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Academics voice opposition to Eurocentric paradigm

WANG JUNMEI, DING YIMIN | 2018-03-08 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

The tiles at the Sao Bento Railway Station in Portugal show the lasting influence of China’s blue and white porcelain in Europe. Portuguese merchants who had reached China in the early 16th century became the first Europeans to trade silver for blue and white porcelain. As the world's largest economy in the 16th century, China's use of the tael propelled the use of silver as the main vehicle for international settlement. Chinese blue and white porcelain had become a high-end global commodity, and its exchange in ports world-wide had instigated one of the fundamental steps in globalization. (VORTEXMAG.NET)


Two Danish academics have challenged Eurocentrism by further examining economic history and the relationship between the West and the East in the context of the development of capitalism.

One argument of Eurocentrism is that the rest of the world can only learn from Europe and adopt the European way of development. However, in their thesis published in the Monthly Review, Johannes Dragsbaek Schmidt, an associate professor of political science at Aalborg University in Denmark, and Jacques Hersh, a professor emeritus of international development studies at Aalborg University, argued that many have questioned the supremacy of the European experience.

The capitalist world system emerged with the expansion of Europe’s trade with and colonial conquest of other parts of the world after major “geographical discoveries.” Eurocentrism explained this process as the “European miracle.” Schmidt and Hersh argued that recent studies have shown that before the “discovery of America,” the Asian civilizations (mainly China and India) were not lagging behind Europe. Before the Industrial Revolution, Europe had a great demand for Asian products, but it was very difficult for European products to find market in Asia.

While Eurocentrism claims that the “European miracle” was made by endogenous factors such as reason, institutions, entrepreneurship and technologies within Europe, some scholars have argued that connections to the rest of the world contributed to the rise of Western Europe, in which Asia played a significant role. Those scholars include Kenneth Pomeranz, a professor of history at the University of Chicago, R. Bin Wong, a distinguished professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Andre Gunder Frank, the late professor emeritus of development economics and social sciences at the University of Amsterdam.

Pomeranz argued that without the external factors, the socioeconomic influence of Europe’s inventions could not have been more revolutionary than that of the constant marginal technological progress in the 18th-century China and India.

Frank advocated studying the history of the world beyond Europe from a truly global perspective. Liu Haixia, an associate research fellow at the Academy of Marxism at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that such a perspective will help eliminate Eurocentrism. From the perspective and height of global history, a comparative study of commonalities and differences of the history of the East and West will help examine the rise and fall of human history as a whole.

Schmidt and Hersh wrote that as the Western-dominated capitalist world system declines while Asia rises, the ongoing historical process demands a deconstruction of the conventional wisdom that views “historical capitalism” as the product of the “European miracle.” While the competing narrative to this hegemonic discourse concerning the trajectory of Western capitalism is still in its early stages, it has regained heuristic validity with the evolution of the Asian challenge over the past decades.

According to the Asian Development Bank’s Asian Development Outlook 2017, the developing economies of Asia contributed 60 percent to world economic growth, and China alone contributed over 30 percent to it.

Liu said that the rise of Asia proves the unsustainability of the “center-periphery” system and dissolves the “impact-response” model of Eurocentrism, which contends that Asian countries lack internal motivation and their development is mainly a response to the impact of the West.

The exploration of the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics and the rise of Asia have fully demonstrated that historical research cannot be decided only by the standard of the characteristics of a certain society or region because it is not a scientific method to study the regularity and diversity of social development, Liu said.


WANG JUN MEI, DING YIMIN are correspondents with Chinese Social Sciences Today.

(edied by JIANG HONG)