Saturday, September 26, 2009
Friday, September 25, 2009
Post 3- Muslim Merchants
In roughly the 13th century the Asian sea trade that was slanted in the direction of the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and the Southern China Sea was broken into three interchangeable circuits, which each had communal authority of both economic and political movers and shakers that were in charge of trade between nearby places. The major explanation for these divisions of circuits was geographic; interestingly enough these sets of circuits soon became cultural domains.
The circuit located farthest west was mainly populated by Muslims which included: ship owners, major merchants, and merchants who had ships in the northwestern coast of India. They conducted their business in three major ports: port of Cambay in Gujarat, and the Malabar port enterpots of Calicut and Quilon. They were able to carry out business by route of large resident “colonies” of Muslim Merchants. A portion of the merchants were from the Middle East, but began to settle, marry, and usually adapt to their new environment. The others who were native to the northwestern coast of India soon picked up on Muslim culture and language through extended exposure of trade.
I find it interesting how the Muslim merchants were such important players in trade, but did not venture far off to trade with other people not close by.
What do you think the Muslim merchants could have done back then to ensure that they would still be a powerful player in trade as they were then? If you think there was nothing they could have done what do you think they could do now to become a more major part of trade now?
In the westernmost part of this division, the Muslims were the dominant ones. The Muslims were from the Arabian Peninsula and the capitals of Baghdad and Cairo.
In the middle, Abu-Lugbod says this area was "primarily 'hinduized' in culture." The middle connected the south Indian coast. The cities were Malabar in the west and Coromandel in the east with everything else in between, and a few islands of Indonesia. She also points out that there were several Buddhist and Chinese influences.
And in the east of course we have China. According to the map, this division was the biggest. This area was dominated by Buddhists and Confucianism.
Her point in discussing all of these great cultures of this divided trade route system is not to prove whose culture was the most dominant, but to prove how these cultures could trade freely "within each of the three zones". The different cultures didn't set the boundaries between these divisions, rather it was the geographical attributes and the weather that divided these areas and cultures. It was the where the "countercyclical wind patterns met" that separated the monsoon areas and divided these trade areas. "...the 'natural' condition of the Indian Ocean was for several locally hegemonic powers to coexist; no single power ever exercised dominance over the entire system (253)."
The Strait of Malacca played a crucial role in trade from the 7th to early 14th centuries. The strait provided a means for transportation among world traders, and allowed Asia to play a vital role in the world commerce and production of the time. In these early years, Malacca, Palembang, and Jambi – major Asian ports cities– were thriving “world cities” who dominated the world system thanks to their active and successful harbors. Years later, however, it is impossible to picture what these thriving cities once were by looking at the dead emporium that remains. At one time, ships from four regions of the world system could be found docked and trading at the channel of the Malacca River, but today this channel is merely a swamp of green-gray sludge and silt with rickety wooden piers and fragile sailing boats. The graphical demise and present state of these former “world cities” illustrates the instability of those who dominated the world system prior to Europe.
The dramatic decline of Malacca and Palembang highlight an unusual characteristic of the regions and their urbanization. Great cities tend to persist through the ages, with archaeological excavations finding layer upon layer of successive settlements. Neither Malacca nor Palembang, however, possessed this characteristic. Rather, the entrepots of the Strait had port after port, with traders moving from one to the other. The regions had no great ecological features to encourage settlement, which is why the famous port cities eventually fell to their demise. There ecological features did, however, encourage trade. There was an unruffled surface of water, which produced a yearly cycle of sailing seasons interrupted by long windless periods; two shores with low-lying coasts; and a series of rivers flowing down the strait. Behind the coasts lied highlands, where tin, wood, and other forest products could be found, and from the inlands, minerals, camphor, resins, and tress could be found. It was the abundance of these resources, along with easy access via waterways, that made Malacca and Palembang so famous.
In the ecological setting that Malacca and Palembang are in, a stable urban hierarchy is very unlikely because there is neither an agrarian region nor a differentiated terrain. As a result of these ecological faults, the entrepots of the Strait failed to provide an adequate stopping point or settlement area for the traders that frequented them, hurting their reputation as great port cities, and leading to their geographical demise.
Are there any examples of world cities/nations that fell from power after Europe became hegemonic and are in geographically despair now?
In a portion of the text for Wednesday’s reading, Abu-Lughod discusses the importance of “Islam and Business” (216), setting the tone of this subsection by recognizing the West’s eventual dominance over commerce, but additionally noting the competence and self-sufficiency of the Islamic people in terms of commerce and trade. “Although the West eventually ‘won,’” she states, “it should not be assumed that it did so because it was more advanced in either capitalistic theory or practice. Islamic society needed no teachers in these matters” (216).
Abu-Lughod goes on to describe how Islam always concerned itself with business matters, and though it may be strange that a religious group and its sacred documents be concerned with business contacts and agreements, “it must be remembered that Mecca was an important caravan center and that Muhammad, before his religious experience, was a business agent” (216). Capitalistic theories have flourished in Islamic society since the first century, A.D., and while the contractual documentation does not exist for the Middle East as it did for Europe, the documentation of ht institutions of partnership and commenda in the early Islamic period are a testament, and may be evidence for, the loss of Islamic commercial hegemony in the Middle Ages (217). While this evidence is inconclusive, the succinct evidence of Islamic partnerships, contracts, the commenda, the wakil (the agent), and credit and monies, promote the notion of early Islamic power over capitalistic commerce and trade.
It should be noted, however, that Abu-Lughod states the lack of historical documents citing the agreements and contracts that ensured the latter commercial practices. The contacts, she cites, were oral histories, and not physical documents, as the Europeans have.
Because of the paucity of documentary sources,” she says, “it is not possible to
investigate the quantitative aspects of trade… one can only study the legal texts that
describe mechanisms… or set forth principles… for their execution (217).
