so that altogether there are Asia, Europe, and Africa: which they do not make by an equal division. For the part which is called Asia extends from the south through the east to the north; Europe, from the north to the west; and Africa thence froin [lie west to the south. Whence two parts are seen to occupy half the world [orbem dimidium], Europe and Africa, whereas the other half, Asia alone. But the reason the former are made into two parts is that between them some of the Ocean's waters wash in, making our great [Mediterranean I sea. -Therefore if you divide the world into two parts, east and west (0rienlis es Occidentis), Asia will be in one and Europe and Africa in the other.

These continents had originally been nothing more titan the various coasts of the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean, but as geographical knowledge widened the names were applied to growing hinterlands. Asia's land boundaries were usually taken to be the Nile or the eastern or western boundary of Egypt, and the Don (Tanais) until 1833 when the Ural mountains and the Ural River came into use. Enough writers counted Egypt with Asia to make the Nile, the pharaohs and so forth part of the traditional complex of 'Asian' traits." From the end of the fourth century the three continents were more and more commonly assigned to the three sons of Noah, ancestors of all humanity after the Flood, so Asia was occupied by Semites, Africa by Hamites, and Europe by Japhethites; but the boundaries were fuzzy-Isidore gives Japheth half of Asia as well as all of Europe. Much later some took these as racial distinctions as well, the three continents being those of the yellow, black, and white peoples respectively.

Overlapping and merging with the threefold continental division is the twofold one between Orient and Occident, East and West, with North as a rule being counted more western and South more eastern. Since these terms remain primarily directional rather than areal, no exact demarcation by a Don or a Nile is required. They escape clear definition as regions and are thus easier than the continents to detach from unequivocal reference to real places. As in the passage cited from Augustine, Orient or East is equal to Asia and Occident to Europe (now also covering America and the rest of the 'western' world) and Africa; but in the long accretion of values and associations to these words, Africa was not included with the West.

This classificatory rhythm by which the earth is divided into several formally equivalent parts is developed speculatively in the notion of undiscovered habitable continents or ecumenes in addition to Asia, Africa, and Euro

p

e. The idea goes back at least to Aristotle and persisted until the positions of the actual continents on the globe were finally ascertained. The south temperate zone of the eastern hemisphere was inhabited by the antoeci, and the north and south temperate zones of the western hemisphere by the antipodes and the antichthones respectively (though the use of the terms varied). Interest in these places was maintained in the Middle Ages despite risk of heresy, sacred history and church doctrine requiring that all mankind be descended from Adam and within reach of Christ's salvation. The great discoveries verified the existence of new continents, and the same form of thought continues today in the awareness that there must be rational beings elsewhere in the universe than on earth, some or all cut off from us by chasms of space and time as untraversable as the torrid and frigid zones of the old geography. Thus the concept of remote peoples possibly more advanced than themselves has always been present to Europeans, and Europe (like the individual countries within Europe) has always been classified as one in a list of sibling regions, at best by its own efforts temporarily primus inter pares. Inseparable from the Europeans' comparative viewpoint has been the sense that their own achievements were without final validity, being always subject to overshadowing by known or unknown civilisations outside Europe. This constant relativisation, especially vis-á-vis the East where through most of history the real rivalry lay, produced a social space loaded with competitive instability, in strong contrast to the paternally centred Chinese world space."

It was within this geographic-conceptual schema, under the major headings of 'Asia' and 'Orient, East', that the European idea of China took shape. Long before there was more than one or two sentences' worth of knowledge (even fabulous) about China itself, the genus into which new information would be fitted was ready prepared in the European mind.

The most important Asian themes are already set out by the Greeks, especially Herodotus, Hippocrates, and Aristotle. Asian rulers are too rich: the fabulously wealthy Croesus was king of Lydia and Midas of the golden touch was king of Phrygia, both in Asia Minor. Herodotus begins his Persian Wars by telling how the Greeks and the Asians abducted each other's women: the Phoenicians carried off lo, later the Greeks kidnapped Eurupa and Medea, and finally Priam's son Alexander took Helen. 'In what followed,' Herodotus goes on, 'the Persians consider that the Greeks were greatly to blame, since before any attack had been made on Europe, they led an army into Asia . . . The Asiatics, when the Greeks ran off with their women, never troubled themselves about the matter; but the Greeks, for the sake of a single Lacedaemonian girl, collected a vast armament, -invaded Asia, and destroyed the kingdom of Priam." Thus Asians, in contrast to the Greeks, do not care about individuals, or for individual feelings and relations. Xerxes, having constructed a bridge over the Hellespont to bring his enormous army from Asia into Europe, consulted the Greek Demaratus on what resistance the Greeks were likely to offer against his invasion. Demaratus said that the Greeks would resist being enslaved even if they could muster only 1,000 men to oppose him. Xerxes laughed. 'How could ... even 50,000, particularly if they were all alike free, and not under one lord.... stand against an army like mine? ... If, indeed, like our troops, they had a single master, their fear of him might make them courageous beyond their natural bent, or they might be urged by lashes against an enemy which far outnumbered them."" Asia has huge multitudes of slavish people. Herodotus' Asia was above all Persia; but he too considered Egypt to be part of Asia, and his long account of this land, with its pyramids, canals, wisdom, and antiquity ('there is no country that possesses so many wonders'), the source of much that was Greek, added greatly to the idea of Asia. India, too, appears in Herodotus: it is a land of multitudes of people ('more numerous than any other nation with which we are acquainted'), and much gold, peculiar tribes and practices, and occupying the easternmost part of the ecumene.16 Arabia contributes its spices and prodigies, and to the north the Scythians and their neighbours introduce the theme of barbarous nomadic hordes," precursors of the Huns, the Mongols, and the Turks.

