Thursday, September 24, 2009

BEH: Commentary 3

This week's readings take us from the European segments of the world system to the Middle Eastern (i.e. Persian) and the Far Eastern (i.e. India and China) sections. The Persian subsystem was largely characterized by the two waters it had and used: the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. While for some time the Persian Gulf was clearly the more favored route, due to it having various land access points, a sea trail that hugged the coast and a smaller land route, later with a shift in subsystem dynamics the Red Sea (although not intrinsically better) became the dominant - and actually the only - viable trade route in the area. This was indeed a major change as the Persian/Middle Eastern subsystem was responsible for getting goods from the Far East to Europe and visa versa. The effects of the change are seen through the dynamics of Venetian and Genoese rivalries and its outcomes.

The farther Eastern subsystems were most undoubtedly marked with the unique characteristic of not only not having a supreme hegemon, but also having a distinct and influential weather system - the monsoons. Because of the immenseness of the Indian Ocean, there were three and not just one subsystem that worked the area. It is interesting to note that although in the book (and in modern context) India is spoken of as one entity, it was actually quite fragmented. It is important to realize the two coasts of India - the East and West - were even part of essentially different subsystems. In marked contrast to the European traders and city-states, the people in India did not try to become hegemons or regulate or tax the trade that was GAURANTEED to stop at their ports. This passivity has been characterized as a result of India's comparable wealth. China also has a unique history distinct from that seen in Europe. It should be noted that China was far more advanced than other parts of the World System although historians have often attributed the ascension of Europe as a hegemon to its particular Scientific Revolution. Early on China was a great trading, sea and political power. They were on a campaign to show their glory to the entire world and to gain "international" fame and status. However, later due to largly internaal problems, they became comparably isolationist.

Abu-Lughod returns to her goal of her novel as she discusses the ascension of Europe to the world hegemon. She repeatedly highlights on the fact that the European rise was not because they "felled" the East, but rather the East was already falling before the European's rose. I find that the passivity for the Chinese and Indians (East) - although beneficial in the short term - was not ready for the European "plundering" and aggressiveness. The relative peace and disorganization in the East allowed the West to impose its own rules on trading which obviously benefited themselves.

I found it interesting to find the dynamics of the Persian subsystem and how it was kind of like a see-saw in regards to the dual nature of the sea bodies - the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. I have read about how important water accessibility is, but I never realized how things like being able to hug the coast and having strategically placed ports and the shape of landmasses could affect the efficiency and profitability of trade.

One thing I am unsure about is the deal with the Portuguese. Were European traders not going directly to the Far East before the Portuguese circumvented Africa? If they were, what did they not have that the Portuguese did that stopped the others from doing what the Portuguese later did? Up until we talk about the shift in power globally, the Portuguese were never even mentioned?

-Ragini Grace Gupta

1 comment:

  1. Of course the ability to hug the coast is important for trade because there is less road to travel. If trade comes from the middle of the country and it most move to the coast to be exported that means more cost. If a port is strategically placed it may be easier to cater to the countries that are buying and trading the goods. If a port is on the opposite end of a country from the side it needs to trade then more money for gas, workers, and time is going to be a large factor in the price and taxes of the goods. The shape of the land mass is also important because the further a country juts out into the water the more money you will need to move goods.