If this is the case, while there is substantiate evidence of the Islamic commercial competency, it is difficult to determine how the Islamic hegemony existed and remained for such an extensive period of history. How, I wonder, do we know that this is the definite case? Might other countries or cultures have held hegemonic power at this time as well? I am curious to know how Islamic practices fit into the historical transformation of capitalism and commerce? How much did their practices influence this transformation to modern practices?
As ever, Abu-Lughod is still emphasizing that Europe was not necessarily destined to dominate the world. Parts II and III illustrate societies that were very technologically advances, wealthy, and potentially very powerful. But Iraq, India and China never reached their full potential due to the combination of internal and external factors.
Baghdad was an interesting case where it seemed to be in decline while still impressively wealthy and great. As Abu-Lughod discussed earlier in the book, first-hand accounts of life need to be carefully analyzed to discover the real truth. Witnesses of Baghdad’s economic prosperity are contradictory: “When they compare Baghdad with the past, they see decline, but when they compare her to most other places, they see an undeniably active economy…bolstered by the heightened demands of the export trade” (193). Unfortunately for Baghdad this ‘heightened demand’ didn’t last forever. Once again the Mongol Empire asserted itself, and once the Middle East was conquered, the relocation of the capital/trading center ruined Baghdad and its sister city of Basra. The Mongols were certainly an external factor that Baghdad had little or no control over, with little hope of being able to compete with the Mongols militarily.
I would not call the kingdoms of India “local hegemons” because to me that is an oxy moron. Hegemony usually carries a connotation of wanting world dominance, not merely local. Referring to them as local powers and cores seems more accurate. And that’s all they were, and the unified inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent were not very ambitious. Although they seemed to be in a weakened position due to their lack of unification, the Indian culture seemed to do quite well for itself: “India was self-sufficient in or indifferent to many of the heavily-traded commodities on the medieval world market” and “she sold more than she bought” (285). So India exported more than it imported, creating a so-called favorable balance of trade, once again underscoring the fact that the 13th century world system was one of “proto-capitalism”.
Like India, China had great potential to be an economic powerhouse, but similarly lacked that ambition, and instead isolated itself from the world. At one point, China “seemed fated in the 13th century to become the hegemonic power if not of the world at least a goodly portion of it” (259-260). But interestingly, not long after, Abu-Lughod states that “the East had already substantially ‘fallen’ before the Portuguese men-of-war appeared in the Indian Ocean” (260). But why had it fallen? Why did China take a step backward just when it appeared to be ready to dominate the world? As is extensively discussed in the book, China was technologically advanced, had established solid economic institutions, and had military might. They had the will and ability to control sea trade by insisting on keeping foreigners out of their ports.
But then they took things a step further and basically stopped all trade with foreigners. This may have been a reaction to their being conquered by a lesser civilization, it may have been due to the plague or the inherent social structure of China, but to me the most interesting explanation is that China withdrew because of the belief system taught by Confucius. Is it possible that China gave up power and wealth because one man said that “crass moneymaking” was wrong? I’d like other people’s opinions on how much of a factor this was in China’s downfall.
One of the things I found most interesting in this week’s reading was India’s stance in the global society. It is interesting to me how India had so much power and money being flushed into it. The fact that India did not take it to the next level; hegemony, is something very unique to India. I think it says something about India’s culture, goals, and values. It seems as though India did not want to emerge and a hegemony because they were contempt with the position they were in, which was still controlling the world trade, and therefore the world system. India preferred to stay on top peacefully rather than toil with war, retaliation, and unrest. It is clear that cultural ideals did affect India’s platoonic rise to power; contradictory to Europe, India valued peace (maybe above wealth and status).
What I want to know, after reading these latest chapters, what would the world be like today, and how would history be different if India had reached its full potential (sea power, or hegemony). Its possible India could have been colonizing the world rather than be colonized- then again, with their peaceful ideals, maybe not. Its an interesting subject, regardless.
I don’t mean to follow any trends, but it really is intriguing, the question of why India hadn’t unified. At this point it was divided, particularly into the three cultural zones, but the most major stop on the way from East to West and vice versa. India barely had to work for its position in the world system, it just came to it. But if it had all this automatic power, why didn’t it capitalize, unite, and dominate the world system? It is a mystery to me as to why India seemed void of any interest to unite, but with their lucky location, it’s true that there seemed to be no need for such measures. Each of the individual parts of India were also truly self-sufficient creating less need. The Portuguese invasion also prevented this from happening too. Now it’s getting to more familiar territory as the Portuguese navy is beginning to dominate the seas. Originally the Chinese navy was the most powerful in the Indian Ocean, but Portugal came in and soon took control, heavily taxing traders in the area. During this time, India also didn’t feel the need to create a navy since it was so wealthy because of its location. The Portuguese invasion caused India to fall and ensured European dominance in the world system, evolving to the modern world.
But still, I wonder why India hadn’t united. These are completely valid reasons and it’s logical that they didn’t feel the need to. But looking back in retrospect it just seems so foolish since India could have been so unbelievably great and powerful. Was there a lot of conflict between the independent parts of India? Did they not see what was coming with this world system?
Of all the routes that linked Europe and the Far East, the Persian Gulf was the “easiest, cheapest….and the most ancient and enduring” (185). Compared to the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf was easier to navigate through because of its lack of rocks and bad conditions. Additionally, the Red Sea required being in the open sea; whereas, through the Persian Gulf traders could hug the shoreline, which was much safer. In this chapter, Abu-Lughod also stresses the importance of Baghdad as a great cultural trader center. She provides many passages noting the greatness of Baghdad, for example, “There is no city in the world equal to Baghdad in the abundance of its riches, the importance of its business, the number of scholars…” (191). Unfortunately, every great power must come to an end; the fall of Baghdad was inevitable. Although the sources are inconclusive of how and when Baghdad precisely fell, the fact that Islamic scholars no longer mention the city and famous travelers never mention it, suggests that the trade there diminished and eventually stopped. There is also evidence that the Mongols conquest of Persian and Iraq sped up already looming local changes. In the end, the clear winner in terms of trade in the Middle East region was Egypt and the rule of the Mamluks.