The work Airs Waters Places associated with the name of Hippocrates treats at some length of the characteristics of Asia especially in contrast with Europe, as the two continents 'differ in every respect'. 'Everything in Asia grows to far greater beauty and size'; Asia is 'less wild' and its inhabitants 'milder and more gentle'. 'The cause of this is the temperate climate, because it lies to the cast midway between the risings of the sun, and farther away than is Europe from the cold. Growth and freedom from wildness are most fostered when nothing is forcibly predominant, but equality in every respect prevails. Asia, however, is not everywhere uniform.' It is fruitful and has good waters and forests; but 'courage, endurance, industry and high spirit could not arise in such conditions either among the natives or among immigrants, but pleasure must be supreme'.'& The differences between Asians and Europeans Hippocrates accounts for by a combination of environment and institutions:

With regard to the lack of spirit and of courage among the inhabitants, the chief reason why Asiatics are less warlike and more gentle in character than Europeans is the uniformity of the seasons, which show no violent changes either towards heat or towards cold, but are equable. For there occur no mental shocks nor violent physical change, which are more likely to steel the temper and impart to it a fierce passion than is a monotonous sameness. For it is changes of all things that rouse the temper of man and prevent its stagnation. For these reasons, I think, Asiatics are feeble. Their institutions are a contributory cause, the greater part of Asia being governed by kings. Now where men are not their own masters and independent, but are ruled by despots, they are not keen on military efficiency but on not appearing warlike . . . Subjects are likely to be forced to undergo military service, fatigue and death, in order to benefit their masters ...

Europeans are also more courageous than Asiatics. For uniformity engenders slackness, while variation fostem endurance in both body and soul; rest and slackness are food for cowardice, endurance and exertion for bravery . . . Where there are kings, there must be the greatest cowards. For men's souls are enslaved, and refuse to run risks readily and recklessly to increase the power of somebody else. But independent people - taking risks on their own behalf and not on behalf Of Others, are willing and eager to go into danger, for they themselves enjoy the prize of victory.

A rich land but a monotonous climate and soft, cowardly, slavish, pleasure-seeking people: although Hippocrates was thinking especially of the people of Asia Minor, this is recognisably the same Asia that would eventually extend all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Similarly, Aristotle writes in an often-quoted passage:

Those who live in a cold climate and in Europe are full of spirit, but wanting in intelligence and skill; and therefore they retain comparative freedom, but have no political organisation, and are incapable of ruling over others. Whereas the natives of Asia are intelligent and inventive, but they are wanting in spirit, and therefore they are always in a state of subjection and slavery. But the Hellenic race, which is situated between them, is likewise intermediate in character, being high-spirited and also intelligent. Hence it continues free, and is the best-governed of any nation, and, if it could be formed into one state, would be able to rule the world."

Roman writers repeated similar themes-the Orient is soft and slavish, kings are revered like godsss-but for our purposes added nothing new of importance. All these themes, mingled with Biblical and other Christian matters, became prominent again in Europe from the late Middle Ages on and are quite direct sources of modern ideas.

In Christian writings 'Orient' (East) continued ancient connotations of the rising of the sun and stars and was also coloured by the eastern focus of the Bible. The image of the Orient as old, wise, and spiritual shows already in Herodotus' Egypt and remains common today. It is equivocal in valuation since mature age may also be seen as decadence, wisdom as cunning, and spirituality as heresy. In Latin the symbolic associations arc reinforced by the expression of East as literally rising, with forms of orior; the King James's Bible loses this reinforcement by the use of several terms where the Vulgate has this one verb, but the images of light, enlightenment, beginning are still clear enough: 'There came wise men from the east [ab Oriente] . . . we have seen his star in the cast [in Oriente]' (Matthew 2.1-2); 'Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen [orta est] upon thee' (Isaiah 6o.i); 'Behold the man whose name is The Branch [Onens]; and he shall grow up [orietur] out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord' (Zechariah 6.12); 'Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring [oriens] from on high hath visited us' (Luke 1,78). By comparison with the East, where salvation has its source, the West is late and secondary: 'For as the lightning cometh out of the east [ab oriente], and shineth even unto the west [usque in occidentein]; so shall also tile coming of the Son of man be' (Matthew 24.27). At worst, in this pair Orient/Occident, the Occident could be not just passive but positively dark, evil, heathen. In Carolingian times, the two terms (also in the forms ortus and occasus) could be divorced from actual regions of the earth, as for example in Rabanus Maurus (C776-856): 'If by Orient [Orientem] is meant the kingdom of God, then indeed by Occident [Occasuml is meant hell, which is so far removed from the seat of the blessed as when Abraham says, "Between us and you a great chasm is established." '

