Friday, September 25, 2009

BEH 3: Indian Ocean

This week’s readings finished talking about Europe and Abu-Lughod took us into Asia. The “middle way” was the easiest and cheapest way to connect Europe to the Middle East, and then to the Far East. This route gave Baghdad importance because it was located “at a cross point where the most heavily traveled land and sea routes to the Far East intersected” (189). Baghdad began to decline because of attacks by the Mongol Empire. When the Mongols took control of Persia and Iraq, the fall of Baghdad was sped up, and helped lead to the rise of Cairo. We learned that the reason Venice survived through the Black Death was because Egypt and specifically Cairo and the southern route to Asia survived. Egypt then began to decline in power. Abu-Lughod explains that there were “two external factors [that] were central in bringing about the transformation of Egypt…from a hegemonic…economy…to a ‘dependent’ economy” whose power came only from making raw materials and the fact that they had access to the Indian Ocean (236). Next Abu-Lughod took us to India and China. Like Baghdad, India was located at a pivotal point, where they could have dominated world trade, especially after the withdrawal of China from the world system. The system on the Indian Ocean was divided in three different sections, or “interlocking circuits.” The reason for this was mainly cultural, although geographical too. The western section was mainly Muslim, the middle section was mainly Hindu, and the third easternmost section or circuit was mainly Buddhist, as it was located around China.

I found two things particularly interesting in this weeks readings, first the fact that the Middle East had so much power in world trade. I never knew that Egypt had power throughout the world. I always just figured that Egypt kept to itself. I have never learned much about the Middle East, thus reading about both Egypt and Baghdad The second thing I found interesting in this weeks readings, is that India could have been a hegemon, and instead was passive and did not take the power it could have had over the world system. What I do not understand being brought up in a society with natures to look out for ones own interest and personal gain is why countries during these times such as India and China did not become a hegemon and instead chose to stand back, or withdraw all together in China’s case. While I understand India being divided because “the west coast looked to the Middle East…and the east coast looked to Southeast Asia,” thus it was divided in two main parts (270). I do not understand how they didn’t take the opportunity to gain power in the world by just unifying.

This leads to my topic for discussion I would like someone to help me with. Why did China not take the power? Why did they decide to withdraw all together? People are out for their own needs, why didn’t someone do something? And when China decided to withdraw why didn’t India pick up their slack? With all the power India could have had, why didn’t the country unify to become a world leader? Help me put the pieces together.

1 comment:

  1. I think the points you have raised here are all important and interesting. I also found Egypt as a bit of surprise in the reading as well and I am still confused as to why India and China were not more controlling over the world system at that time. My main belief as to why they were so laid back and laissez faire at this time was simply because of their culture. I am not an expert on either of their cultures by any means, but I think it was just difference in beliefs and ideas. China was and always described as being isolationist and if they could survive on their own then why look to other parts of the world. When I think of India (I know this is an ignorant stereotype but its a blog) I always think of Ghandi, monks, and buddhism. Not power hungry warriors trying to control the world system. I do know, that is my best guess/explanation.