What I found extremely interesting in Chapter 6 was Abu-Lughod’s focus on the accounts of the growth and eventually collapse of Baghdad. She cites many passages from famous travelers writings and even includes a description of the fall of Bagdad from the Persian writer, Wassaf. Even more interesting, she stresses the tragic poetic aspect of these accounts. One of the questions I have about this chapter is why mention Basra? Was this outlet to Baghdad really that important in the larger scheme? What was the significance of Basra declining in relation to Baghdad, and more importantly, the entire world system?
So, reading through other people’s comments on the events of this past night, I feel the need to comment on it. And, I intend to stick to the title I’ve given this post. I went down towards the park tonight with a few friends. They clearly wanted to go to simply observe what was going on. I went partially for that reason, and partially because there is a valid reason to protest groups like the G-20 (why 19 nations and the EU should get to dictate world policy to everyone without input escapes me, for one thing, but that is a topic for another day). When we first arrived there was a peaceful gathering. Apparently we missed the police clearly the area around the fountain, but generally there were protesters of all kinds sitting along the road. They were occupying about half of it, while lines of police lined the other half. While there was clearly a standoff, there wasn’t much tension in the air. The protesters eventually began singing and dancing, and the police started to fill in areas that they left. The entire feeling of the event changed after the police advanced to take the entire road. The group singing and dancing remained on the sidewalk, but now there was tension and fear present. Everyone could be seen looking over shoulders, keeping tabs on the police (and their ever growing numbers and ever expanding lines), preparing for the next charge. Someone mentioned that there wasn’t a cohesive sense of what was being protested. This is actually not as bad as they claimed, as one of the interesting things about anti-globalization protests is that they will draw in a wide variety of groups and people. If your issue is with the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza, the G-20 provides a time to voice that, if it is environmentalism, protecting workers rights in the developing world, Tibet, women’s rights, etc, the important decision makers are there. People from this wide front of ideas can all come together to voice these opinions. That doesn’t make people unintelligent (though there are some like that in every protest, left-wing or right-wing). The protest and rally continued in this way for a while; with minor police movements in the areas surrounding the roads, and a few questionable arrests, all while the police expanded their area of coverage and increasingly surrounded the protest. Eventually, SWAT teams were sent into the area, more and more reinforcements arrived for the police, and their new sound dispersion system was brought on site. We were informed that, on the authority of the chief of police, we were all unlawfully assembling (yet, according to the first amendment (emphasis mine): “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”) This is when tear gas was fired into the crowd. Note that this was not the small part of the crowd on the street; this was the crowd in the park, which was within its rights under the first amendment. This led to a scramble, which apparently sent some scrambling to the far side of the Cathedral and towards Squirrel Hill, while a large number of us moved towards the Union. From this area we were able to see the plumes of tear gas fired at those protesters. The police then turned towards the crowd by the William Pitt Union. Rubber bullets were fired, tear gas deployed, and noise dispersion (in what may have been its first use in the United States) was used (I was able to avoid the bullets and only get the periphery of the gas). Student and non-student protesters continued to back up, moving towards the quad. Eventually, the police charged, locking this area down, and chasing protesters up both Fifth and Forbes Avenues, as well as taking over the quad dorms, apparently deploying tear gas to this areas (living spaces for students) and entering buildings. I personally left at this point towards Fifth Avenue to return home. When I got to Fifth, I found myself within a group of protesters about 10 feet from a rapidly advancing (running) line of riot police. I don’t think I have ever run as fast as I did then, and I quickly made my way up to my dorm. I am told that the Towers patio and lobby was raided, and that beatings and arrests took place, and that similar stories of lines of riot police chasing protesters occurred on Forbes Avenue, leading to some property damage and broken windows of businesses. I find it interesting that this damage occurred after protesters were being chased by the police in that direction, and that the police seemed to have begun these maneuvers with little to no provocation. I don’t believe that responsibility for the reports of rioting tonight lie solely with the protesters. The police acted with disregard for the rights of students (or people in general) and with a complete disproportionate response to events. Some estimates even had higher numbers of police on scene then protesters. The term police riot has been used to describe when, according to Wikipedia: “police [use] wrongful, disproportionate, unlawful, and/or illegitimate force.” This has been used to describe the 1999 WTO Protests in Seattle, which kicked off many of the newer tactics and regulations. This concept may very well also be applicable to tonight’s events.
One thing that fascinates me about this week's reading is Egypt's rules on visitors. It's amazing how were a great trading nation but they would not allow anyone to come to their country. This type of governmental system reminds me of North Korea in that they would not allow anyone to come into their country as well as leave their country. It's amazing how long they were able to sustain power. I feel like for a nation to grow they need other influences to learn from and this includes having visitors come into their country. I wonder what makes a ruler want to keep this kind of policy and what they think will come out of it by ruling in this way.
This portion of Abu-Lughod’s writing focuses mainly upon the disconnect between what was expected of India, and the reality of history. Due to India’s location, as the hinge dividing the Indian Ocean, and thus controlling all trade that traveled through it, it was expected for India to be a dominant force of global trade in the world system. However, India instead had a passive role, and did not grow into any kind of economic or political superpower.