East has also historiographical meaning. Europeans have repeatedly envisaged a focus of history that moves from cast to west in the direction of the sun and stars. Such a view could be an optimistic one, as in the elegant oxymoron of Orosius in a passage that also recalls the slavery/freedom topos of Herodotus:

Babylon had just been overthrown by King Cyrus at the time when Rome was first freed from the domination of the Tarquin kings. So indeed at one and the same juncture of times the former fell and the latter rose; the former then first suffered the dominion of foreigners, the latter then first rejected the haughtiness of its own rulers; the former then as it were dying gave up an inheritance, the latter attaining manhood knew itself heir; at that time the Orient's empire set and the Occident's arose [sunc Orientis "cidif el ortum est Occidentis imperium].

Similarly, around 700 Pope Nicholas I says that the West is the new East since the coming of Peter and Paul: 'The Occident by their presence . . . became the Orient."' Or the movement could be seen as decadence and a token of the approaching end of things; as in the Chronicle of Bishop Otto of Freising. Both knowledge and power, he says, have moved progressively west since the time of Babylon, and now, having reached Gaul and Spain, are coming to an end: 'And it is notable that all human power and knowledge begins from the Orient and has its end in the Occident, that the fickleness and evanescence of things may thereby be made manifest.'s" The conception of a moving locus at which history is really happening at any given moment has remained strong in western thought. It has its most important modem developments through Hegel and Marx, and we shall encounter it again below.

The idea that the Orient was the source of history fits the usual placing of the Garden of Eden there. Although where the King James's Bible reads, 'And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden' (Genesis 2.8) the Vulgate has 'Plantaverat autem Dominus Deus paradisum voluptatis a principio, most other versions, including the Septuagint, specify the east.29 The tradition was continued into early modern times with the eastern setting of most utopias and imaginary lands.

The East was also the home of the perversions of wisdom which are magic and heresy; Roger Bacon, for example, says the whole East is given over to and steeped in the magic arts, and Isidore puts the origin of magic in Persia. The image was reinforced by the East-West splits in the early medieval church."

Outside of specifically religious contexts in the Middle Ages, Asia continued to be the great land of prodigy. India especially was the home of extraordinary peoples, accounts of whom dated back to classical times: the dog-headed, the one-eyed, the headless, and so on. Besides the strange peoples and animals, and the spices, gold and silver, dyes, medicines, incenses, and gems that fill the Asian lands," there are also the tribes of Gog and Magog, shut up behind the Caucasus by Alexander, who were sometimes identified with the Tatar invaders of the thirteenth century," and Prester John, a wise and powerful Christian king thought to rule some part of Asia.

In the twelfth century Gerald of Wales devoted several chapters of his Topography of Ireland to a nightmarish summary of the horrors and liabilities of the East: silks, treasures, fertility of soil and subtlety of mind are for him far outweighed by the threat of disease and death from ubiquitous poisons, from lethal animals, from the very air.'

This then is a good sample of the received ideas in the older European tradition about Asia and the Orient; this is what Europeans taught themselves to expect of the East. The elements form not a logical whole but a reservoir of not always compatible images that can be drawn on selectively to yield a favourable or-most commonly in recent centuries-an unfavourable interpretation of virtually anything that Asia may be found to contain. The leading themes can roughly be grouped under two headings. Excess: Asia is oldest in civilisation and religion, it is richest, biggest, most populous, has the biggest empires, the most astounding prodigies, the greatest rivers, the subtlest minds, the finest artificers, the worst dangers to the body and soul. All is overdone; the Greek mean is lacking. Other extra-European areas may have this or that extreme or prodigy, but only Asia has them in such overwhelming abundance. And uniformity: endless stretches of territory, monotonous climate, masses of unfree people, cons offinished history. Excess is dominant in the classical and medieval writings; uniformity, in which the idea of magnitude and a relative ignorance of geographic differentiations are reflected in the use of a single region-name, Asia, for everything to the cast, gains importance later with the taking shape of the idea of Europe. In a way the two sets of ideas seem to contradict each other, since one aspect of excess is excessive variegation, seemingly the opposite of uniformity. But these are images, not primarily logical conceptions. And anything regarded as excessive in scale or even in variety is felt as deadening to human experience and sensitivity and thus is phenomenally monotonous.

It was only after medieval times that China began to contribute significantly to this pool of images. Practically all ancient recorded knowledge about China was summarised in a couple of sentences by Yule:

The region of the Seres is a vast and populous country, touching on the cut the Ocean and the limits of the habitable world, and extending west nearly to Imaus and the confines of Bactria. The people are civilized men, of mild just and firugal temper, eschewing collisions with their neighbors, and even thy of close intercourse, but not averse to dispine of their own products, of which raw silk is the staple, but which include also silk stuffs, fun, and iron of remarkable quality.

