‘Rise and Fall’
The title of this blog post is pretty much a joke. It alludes to the problem that many historians face when looking at the history of the global economic system during 1250-1450 CE (the period that Abu-Lughod is writing about), that being: what caused the economic system to fall, and what caused the Europeans to emerge as global powers. More closely, we can ask: what was the cause of China’s decline in power?
Abu-Lughod’s final chapters thoroughly explain that (I) the eastern parts of the world (the “orient”) were in no way separated from the, and passive concerning, the global economic system, and (II) that the “rise and fall” of the global economic system was not due to any psychological, technological, or industrial factors, and that the term “rise and fall” is not representative of the true history.
In Chapter 10 of Before European Hegemony, Abu-Lughod highlights many areas where China was particularly advanced at the time. She also juxtaposes these advancements with Europe at the time, and it can be inferred that China was almost an hegemonic nation. Areas such as shipbuilding, technology (navigational, killing-related items, etc.), economics, and more, were areas in which China could be called hegemonic, or at least a world-leader (i.e. hegemonic?).
But what caused China’s “fall”? What caused Europe’s “rise”? These are questions and terms, Abu-Lughod says, that need to be crossed out of our historical vocabulary concerning the late-medieval economic world system. Instead, writes Abu-Lughod, the “fall” of China and the world system, and the ensuing “rise” of the European powers should be closely examined, and once this is done it will follow that we will realize that it was no simple rise and fall but something else.
The something else was caused by the Black Death, the fragmentation of the Mongol Empire, the geopolitical changes in the Chinese system, and many more reasons. Abu-Lughod argues, “If we assume that restructuring, rather than substitution, is what happens when world systems succeed one another… then failure cannot refer to the parts themselves but only to the declining efficacy and functioning of the ways in which they were formerly connected.” I interpret this as saying that no one thing or nation caused any rising or falling; I think a unified theory of why Europe emerged as a global power was due to the law of gravity or a specter of change that caused the decay of the economic world system.