India was not a maritime power, although it was host to the maritime powers of the day, as a trade destination. India was host to a slew of sea ports along its coast, where a plethora of traders and merchants gathered to engage in the trade of goods. Even so, India was not any kind of sea power, nor it seems, did it aspire to become one. Over the time of India’s history there was a long standing tradition of India export much more than it imported, which could have been the reason behind India’s disinterest in the kind of trade that might have shifted the balance to more importation based commerce. This kind of trading method made India an economically stable and self sufficient nation; so in fact, it may have been beneficial for India to remain self sufficient. Perhaps a more risky venture in to global trade would have left India more vulnerable to naval violence or aggressive trading tactics that would have stripped India of its economic power. India’s geographic position made it as vulnerable as it was powerful. For example, India was jeopardized when Muslim merchants expanded their trade shipping on the east in the early fourteen century, as well as when the Chinese expanded west. This resulted in a decline of trade in south India, between the two. This unequal sharing of powers would lead to the vacuum of powers in the absence of the Chinese in the second half of the fourteenth century, which would be exploited by the Portuguese.
Particularly interesting is the trade items that the Indian merchants were in fact interested in. Although the majority of the trade goods were ignored there were certain items, such as those from south East Asia that were marketable. I am interested in what made those specific items interesting to a nation as self sufficient as India.
I am curious as to what the world would have looked like, if India had reached its true potential, and become the economic and naval power it was capable of.
During the period of the 13th and 14th centuries, virtually the entire world was involved in one trading system. This system had no dominating force to administer control on the rest of the players, though it did have one region that certainly had the potential for it. India had a monopolizing opportunity for any trade between the Middle East and China, and therefore the goods from China en route to Europe and vice versa. India never capitalized on this opportunity. This was in part due to the fact that there was no unitary state known as India. It was also due to the fact that Indian statesmen and merchants really didn’t seem to find a purpose in such. According to Janet Abu-Lughod, the type of trade policies commonly thought of as the standard operating procedure for hegemony and control were completely unknown in the Indian Ocean region until the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century. The way that trade should be conducted, according to the merchants of the area, was for ships of all nations to sail freely through the sea and then exchange their goods at ports without excessive harassment by the local authorities.
For Indian hegemony, unification was probably necessary. At the very least, it would have been helpful. This would have allowed the strength in numbers, production, wealth, etc that was needed for the expansion of influence across the ocean. There would have also been a need for this newly unified state to become a naval power. Controlling, and constantly patrolling, the sea lanes used for this trade would have required a very large, very sophisticated navy, and many many well-trained sailors. These were not things that were possessed by the various states on the Indian subcontinent. Indian traders and rulers seemed to lack much of an interest in growing a navy. After all, it would seem to be a pointless venture, as any trade with any substance would need to not only pass through India, but required long layovers at their ports. If the entire world brought their trade to India, why should they bother spending money shipping their goods elsewhere?
What would the world look like today if India had taken in interest in dominating its neighbors, or if India had simply unified into one state at this point in history, rather than now? The world would almost certainly look very different than it does, but whether this would have been enough to prevent the eventual hegemony imposed by Europe will never truly be known.
India and China were two important parts in the world system during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Both subsystems played integral parts in the trade route and expansion of resources. If the important location could ensure hegemony, then south India would have enjoyed permanent enjoyment with wealth and class. India's geographical position was considered a hinge between the eastern and western basins of the Indian Ocean. It was also considered the center of the sea lane from the Mediterranean to China. China's economic collapse was the reason for their fall. Bad government and political factors were the reasons from the lack of revenue and expenditures for the China Empire. China's geographic position in the thirteenth century world system was crucial. China connected the northern overland route with the Indian Ocean route. Both China and India were both intense parts of the completion of world trade.
One of the most interesting facts that were learned this week was the impact of geographical location within the world system. The most fascinating fact to me was India's location. India was in the center of the thirteenth century world system. Whoever wanted to trade throughout the entire world system was forced to go through India. Because of this, south and north India became prosperous and wealthy. Because of the fact that they were wealthy, India was content with this position. India took advantage of trade with the east and west while exporting less than those nations. For example, the Roman system traded with India. India did not trade as valuably ad the Romans did. Hence, the Romans imported less when India exported a lesser value. The creativeness of the Indian merchants allowed India to import many exotic goods while maintaining a good state.
The lessons from India and China during the thirteenth century third system were important schooling for future world systems. Some questions that I have are as follows:
- Why didn't India be more aggressive with their wealth and prosperity?
- Did India cause the Roman fall?
- Does the weather truly affect trade?
- Was China truly a hegemonic?
- Here is my opinions:
These questions were referred to the discussion during class. I feel that India was not aggressive because those being the center allowed the people to be content. India was an important factor with the Roman Empire's fall, however, external factors was the reasons for the fall of Rome. Weather does affect trade and trade routes. China was a hegemon as they were a critical aspect of the thirteenth century world system and world trade.
I thought it was very interesting to learn that capitalism developed so distinctly in the Islamic society. It had long been understood that Islam was adverse to capitalism. However, Abu-Lughod points out that numerous types of partnerships, contracts, and credit were created by Islamists, which is where the Italians garnered many of their techniques. I also found it interesting that the Portuguese seemingly came out of nowhere to destroy the Egyptians and Indians. It would have been intriguing to see how the Portuguese developed and why they chose that moment to enter the world trade system. I understand that it is part of Abu-Lughod’s mission to show what happened from an Eastern point of view, but I still would have liked to see this part from both sides.
The part that I would have liked to have been elaborated upon was how the Egyptians succeeded in blocking the European traders. Christians were forbidden to trade with Muslims, but that did not prevent that trade from actually occurring. I suppose it makes sense that that mandate was not followed while the other one was, since the first was not enforced with military action where the second one was. However, it seems like at least a handful of European traders still should have been able to slip through the cracks. If nothing else, since the trade with the East was so valuable, I would have expected a talented group of smugglers to have existed. Another point that I would have liked to know more about was the taxes that were instituted while India was the main crossroads. It has been pointed out that if India had established taxes then it could have made a much larger profit. However, some amount of taxes and costs for protection must have existed. It would have been interesting to explore the possibilities of what would have happened if India had changed its policies. For example, would India have lost a lot of its trade if it had instituted higher taxes, eventually leading to its downfall that way?