Nothing of importance was added for a thousand years. So when the world was divided into the continental regions and when this old division was assimilated into Christian thought, China, far from being as now the single most important component of the category Asia, scarcely existed in the European mind. Asia and the East were composites of elements drawn mostly from Egypt (and Ethiopia), the Middle East, Asia Minor, the Russian steppe, and India. What is known or imagined about nearer places can influence what is assumed about farther ones in the same direction, and prevailing traits are accentuated with distance; if the extreme north is ice and the extreme south is fire, the farthest cast would naturally be most 'oriental'. Already in Herodotus we read that 'the extreme regions of the earth, which surround and shut up within them wives all other countries, produce the things which are the rarest, and which men reckon the most beautiful'; and Gerald of Wales remarks that places most remote from the centre are remarkable for their prodigies." China, of course, lies at the extreme limit of the ecumene to the east. In the two concentric circles of late-medieval geographical knowledge--the inner zone of direct acquaintance, the outer of second-hand literary knowledge-China takes its place in the outer one with such fabulous lands as that of the Hyperboreans to the north, the Mons Clima to the south, and Atlantis to the west. Between Europe and China lay the whole of the rest of Asia, studded .with marvels and monsters, so that whatever was said of China could scarcely seem other titan fabulous and dreamlike. The European mind was quite prepared for the antipodal Chinamen of recent centuries, the looking-glass people who do everything backwards, as it was prepared for the wild tales of Marco Polo and Sir John Mandeville at the end of the Middle Ages: China is at the eastern extremity of Asia.

What is the continuing use of this 'Asia', that it did not disappear along with other medieval conceits as the world became more fully known? As one follows the themes delineated above closer into modern times, the answer clearly emerges that the idea of Asia has been an indispensable element in the prevailing definition of Europe. Though substantiating details are endless, the pattern is simple: the idea of Europe, as of the West generally, has come into being as an adverse one, so to affirm a subject European 'we' (by contrast with a sub-regional subject within Europe) has meant opposing a non-European 'they' that in historical perspective is equated with Asia. Our modern 'Asia' is perpetuated not for science but on behalf of those strata whose care is to maintain the ideal of western civilisation and who benefit from its sacred myths of individualism, private property, and aggressive defence of liberty. To the centred world of China, civilisation was one and inclusive, distinguishable only from barbarism, and to be civilised was to participate in the Chinese high tradition. But for Europe (apart from the barbarism symbolised by Africa in the T-&-O maps, cf Fig i) there were two ways of being civilised and the accepted definition of the European way required contradistinction from the Asian-Oriental-Eastern (and Communist) way. Thus, the concept 'Europe' has been more than anything else the negation oVAsia'; Asia, afortiori, is best defined as non-European civilisation. This myth is the backbone of European historiography and the source of much of its coherence and drama, and hence important to concepts of world history as well.

Though it has a history of its own, in prototype reaching back at least to the Persian Wars, what mainly concerns us here is the myth itself, especially as it appears in authors of our own times. But they also weave earlier anticipatory hints into their own post hoe interpretations, seeing them as Europe's first awakenings to self-awareness.

History began, accordingly, when the West took cognizance of itself against the backdrop of the East. Greece foreshadows Europe, and Greece differentiates itself from the East in the wars with Troy and the Persians and in Alexander's conquests. From Greece comes 'all that is most distinctive in Western as opposed to Oriental culture , . . it was with the Greeks that there first arose a distinct sense of the difference between European and Asiatic ideals ... the European ideal of liberty was born in the fateful days of the Persian yars'; Greece waged 'against Asiatic imperialism the first fight for the freedom of Europe'. The Greeks set the pattern of definition for the West. 'The Occident that the Greeks founded exists only to the degree that it directs its gaze toward the Orient, confronts it, comprehends it and rejects it, borrowing something that it reworks after appropriating and counterposes, illuminated, against the dark ground of Asia. The myth lends history an entertaining dramatic simplicity; thus, one author can write of Alexander's conquest as 'the necessary outcome' of the Persian wars, part of a work later carried on by Rome, and reaching ultimately into the nineteenth century when a 'last reaction of Greece on the Orient will give birth, in 1830, to the kingdom of the Hellenes'. Greece in its interaction with the Orient did not itself remain pure: the rich nutriment of orientalism contained toxins as well as vitamins, and brought not only growth but corruption. 'In the Hellenistic, then the Byzantine civilisations, the Oriental element in the end prevails over the Greek. The unity, the classical purity change and disappear. There is instead, not a decadence, but another composite therefore inferior state which in the final outcome will prove to be more Oriental than European."

Rome's continuation of the struggle with the Orlent lay in the historic [welthistorischen] wars with the Carthaginians, the campaigns against the despots of the East and the duel between Augustus and Antony'.49 When Augustus defeated Antony and Cleopatra at Actium, this was 'a battle of East and West, the final victory of the European ideals of order and liberty over oriental despotism', over 'the formless hosts of oriental barbarism'. But victory was not, after all, final; Oriental forces crept back, and the bureaucracy of the late empire 'has its roots in the administrative traditions of the great oriental monarchies of Persia and Egypt, but if it was oriental in origin, it had been rationalised and systematised by the Weskern mind. Consequently, in spite of its faults-and they were many-it possessed something of the political spirit of Western civilisation.

