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Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Monday, July 21. 2008
Yes, the problem was that they didn't appreciate good claret. There's a lesson in that. Read the whole fascinating thing. The link is above.
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OK, Mr. Sharp-eyes. Fair enough.
Damn interesting, though. Some writings age well....
I slogged thru the whole thing, at least it wasn't that 1431 book. Another liberal having white guilt and saying sorry sorry to the Chinese or Indians for being the best. Had to laugh about the parts about digging up the grave to sell things, the dock that fell apart for lack of maintanence, his whim and expense account and lastly his snide remark about the magazine being in done in Chinese had events been different. Actually it would not even have been published at all. Don't think freedom of speech goes over too well in China.
I don't think this is the best essay of any year and ironic coming just before the McCain op-ed story.
Re: Another liberal having white guilt..."
Nonsense. You missed the key quote:
"Historians offer a host of reasons for why Asia eventually lost its way economically and was late to industrialize; two and a half reasons seem most convincing.
"The first is that Asia was simply not greedy enough. The dominant social ethos in ancient China was Confucianism and in India it was caste, with the result that the elites in both nations looked down their noses at business. Ancient China cared about many things -- prestige, honor, culture, arts, education, ancestors, religion, filial piety -- but making money came far down the list."
Who has an antibusiness attitude in the United States today? The political left.
Bottom line: If you give the Democrats power, you can expect to end up like the Chinese and the Indians did -- losers in the global marketplace.
Some good insights, but many things wrong in this piece. Some of the logic is spectacularly backward:
"The first is that Asia was simply not greedy enough. ... In contrast to Asia, Europe was consumed with greed."
In a word, no. The Chinese didn't continue their expeditions around the world because they weren't "greedy," but because they WERE, just like every other group of people the world has ever seen. The voyages were mainly designed to spread Chinese prestige, but proved to be such a big drain on the treasury that the fiscally-prudent Chinese Emperor pulled the plug on the funding.
Europeans were no different. Columbus could barely convince Isabella to let him have just three run-down old ships -- versus Zheng He, who was lavishly outfitted -- and even then he only received continued funding once he was able to demonstrate that his voyages could bring a profit to the Spanish crown.
Two nations, same principle, but different results due to the differing profitability of the expeditions.
Kristof's other big mistake is confusing the explorations of the 15th and 16th century with Europe's rise to economic ascendance, which really only occurred in the later 19th century. China was still the biggest economy in the world even after the independence of the USA - it was industrialism that really launched Europe and the West, and that is a very different story.
Thanks for the critiques of the essay. I thought it was interesting, despite the flaws and the PC.
The subject is very interesting - it's a thoughtful essay on an important topic. But the mistake of equating the settlement of the Americas with the economic dominance of Europe undermines it badly. Even had the Chinese gone out to populate Australia and East Africa, it is difficult to see how that would have affected economic developments in Western Europe. And, at the same time, industrialization in Britain in the 1800s was not due to the wealth from the colonies - less than 5 percent of British GDP in the late 1700s came from overseas holdings, so colonization was clearly not a prerequisite to economic dominance.
I do notice also that the essay contains the classic "PC History" technique of labelling medieval Europe as culturally backwards compared to the rest of the world, even as today's cultural relativists insist that all cultures are equal, and that the West is nothing special. Kristof gives this theory some play by using it to rationalize the Chinese failure to continue on to Europe, after already having taken a swipe at England for being "backwards."
Keep in mind, Dylanologist, that Kristof had lived in Asia for roughly 13 years when he wrote this piece. He was NYT bureau chief in Tokyo. You see "PC." I see "Japanese influence."
Really? I am curious as to how? I did not think it was overly PC/relativist, but bashing medieval Europe is a favorite pastime of left-leaning historians, especially apologists for Islam.
As we both know, this whole topic has too many components--tea, opium, etc.--for a blog discussion.
My point is this: Americans miss too many things and misinterpret too many things when they look at the world through the prism of American politics.
America's political left are using "Internationalism 1.0." There have been more than 35 years worth of updates to it. Who has the latest stuff? Experienced globe-trotting businessmen. You won't find them at universities. You will find them in the five-star hotels of London, Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, etc.
Re: "bashing medieval Europe"
As you know, Westerners are barbarians to many Chinese and Japanese. Heck, I think many Westerners are barbarians, too, and I am a blue-eyed, lifelong Republican who supported Reagan and Goldwater. (Read some of the absurd comments on left-wing and neocon blogs.)
What caught my eyes was the success of the academics and Confucianists were "at war" with the eunuchs, who were apparently "businessmen". Seems like I've seen and heard that story before.