This weeks readings informed us of the crucial role that India played in the world trade system in the thirteenth century. As it was the hinge state between the east and the west, India became a major port of call for anyone wishing to trade with either entity. Because the techonology of the time made it impossible for traders to make the entire trip at once, the self-sufficient nation found the world coming to it's shores with all the luxury goods it had to offer. Once the world discovered the goods that India itself had to share they became hooked. This brought the not very unified country unwillingly into world trade. We discussed in class that India did not need to throw itself into the world trade system, it was brought into it by people from around the world who used India as a rest stop between trade posts.
I find it very interesting how the major places along the world trade route of the time seem to change quite frequently. Once one route is even partially blocked off or fragmented between nations another route opens up that is more viable for traders looking to save money to make money.
What I don't understand entirely is why India did not become a major naval power. I know we discussed this in class but it's still a little fuzzy for me. The country was not unified, this I know, but it still was a major marine market place which attracted the attention of the entire world at the time. Why was ther little to no protection enforced on it on the ocean?
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.
The Indian Ocean trade dynamics were particularly interesting to me. I found it surprising that no one power dominated the sea-lanes or took interest in conquering foreign ports (as the Europeans, and especially the Portuguese, did). If any of the major powers had tried to control the sea-lanes, perhaps one of them would have gained hegemony over the wealthiest trade routes of the medieval world, with unknowable consequences on today’s system. That no country even attempted to conquer the Indian Ocean seems abnormal when compared with Europe, the Holy Land and Egypt, in which conquest was the fastest and easiest route to economic dominance.
I was also impressed by the Chinese civilization's highly advanced technology. The Chinese lead the world in medicine, physics, mathematics and practical technology, such as printing, metallurgy, weaponry and navigational techniques. Originally I did not understand why after regaining control from the Mongols, the Chinese withdrew from international trade, in comparison, all of the other "advanced" nations rushed to international trade. Abu-Lughod explains some of the factors that contributed to the Chinese isolation, including Confucianism, the Ming government, and the desire to recover from the less civilized Mongol era.
One angle I would like to explore further is the impact of a nation’s culture on its trading patterns. For example, the Crusades were a religious movement that completely rearranged trade patterns in Europe. The Islamic shari’a laws are another example of religion impacting trade. Muslim merchants followed these laws from the Qur’an when developing an international trade system. The same effect can be seen in China, as Confucian ideals detail Chinese attitude towards commerce. Maybe if the merchants had better understood their differences they could have found their similarities and preserved the world trade system. So I ask, to what extent did cultural differences affect the trade of the Pax Mongolica system?
For this particular blog, I am going to write about the events that occurred on the night of Thursday, September 24th 2009. Though I found this week’s reading particularly interesting, there are some events that absolutely deserve to be talked about. And what better way to share than with my Global Societies class.
Thursday night, my friends and I carried on with our tradition of watching The Office, Community and It’s Always Sunny and Philadelphia in our room in Sutherland. Some of the friends in our group are girls who live in Holland, and some other friends live in Towers. With all of the “G-20 madness” going on, we did not want them to walk down alone. So, we decided to take them down to their dorms to make sure they were safe.
Once we got in there we decided to go look at the Cathedral, because of the obscene amount of riot cops hanging around. We were watching from the William Pitt Union lawn when they started to push us back, apparently assembling and watching from is unlawful, so we ended up on the Tower’s Patio on the Fifth Avenue side.
At this time, the police had pushed all of the people on Forbes Avenue into the Tower’s Lobby and it was completely packed in there. We stayed on the Tower’s Patio and continued to watch the riot police attack random people in the church, the street, and the sidewalk. The riot police began to assemble across Fifth Avenue and march towards the Tower’s Patio. Everyone dispersed and tried to get into the Towers, and we were pushed toward the exit of towers.
During this process, one of our friends was grabbed (he was near the back of the pack). He put his hands up in the air, to indicate he was not trying to resist, and they took him down. They began beating him over the head multiple times with their batons. He was eventually zip tied and taken away. During these events, I turned around to try to tell them he was not doing anything. I was pushed backward, by the riot police, into a metal railing twice and they almost hit me in the head with one of their batons (my glasses were hit and bent a little).
What I saw that night was some of the craziest things I have ever seen in my life. Literally, it was straight out of a movie. To be completely honest, I feel crushed. I understand that rights are violated, and I understand that things need to happen for security purposes. But when do my rights end? When is it not okay for us to be standing on the patio of our college, our home?
Namely, the parasitic nature of tribute as a basis for the state. They relied on the labors of conquered peoples to fuel their war machine, meaning their subjects perpetuated their own persecution. The demands of defense rose, and new sources of surplus had to be found, but the economic structure was not generative.
Their nomadic structure also required them to constantly expand geographically. Expansion of surplus required the conquest of more and more productive units, and any shock would topple the system. If conquering could not be done, the system was forced to contract, not adapt.
Lastly was the Black Death, which wiped out a huge portion of the population and decimated the Mongol work force, forcing them to retreat back into their mystic mountains where everything smells like soup and the trees are made of pumpernickel bread.
The Indian Ocean subsystem of the thirteenth century was composed of three adjacent zones, divided principally for geographic regions. These three zones could be delineated for their differences in culture, with the Western zone falling under the realm of Islam, the Eastern region under Buddhism, and the Central zone under Hinduism. These separate cultures, however, intermixed, and were not as much a determinate of the boundaries as were geographical and meteorological factors. The foremost influence on these boundaries was the varying monsoon seasons and the accompanying winds. With travel primarily by sea at that time, wind was obviously an extremely relevant factor. Because of the cyclical changes in wind, certain parts of the voyage could only be completed within limited time ranges. In this way, the Indian Ocean subsystem was divided into three parts, resulting in “two interchange points that remained relatively constant: the south Indian coast…and the Strait of Malacca.” The southern coast of India served as a “hinge,” in other words, a natural divider in the seaways that connected the Middle East and China. Because of its location, South India was a major component of the world trade system.