Most of this is quite clearly retrojection on the part of modern historians searching for the defining antecedents of their Europe and western civilisation. From the Middle Ages on, though, the myth finds some contemporary footing. Europe or the West as a community came to consciousness at times when there was an Oriental challenge, variously the Eastern church and the Byzantine Empire, the Huns, and Islam.'s To the images of Troy, Salamis, and Actium is added in this period the figure of Charles Martel at Poitiers (732), saving Europe from the followers of Mohammed (who was 'the answer of the East to the challenge of Alexander')." An eighth-century chronicle refers to Charles's forces as Europeans (Europenses)-the first and for long the sole time this word was used.64 During the centuries of the Crusades, though the names of the continents had little force beyond their literal geographic reference, Orient and Occident (with Greece now included in the first) kept strong historical and emotional connotations." The association of the sons of Noah with the continents took an important new turn in the twelfth century in a statement by Godfrey of Viterbo that seems to identify the descendants of Japheth, Europeans, with Christians. The concept of Europe as the stronghold of Christianity took shape with the new Asiatic threats of the Mongols and especially the Turks. Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini (Pope Pius I1) wrote in 1453, hearing that Constantinople had fallen to the Turks, of how Christianity had been chased out of Asia and Africa, and was not left intact even in Europe; the Holy Land was shamefully lost, yet 'indeed it was more bearable to lose towns that we held among the enemy, than to be expelled from those cities that were founded upon our soil and previously belonged to the Christians'-our soil' is Christian Europe.

But with the end of the, Eastern empire at the hands of the Turks, with the Renaissance interest in Greek and secular learning, and especially with the unprecedented quantities of new information about the world that were available to Europeans from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries on, the perspective on the East shifted again. The Europe/Asia myth took on the historical and theoretical character it still has today, and instead of Asia America, first primitive then as competitor and possible heir, became for many thinkers the prime contemporary outside standard of comparison for Europe. The image of this new Europe was imperial and industrial, enlightened and progressive; but the old Europe, the historical heritage of cultural values, was already 'made' by this time and its confrontation with the antique Asia lay in the past. The idea of the West-Europe not in contrast to but together with America and also Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, ie, the areas of white European population-is heir to the conceptual slot once occupied by Europe, and the continuing vitality of the whole myth comes from the meaning it is given in its extension in the contemporary world. The old Asian modes live on in the modern 'Eastern World' and to an important degree are conceptually assimilated with Communism, the new Asian threat by which the 'West' (ie, those with a stake in maintaining the capitalist organisation of 'western' societies) invents itself anew and asserts its heritage in the hope of preventing revolution.

Communism is viewed with much the same stereotypes as the old Asia: it is civilised, but heretical in its materialism and its brain-washing social engineering; it is built on ruthless, enslaved, sub-human hordes. The old Africa role is inherited by the Third World. Russia, long equivocally poised between Europe and Asia, went east for good by turning Communist. 'The Bolshevik revolution seemed to announce in irrefutable manner that Russia belongs to a system of ideas and a conception of lire not at all occidental but on the contrary genuinely oriental, much closer to the Asian ones than to the European.' And beyond Russia more and more there looms China, always super-Asiatic and now super-Communist as well.

This interpretation of 'Asia' as being above all a negative construct whose purpose is to give shape to the idea of Europe is supported by the fact that Europe's most commonly stated defining qualities can be summed up under the two heads moderation and diversity-it cannot be accidental that these are the exact opposites of Asia's excess and uniformity. Moderation is exemplified in the passage from Aristotle already cited (p 30), where Greece is described as having the ideal intermediate position between Asia's heat and Europe's cold. The modern Europe is identified not with Aristotle's Europe but with his Greece. 'It is not at all forcing the meaning of the text,' writes Reynold about this passage, 'to see in it the expression of a kinship between the Greeks and the [European] barbarians. It is the notion of Europe that is in the process of gaining precision.' 'It gains precision,' he adds, 'against Asia."' Tile theme is expressed not only in climate but more generally. Gerald of Wales writes of the West's 'golden mean in things, which supply our use in decent measure and suffice for the wants of nature', rejecting the poisonous opulence and the pomps of the Orient. 'There a superabundance of treasures; here a modest and honest sufficiency.'

But diversity is much the stronger of the two themes in modern times, although it too has classical antecedents." The idea that diversity creates value runs through practically all realms: in economics, multiplicity of products and occupations and inequality of income; in politics, multiplicity of parties and interest groups; in geography, variety of resources, terrains, climates; in the natural as well as the human world, evolution through war, struggle for survival; in history, variety of periods and foci. For Europe, a contrast with Asia (or later with the Communist world) is I think always stated or implied. So Friedrich von Schlegel, in a course of lectures in 1810-11, said:

The consequences of the Völkerwanderung are immeasurable, for the whole of modern history; all that has developed in the last millennium and a half through the noble competition of so many and such great nations and forces has been realized solely because of it. If the Völkerwanderung had not happened, if the German peoples had not succeeded in ridding themselves of the Roman yoke, if rather what was still left of northern Europe had been incorporated into Rome, here too the freedom and individuality of the nations erased, and everything with the same homogeneity turned into provinces, then that splendid competition, that rich development of the human spirit in the newer nations would never have taken place. And it is precisely this richness, this diversity [Mannigfaltigkeit], that makes Europe what it is, that gives it the advantage of being the most advantageous site of man's life and culture. There would be no such free and rich Europe, but instead only One Rome in which everything would be melted and dissolved together, and instead of the rich European history, the annals of the single Roman Empire would provide us with a counterpart to the sorry uniformity of the Chinese chronicles ...

