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The Formation of the Modern East Asian Economy

Chuan Lyu Lectures
Faculty of Oriental Studies
University of Cambridge
5:00PM, May 7 and 9, 1996
Sorimachi Room, Sidgwick Site

Subject: The Formation of The Modern East Asian Economy
Currency and National Development in East Asia During the 15th and 16th Century

By: Professor Shiba Yoshinobu
International Christian University,
Tokyo, Japan

     For at least the last century and a half, the world has been one. The creation of an Industrial Age in Europe during the nineteenth century, coupled with the subsequent modernization of various economies elsewhere, has seen the historical destinations of the various quarters of the globe assume an integrative, universal, and general world history. If we inquire into the previous relations among countries in the early modern period-the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries-we can readily find a direct, virtually genetic linkage of early modern European history to the formation of this modern, integrated world. The centuries that followed the arrival of Vasco da Gama in Calicut in 1498 saw the continual European expansion and interweaving of maritime connections within and between the hemispheres. Hence for over a century this history has been presented, both in my country and in your university, as the story of the long drift to European hegemony in Asian waters. This theory of European expansion has itself given rise to such popular dichotomies as European intrusion vs. Asian response or European imperial dominance vs. Asian passive victimization.

     But was there no history within Asian, especially East Asia, which saw similar interconnections, horizontal continuities, and general economic trends amongst non-European societies? Conventional wisdom has tended to deny such a possibility, claiming that there are histories only of separate countries and economies within Asia during the centuries before the arrival and rise of the West. China, it is said, conducted only tribute trade; Korea and Vietnam consistently followed the Chinese lead; and Japan, as it was only once willing to accept such political subordination, took minimal part in even this trade.

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