Both the western (Malabar) and eastern (Coromandel) coasts of India, despite differences in climate, culture, and social organization, were engaged in world trade for thousands of years before Christ. Malabar served as a link westward to the Middle East and into the Mediterranean while Coromandel was the link to Southeast Asia. Beginning around 1200, trade from the western coast of India diversified to include “true bulk commodities” in addition to the luxury goods trade it had been facilitating for centuries. This increase and change in demand was created by the growth of Mediterranean trade and the appearance of Muslim states in North India to further the link with the West. Because of these deep connections between India and the Arabs from the West, an Arab-Indian hegemony formed in the Western Indian Ocean, ended only when Chinese withdrawal left the Indian Ocean vulnerable to new domination, an opportunity taken advantage of by the Portuguese.
The chapter revealed a couple of intriguing aspects of the Indian involvement in the world system. Trade in the Indian Ocean was consistently peaceful, despite the “existence of at least four sea powers sharing…the continuous sea expanse.” This stability was in stark contrast to the persistent naval warfare that was taking place concurrently in the Mediterranean. On a related note, merchants did not depend on military convoys as Italian merchants did. Rather, ships in the Indian subsystem traveled together “for mutual assistance and because propitious sailing times were so strictly limited by the monsoon winds on which all depended.” As mentioned above, the Portuguese were able to take over control of the Indian Ocean by force in large part because the existing players were unprepared to deal with such power. Additionally, with south India’s strategic geographical position as the hinge of the Indian Ocean, it is a valid assumption that the Indian subcontinent was hegemonic. While south India did include many valuable ports at which most if not all traders stopped, it did not develop itself as a dominant sea power. The book does provide a few explanations. Self sufficiency left India indifferent to many of the goods traded in the rest of the world market. India was much more a supplier than a buyer, as India already had abundant wealth, raw materials, agriculture, and industry. Also, India’s geographic location left if vulnerable to incursions by the Muslims from the west and Chinese from the east, as increases in their sea power led to a decreased focus on sea trade on India’s part.
While these are recognizable factors that contributed to the prevention of the establishment of India as a major world power, it is still questionable as to why India didn’t rise to further dominance. Her ports were of absolute necessity, as technology at the time did not allow ships to sail the open ocean. They instead hugged the coastline, increasing the value of these already geographically central Indian ports. Furthermore, demand for Indian goods, both necessary and luxurious, was very high, leading one to believe that India was in a position to massively increase wealth, power, and control over the flow of trade. Why, then, in the emerging capital system of the time, did India refuse to take full advantage of their position of power? Why was India satisfied while many other world players looked to increase their influence? It seems that India’s actions go against the natural human desire to increase wealth. One possible reason is that the costs of increasing prices, taxes, etc were too much in comparison to the benefits. As mentioned in class and in the book several times, merchants had to stop in India. There was no feasible alternative. A potential alternative, however, is war, as it is very possible in my opinion that India feared that excessive taxes and prices would drive visiting merchants to the war path because they had no alternative. Rather than give up trade between west and east, merchants would be likely to fight against suppressive Indian control. Additionally, the book does not make enough of the fragmentation of India itself as a factor in its inability to establish its dominance. Without unification, the country as a whole was not focused on consolidating its position of power as a whole but was rather instead concentrated on maintaining the power of individual states. Many local rulers received hefty financial benefits and may not have been willing to risk these profits to improve the country’s standing as a whole. If anyone else has additional reasons on this discussion, I would appreciate hearing them.
The Ancient Greeks told the story of Icarus, a young man whose father, Daedalus, made them both wings made out of feathers and wax so they could escape their exile on the island of Crete. As they set out to fly away, Daedalus warned his son not to fly too close to the sun or the sea. Sadly, as we all well know, Icarus had so much fun flying high that he ignored his father's warning and flew so close to the sun that its heat melted the wax in his wings and the feathers came off and he fell and died.
This is probably one of the most accurate, concise summaries of mankind's history than you could ever ask for. Man has long thought that he was smart enough to overcome the forces of nature, that he had brains, tools, and technology on his side and was therefore the smartest, most powerful force on this planet. Time and time again, he has been proved wrong. Who here remembers a little thunderstorm called Katrina?
We've all seen the movie Titanic, and no doubt remember how dramatically director James Cameron emphasized the selfish J. Bruce Ismay, managing director of the steamship company, and how he ordered Captain Edward John Smith to turn on all the engines so he could show off how fast his fancy new ship could go when they made a new world record by arriving in New York ahead of schedule: and how the captain said this wasn't a good idea because they were in a part of the ocean that was FULL OF ICEBERGS making it a VERY BAD IDEA TO GO FAST. We all know how that turned out.
And of course, we have plowed forward and become the global society that we are today by laughing in the face of Nature's dangers. Would we even be here on America if our ancestors had not seen fit to brave the dangers of a sea voyage in search of a better life on another continent? But for all those that made it to America, an equal number died on the trip and never got to see the sunny beaches of New Jersey.
I wrecked my first car because I was driving in a snowstorm. The weatherman told me conditions were icy and dangerous and to be careful driving, and my mom begged me not to drive to this party at my friend's house in the mountains because of the icy mountain roads, but I laughed at her, the weatherman, and Nature, assuring them all I would surely be fine. I had technology, or, a '97 Buick LeSabre (don't hate! I inherited it from my grandma and it ran smoooth as butter. until I wrecked it.) Sure enough, there I was going 45 mph around a curve at the foot of the mountain while trying to change the radio station, and I hit a patch of ice and slid smack into a telephone pole. Totalled. Mother Nature: 1, Me: 0.