Asia, one might say, is the land of unity where everything is developed on a large scale and in the simplest relations; Europe is the land of freedom, that is, of cultivation through the competition of separate and multifariously individual forces."

John Stuart Mill's essay On Liberty contains a classic statement of the argument, contrasting European diversity with a warning evocation of China's supposed ta t'ung, while at the same time justifying the continuing poverty of England's lower classes:

The greater part of the world has, properly speaking, no history, because the despotism of Custom is complete. This is the case over the whole East ... We have a warning example in China-& nation of much talent, and in some respects, even wisdom ... remarkable, too, in the excellence of their apparatus for impressing, as far as possible, the best wisdom they possess upon every mind in the community, and securing that those who have appropriated most of it shall occupy the posts of honour and power. Surely the people who did this have discovered the secret of human progressiveness, and must have kept themselves steadily at the head of the movement of the world. On the contrary, they have become stationary - have remained so for thousands of years; and if they are ever to be farther improved, it must be by foreigners. They have succeeded beyond all hope in what English philanthropists are so industriously working at-in making a people all alike ... and these are the fruits ...

What is it that has hitherto preserved Europe from this lot: What has made the European family of nations an improving, instead of a stationary portion of mankind? Not any superior excellence in them, which, when it exists, exists as the effect not as the cause; but their remarkable diversity of character and culture. Individuals, classes, nations, have been extremely unlike one another: they have struck out a great variety of paths, each leading to something valuable . . . Europe is, in my judgement, wholly indebted to this plurality of paths for its progressive and many-sided development."

Europe owes its civilisation to the 'cross-fertilization' in Europe among 'Hebrew religious thought, Greek humanism and philosophy, and the Latin power of ordered drill and legal organization', according to Sir Ernest Barker, and he goes on to evaluate also the 'gifts' of the Celts, the Teutons, and the Slavs to the 'general inheritance of Europe. A geographer similarly stresses the diversity of influences that have converged in Europe and the variousness of the inter-communicating subenvironments in which they were nursed to fruition.' Examples of such interpretations could be multiplied indefinitely. The point here is not whether they are wrong or right-though let me suggest that they incline toward tautology in that a given 'contribution' is likely to be labelled both a cause of Europe's progress toward civilisation and a part or evidence of that civilisation. The point is that Europe's self-congratulatory diversity is made to stand out against Asian, and especially Chinese, uniformity. Gift, contribution, blend, stimulus, dialogue, synthesis: such are the terms used to represent European diversity; but in Asian contexts, mixing is usually stated in pejorative and subliminally racist expressions like hybrid or syncretic. Thus Dawson writes of the Roman empire, 'we might have guessed that this spiritual deficiency would lead to an infiltration of oriental influences', and contrasts Christianity with 'the cosmopolitan world'of religious syncretism in which Greek philosophy mingled with the cults and traditions of the ancient East'.

Diversity and moderation combine in a model Europe composed of elements each of which is moderate and whose total number and range of variation are moderate; thus while they can fruitfully interact no one of them can dominate, subordinate, or eliminate others and so diminish the diversity of the whole. Primitive and backward societies (old 'Africa' and the modern Third World) are inferior because lacking in diversity of cultural and environmental elements. Extra-Europcan civilisation-'Asia'-is inferior because of the immoderate dominance of some element; the social and natural scales are too large, the texture is not fine enough for European-typc man. From the Enlightenment on, 'European' writers seem to have in the back of their minds some such schema as this, in which 'diversity' is the key to value and progress, and may be absent either by 'deficiency' or by 'excess' (see Fig 2) [omitted].

In Erikson's terms, the 'subverbal magic design' to which Europe orients itself is a moderate number of diverse, hierarchically equivalent, interacting compartments, in contrast to China's nest of concentric squares (see Fig 3) [omitted]. China's pattern is centralised and mandala-like, its feeling of stability enhanced too by its squareness. Its historical dynamic is tension between centre and edges; the monuments and scenes of its whole history are all located together in the middle. The European pattern is comparative and premissed on rivalry; its historical dynamic is friction among the parts, struggle, and an ambiguously shifting focus. The design exists at many levels and in many domains, political, religious, and so forth; as a schematic map, it represents the various nations of Europe or the West, or the old systems of continents and ecumenes, or the nation-state system of the contemporary world, or the super-national blocs and groupings of states. The monuments and scenes of its history are scattered following the shift of focus; something like China's centredness would be obtained if for example the Pyramids, the Acropolis, Bethlehem, the Baths of Caracalla, the Arch of Triumph, and Valley Forge were all located within the territo of the thirteen original American states.