There's a famous TV commercial that shows coal factories spewing smoke and a polluted river full of trash and then a close-up of the face of a noble-looking Native American shedding a single noble-looking tear for how badly we palefaces ruined their sacred land. The truth of the matter is, the Native Americans fucked the land up as much as they could before we even got here with their crazy corn crops and teepee building and whatnot.* Without tearing Nature apart for food and shelter and fuel, we'd probably be dead. I mean face, it, we are on the top of the food chain.
*also the actor playing the Native American was actually Italian.
Still, it seems like a happy medium is something we could all shoot for. It can't be denied that we need to tear this planet apart for fossil fuels and trees and soil and crops, and that we needed to cross oceans to find better fossil fuels and trees and and soil and crops (find, buy, or steal from the natives, that is). But with each new jump forward in technological advances in the history of human-kind, it seems like we get that much more careless about noticing what the weather report is like, and how dangerous a thunderstorm can actually be. Maybe a little humility and respect for this planet that gave birth to us in the first protein strings and amino acids that formed in the tidal pools at the Dawn of Time. Maybe check the weather report, and bring an umbrella if they say it might rain. Just sayin'.
India not unified, seemed to have a lack of interest in becoming a hegemonic force, in the World System. It being the gate way that linked the Mediterranean region and Middle East with China virtually everyone passed through. Also, do not forget about the fragmentation the of the Mongol Empire and the major land passage that closed with it. India’s lack of interest is contributed to by its location. It was in the prime of the pre-world system being known as the “hinge”. Thus, India has no need to create a unification of state to trade, as it is already a key point along any trade route. Location is not the only reason for its relaxed approach to the world system.
A second reason is the Chola State (5th-13th A.D.) developing advanced agrarian, mercantile, and industrial society. There advancements soon spread to the fragmented parts of India. There advanced society produced more than it consumed, yielding a high export rate. In essence their economy was self-sufficient in a way that they depend less than any other force did on the pre World System. The next question that arises is why did India not unify under one state. The first reason was mentioned before their self sufficient society, made no need of such a unification. Secondly, legitimate king-ships could not influentially reach out to connect all regions of India. With no such unifications India could stop the Portuguese invasion of the Indian Sea.
The last reason they didn’t unify and become the hegemonic power is because of the Portuguese invasion. China at the time held the leading naval Power in the Indian Ocean, and with the reclusion of the Chinese navy, it let the door open for a new force. Thus, Portuguese entered the scene with their Man-O-Wars. India being wealthy due to prime location was uninterested in building a navy to control trade was now subject to Portuguese jurisdiction with heavily taxed trading permits. This eventually led to the downfall of India and the emergence of a new European focused World System. India goes from being a prime trade center in the pre world system to a secondary trading empire in the Modern World.
I again ask why India did not unify and become the hegemonic force in the evolving World System. Mentioned before was India was too wealthy. Its non – reliance on the pre-world system led it to be a passive force instead of uniting and aggressively asserting its could be role. Secondly, India was known as the “hinge” literally almost all trading routes passed through here as it connected the pre world system. India had an abundance of goods to export as well, so it’s a natural trading Mecca for other purchasing merchants, basically showing that world economy depended more on their exports than imports. The last reason mentioned was the Chinese withdrawlment of their naval power. This opened the door to the “Pirates”, Portuguese who imposed the world system to work in its favor. This is why India did not become a unified hegemonic power in the New World System.
This week’s reading explained the trading routes between the Persian Gulf, Read Sea, and Mediterranean Sea. Sinbad’s “middle way” through the Persian Gulf and Baghdad was the cheapest and easiest route to take until it experienced blockages because of the Mongol conquest of Mesopotamia and the demotion of Baghdad from Islam. Baghdad was central for world trade and extremely prosperous during the 10th century. However, during the 11th-12th century, Baghdad encountered many misfortunes, mostly natural disasters, that led to its decline. With the decline of the Persian Gulf, Egypt gained exclusive control over the sea to India and China. In addition, the rise of Islam in the 7th century created a unity with the Arabs, Egyptians, and Persians that dissolved the rivalry between the Persian Gulf and Red Sea. The effects of the Black Plague weakened Egypt’s economy significantly and when the Portuguese decided to block the Red Sea to Muslims, India became the major source of wealth. I thought it was interesting when Abu-Lughod was describing the relations between Islam and business. I think she could have expanded on this relationship more because I am not quite sure I understand the connection or how Islam worked well with the principles of business?
I was wondering if there were any other alternatives that the Genoese and Venetians did not think of that they could of utilized at the time?
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Abu-Lughod depicts the significance of yet another trade route between Europe and the Far East, which is through Sinbad and the Persian Gulf. It became essential when problems arose in either Constantinople or Egypt through means of the Red Sea, although the Red Sea clearly led to a more difficult journey. Baghdad faced a noteworthy fall to the Mongol Empire, but it’s not necessarily certain whether or not it rose again like Samarkand. Baghdad’s trade with Syria and Egypt did not continue again until the fourteenth century, yet the centrality of location ensured that the Gulf would be used even in the worst of times. Egypt on the other hand was a vanguard to the world system by the thirteenth century with an essential location, but European Crusaders and Central Asian Mongols certainly weakened the country. Once again of course, the Black Death debilitated an already weakened economy, leaving only India as an outside source of wealth.
Abu-Lughod then finishes with the explanation of trade in Asia through Part III of Before European Hegemony, which explains the coasts of India, the power of the Strait area, China influenced by different dynasties through time, and the collapse of the sea route. It is surprising how passive of a role south India played after the thirteenth century, due to its strategic location, and that it was because of its wealth and self sufficiency. Also, it’s easier to understand the importance of the Straits and the surrounding regions with abundant resources because when demand was high natural products were redefined as exports and the labor was available. Singapore and Hong Kong gained their success through the idea of a “free” port and access to an otherwise restricted market, and small kingdoms along the passage never really became naval powers.
I think this book does a good job of describing that the thirteenth-century system of international trade was indeed substantially more complex organization, volume, and execution than anything before. It seems practically irrelevant to compare it to our system now as far as size and certainly technology when Abu-Lughod analyzes the development and innovation at a global level during the thirteenth century. She finishes with “A Theory of Systematic Change” and “Future World Systems,” and I would ask why this is essential to her conclusion. She even mentions the United States and its military attempts met with declining success, but I think it was important that she reiterated the purpose in her work because there is so much we can learn from the thirteenth-century world system.
I stumbled into a “protest” today near the Schenely Park bridge. There was an okay-sized crowd, but there was an even better looking police force, almost like a Roman phalanx. I made my way to the front lines of the crowd to take some pictures. The crowd—led at point by a couple of anarchists or something—was slowly inching forward towards the phalanx, then two clouds of smoke erupted and the crowd flew like a flock of penguins away from the front line.
Some thoughts about the sociology and psychology of the crowd: It seemed to me like today’s protest (the one on the bridge near Schenley Park) was homogeneous in the sense that it was almost all college students who just wanted to look at and take pictures of the police, maybe make a few ironic jokes about the anarchists (chanting: “Out of the streets, into the showers”), and maybe wanted to see some action. It seemed like the people there were just playing the role of crowd, without actually giving any thought to anything related to the G-20. Today’s crowd also seemed to exhibit some signs of hysteria and madness, which could be seen when it approached the armed phalanx, and especially when it ran from smoke and horses.
My theory is that people have a picture in their minds about what a crowd should look like, and what a crowd should do. This is entirely due to the media and what we see when we look at history. When we form a crowd and someone curses globalization, we will curse globalization too ,unless we are in a tea party, then we would curse Obama and health care. But the two sides are in a sense the same, humans are after all very communicative and pack animals.
What are people protesting anyway?: It seems like some people are protesting CEOs, some are protesting globalization, some are doing countries they don’t like, others advocating animal rights (!), but most people seem to be protesting “stuff.” I find anarchists the funniest.
Some thoughts about anarchism: Anarchists protest government, or at least big (which can mean relatively small) government. There are also many different types of anarchists. Ayn Rand wrote that an ideal society would have no taxes, have a laissez-faire economy, and members of society would pay out of pocket for services like schools and police. Imagine paying for police services individually. Rand thinks (thought) it’s human nature that the rich would be able to pay for police protection, while the poor would not. Other anarchists just don’t like government. What seems ironic to me is that when anarchists riot, they get a taste of anarchism.
The G-20 is still going on tomorrow. In the mean time: Workers of the world…!
(this post is for extra credit)
Clearly the rise of the west had something to do with its timing. The East and Middle (East) in the 13th-15-th centuries had various problems that contributed to their relative decline in that world system. The route along the north had become too dangerous and unpredictable to remain a viable ‘core’ region. Fighting between the Mongols and the Muslim population in and around Iraq lead to the destruction of Baghdad, the first hegemonic trading centre. An important lesson for Europeans was that when trade routes in one area become less profitable then you must find alternatives. Egypt and the city of Cairo benefited from this situation when it’s route became the most widely used. Also, European powers (namely Venice) benefited from renewed trade through Cairo. Europe by this time in history was a growing partner in the world system.
On the other side of the Middle East, the numerous powers around India and S.E. Asia claimed trading preeminence. Their cities lay on the coasts that would connect Western traders with the East. It was access to these ports in the Far East that would necessitate naval technological advancements for Western powers. The native peoples of this region failed to realize the importance of this fact. The saying is that “necessity is the mother of all invention.” This is a good way to illustrate how and why Western European powers places so much emphasis on naval technology. The routes through the Middle East became too perilous for European traders to profit from and alternative routes to the East became important again. The maritime superiority of European nations (traders) allowed the Portuguese, Dutch and English to eventually control this region of S. Asia. It wouldn’t be until centuries later that China would be dominated by the West and this too had a lot to do with Superior English seamanship.
The most interesting aspect of this time period is the rising importance of the navy which is one main reason why Western powers began to dominate the world system instead of simply being a partner to it. Is there another single factor that helped transform the old system into what could be called the infancy of our contemporary system ?
This week we read about the trading system between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia with a focus on the three major trade routes (the Northeast Passage, the Persian Gulf route, and the route through the Red Sea).
I found the chapter on China’s fleeting chance at world hegemony most interesting. With its impressive technological advances, its great population, natural resources, and strategic locations, it is surprising that China did not become a world power for any extended period of time. Abu-Lughod gives a few reasons, and seems to come to the conclusion that China’s economic collapse, not unaffected by the rest of the world’s economic crises, was the final blow.
Not to be ignored, Abu-Lughod mentions that China’s withdrawal was somewhat caused by Confucian virtue. Unlike other countries, the wealthy merchant class in China was looked down upon, for Confucian ethic demeaned commercial gain, and had no access to government power. This class could not sway the government in their favor as other trading classes could, and did. With the Ming dynasty, and the rebellion against Mongolian forces, Confucianism was brought to the forefront of the government again. To distance themselves from their Mongol predecessors, the Ming wished to demonstrate their moral example.
With the Black Death, and then the great economic crisis in the mid-fifteenth century, the Ming were forced to switch from offensive to defensive rule. No longer could they sustain their impressive fleet, and continue to trade aggressively with the outside world. The last blow was the silk route across Central Asia was cut off after the Mongol empire fell, and as the world trade system started failing, China’s southern sea route was useless.
China was forced to withdrawal from the world system and concentrate on rebuilding the agrarian base. This caused an end to two hundred years of naval dominance, and China’s chance at world hegemony.
Like many of the other blogs, I too am interested in the weather’s affect on trade. Is it really that important?