 

WORLD HISTORY AND CHINA'S ISOLATION, pp61-67

Montesquieu and Turgot included China (and Asia generally) in treatments of world society which were presented as comparative although in fact they did not escape Europocentrism; but they did not try to establish spatio-temporal links, whether material or ideal, between China and the rest of world history. Hegel's system did not require that lie show any material or concrete influence of China on the further progress of' world history, but lie did set up a linear development in the changing locus of the purely ideal World Spirit which at the beginning of history dwelt for a time in China before moving on west. Historians after Hegel were unwilling to follow him in his philosophical unconcern for concrete interconnections and so for the most part simply left China out of their 'world' histories. Ranke omitted China together with all the 'oriental' lands because they were 'peoples of eternal stasis', and also not acccssible to his method of painstaking critical use of sources; China, besides, had very few concrete connections with western history.

This geographical isolation of China is an interpretive theme that recurs again and again in western writings of the last two centuries. 'A people in one corner of the earth,' Herder called the Chinese, 'placed by fate outside of the concourse of nations, and to that end fortified with mountains and deserts and a sea nearly without bays.' And the geographer Richthofen saw 'the principal characteristic of the political and cultural history of the Chinese' in the 'seclusion in which this people has grown up', adding that only if one fully realised the contrast with Europe's situation could one appreciate what the Chinese had managed to achieve despite all."

Isolation was imposed by difficult terrain and sheer distance, but the Chinese in their smug self-satisfaction made no effort to overcome it; on the contrary they further shut themselves off with the Great Wall, which 'represents China's heroic effort to perfect her almost complete natural isolation'," and when the Europeans came put off intercourse with them as best they could.

The argument that isolation explains China has two implications. First, that China has been handicapped by the absence of the specific and uniquely valuable elements ('contributions') making up western civilisation: Christianity, Roman law, Greek philosophy, etc. Second, more generally, that China has been without any comparable set of diverse, hence progress generating elements and, deprived of the sort of fruitful interaction that Europe enjoyed, remained stagnant.

Even at face value, this argument in either form actually says nothing at all about China, about the manners, economy, government, social structure or history of the Chinese; it only suggests that if China were located, say, in the Middle East, it would be different. One might as well explain Europe by asserting that it would be more advanced if it were situated where the Indochinese peninsula is.

But the picture of China as cut off from the world is false from the start, and loaded with Europocentrism. Because of our indoctrination in them, the particular elements present in the 'West' seem natural and necessary and we persistently overvalue them. In the matter of religion, for example, we assume that our heritage of Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Judaic, Christian, Druidic and whatever other strands presents a richer and more stimulating array than what was available to China; yet in China too, besides the native Taoism, Confucianism, and the old 'classical' religion," there flourished at various times Judaism, Islam, Manichaeism, Nestorian Christianity, and the many diverse schools of Buddhism. Again, a Chinese scholar would be less likely than a European to know a 'foreign' language-but he had to learn classical Chinese just as the European cleric learned Latin, and whatever familiarity he had with Chinese 'dialects' acquainted him with languages differing from each other as much as do many of the Indo-European idioms of Europe. Similar arguments can be made respecting the economies, governments and other cultural elements that interacted in East Asia. In terms of sheer numbers, the fact that roughly one-quarter of the human race has, apparently for thousands of years, lived in what is now China makes absurd the connotations of smallness and sparseness in 'isolated' ('islanded', with a suggestion of solus, 'alone'). It is true that the Confucian tradition of state and gentry did minimise external contact in its written record, but ordinary people-traders, pilgrims, bandits, migrants-continually came and went.

In any event, since 1500, and especially in the last hundred years, there can be no dispute that a real world history in the sense of concrete, frequent, and significant interconnections among the great majority of human beings has existed and increasingly gained intensity. 'It is this new situation,' writes Barraclough, 'which makes the need for universal history-by which we mean a history that looks beyond Europe and the west to humanity in all lands and ages-a matter of immediate practical urgency'; without a rational grasp of universal history, we are not equipped to cope intelligently with 'some of the most important factors directly affecting our lives'. But 'our lives' as far as I am concerned means the class interests of the majority of mankind, and new myths of world history must stand against the dominant 'western' bourgeois historiography, not just extend it.

There exist broadly three emphases to bringing Chinese (or any other) history into coherent world history. The first stresses such past contacts and interactions as did occur, in the Old World especially by way of the Central Asian nomads; the second holds that the present interdependence of the world imposes all the requisite unity on earlier history so that there is no need to magnify the importance of scanty earlier contacts; and the third focuses upon the essential similarity and solidarity of all human experience, regardless of contacts.

The peoples of Central Asia once aroused what has seemed to some a disproportionate amount of interest in comparison with the Chinese because they seemed to offer the possibility of concrete historical linkages among the Various Eurasian civilisations, especially between China and the Mediterranean-European world. Most notable was Frederick J. Teggart's effort to explain barbarian uprisings in Europe by correlating them with, among other things, events in China's western regions; and he asserts that 'if the history of Eurasia in general and of Europe in particular is to be understood, the history of China must be placed in the foreground'. More broadly, Hodgson in advocating a Eurasian history as a legitimate simplification of the problem of world history would focus attention on themes directly or indirectly linking the various Eurasian civilisations, in practice again through the Central Asians; he suggests such topics as the Mongol empire, or the diffusion of Muslim mathematics to China and to Europe. But such a world history would always remain thin and selective, and could not logically include more than a tiny part of the social, cultural, economic, and political history that would be chosen by almost any other criterion of significance, At most the insistence on concrete interaction for a world history including China is a useful antidote to Europocentrist and idealist historiography of Hegelian style.

The second approach is exemplified by Karl Jaspers. Interested in the historical parallels between China, India and the West, especially in what lie calls the 'axial period' (Achsenzeit), the centuries around 500 BC when most ofthe great Eurasian religions arose, lie finds evidence of causally significant interaction unconvincing and unnecessary for a conception of world history. 'They are three independent roots of a history that later -after interrupted separate contacts, conclusively only in the last few centuries, really only today-became a single unity.'Practically all history is in fact written with some such built-in teleology, where items are included not for their contemporary significance or lateral interconnections alone but also with an eye to what the h ' istorian knows was coming. Who cares about Napoleon's childhood, except for what he did as a man? Similarly, American history is interested in the first Spanish settlement in Florida as well as the Massachusetts Bay Colony without feeling obliged to show concrete interconnection-later developments make the relevance. Exactly the same principle justifies the inclusion of China with Europe and the rest in a single world history. If it is objected that 'our' roots are after all in Greece, Rome, and Europe, there is no answer except that the 'we' that is thus defined is adverse, exclusive, and backward-looking, entirely inappropriate to the mid-twentieth-century with its undeniable accelerating mutual dependence of all peoples.

The third possibility for an integrated world history stresses the ideal solidarity of the human species, or the concrete similarities in its experiences at all times and places regardless of past or present interactions among its parts. The unity of tile species is expressed in various ways, but all urge that human existence as such contains its own meaning and justification to which respect is due. God made man in his own image, therefore the image of man is holy; ask not for whom the bell tolls; treat men as ends, never solely as means. Ranke writes ' 'Because man dies, the individual life has value. All elements of the life of nations must he regarded as independent developments, not [only] in so far as they serve a final development.' Whatever, their historical role, all human events have this aspect of being', 'immediate to God'. But this broad, vague compassion (in' which China is implicitly embraced along with all mankind), though necessary to any acceptable historiography, is insufficient because unselective; it cannot decide what is important and then look for what caused it. A slightly different emphasis asserts the relevance to us of all human experience in virtue of the fact that our minds are capable of repeating the thoughts on other minds so that we enlarge our lives and learn our potentialities; the purpose of studying history is to pursue self-discovery through vicarious experience. More generally, from a social science view of history any human experience (whether, inside or outside the mind) yields potentially valuable data for, making and checking explanations about societies, since all societies, in their various environments, have roughly analogous and comparable patterns of economics, social organisation, art, and so forth.

Marxist writers in the Soviet Union and the Chinese People's Republic make a combination of approaches and draw China into world history both by stressing concrete interaction and through a world periodisation by 'socio-economic formations' feudalism, capitalism, etc. Complete isolation, they point out, never existed, although in general interdependence has grown through the ages and only with capitalism do production and exchange become international and is there international division of labour and an international market. Periodisation by socio-economic stage is a manoeuvre formally resembling Hegel's world-spirit periodisation in that it does not require one to solve the problem of independent invention versus diffusion in the successive stages. The orthodox picture between 1930 and 1960, which largely still prevails (but see chapter 4 on the Asiatic Mode), was as follows. World history subdivides into five periods, each corresponding to one of the five prime socioeconomic formations. Each period begins when a new formation appears in one or another part of the world. Thus primitive communism, reaching back to the beginning of human society, characterises world history until the time when the first breakthrough to the more advanced slave-holding order occurs in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and elsewhere. The next stage, feudalism, arises first in China (or in Europe and Asia both, but at a later time). Capitalism begins with the bourgeois revolutions of Western Europe and North America from the sixteenth or seventeenth century on (the Dutch or the English revolution). Finally a new period begins with the October Revolution in the Soviet Union, the period of socialism.' These stages derive primarily from the study of Europe and are based especially on the transition from feudalism to capitalism; their application elsewhere is somewhat Procrustean though without the Europocentrism of most 'world' history. If the schema is taken too literally, despite all disclaimers, it suggests a thorough weeding out of history so that significant creativity at any period is seen as restricted to a single region, and it conveys a sense that history must run in a certain narrow track and no other-a sense false to much ordinary experience and crippling to the imagination with respect to future possibilities. But the arrangement has room for the insights of all three approaches to world history discussed above, and it is based on a consistent cultural materialism that puts the primary focus of cultural evolution in the complex of tools, energy sources, and material environment involved in a society's basic productive activities. In intention it is thoroughly ecumenical and adopts the standpoint of the working majority of mankind, though it raises problems when applied to China, as will be seen.