ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age (evaluations)

By A. Gunder Frank. February 1998

Referee summaries and evaluations

The book is a plea for global studies as a general historical proposition, notably the argument of the centrality of Asia for the period 1400-1800, and the rejection of the entire Eurocentric analysis of incorporation, 1500 and all that. This can be a landmark book that shapes substantially the scholarship and understanding of the next generation of researchers. It should have an immediate impact.

Mark Selden, State University of New York

This is a bold new interpretation that creates a distinctive argument to explain Europe's post-1800 successes. The author places his argument in an even longer-run perspective to suggest that Europe's ‘rise’ may be just a temporary one bracketed on either side by eras of Asian dominance. It departs from virtually all other ‘global’ or ‘world’ system perspectives by arguing that Europe was not the central location of economic dynamism in the early modern world (1400-1800) and therefore that ‘capitalism’ was not a unique cultural phenomenon that can explain the differential economic success of Europe over Asia. The author redefines our baseline for assessing the ‘rise’ of Europe. I believe this book could become a benchmark study.

Bin Wong, University of California at Irvine

The book moves to argue that almost all received social theory is wrong, since it a) directs our attention to supposedly unique features of European society that were actually neither very unusual nor of much importance in explaining the divergent development paths, and b) directs our attention away from [these and to] attempting analysis at the global level, which the author claims is by far the most illuminating place to look for explanations of what may at first seem like regional differences. This will be an extremely important book of sufficient originality and importance ... at the intersection of several important literatures [to] have a major impact. It could not be more ambitious.

Kenneth Pomeranz, Univesity of California at Irvine

The greatness of this book is that it touches a number of intellectual nerves [with] an important thesis that will generate much discussion and intellectual debate because it forces a rethinking. There is no directly competing book. No other work both provides the exhaustive documentation and the theoretical clarity and conviction of thesis. You get the feel of the interconnectedness of the world in a way ... not felt before and the reminder that according to all received theory this is not supposed to be so. That is the power of this book....

Frank gained his world wide fame by making an argument that caused a revolution in thinking about Third World Development. Well, the same thing is about to happen again, except this time the stakes are much higher. Now it is the theories of the endogenous nature of change in the West that is being challenged. The Wallersteinian world economy did not give rise to the world-system, Frank argues, but the Afroeurasian world system gave rise to the European world economy. To correct the historical fact is to challenge the theoretical scaffolding of everyone from Marx to Weber to Braudel to Wallerstein. Frank's point is that they simply got it wrong. [He] turns on their heads many of the received assumptions about the origin of the modern world system/economy. The book is that conceptually important.

Albert Bergesen, University of Arizona

A work of highest intellectual, social and moral importance. Specialists will welcome the forcefulness, verve, and coherence of Frank's BIG PICTURE. Much of it will be completely new to many other historians and social scientists who will have to change their views and rewrite their lectures after they read it.

Anonymous publisher's referee


This book outlines and analyzes the global economy and its sectoral and regional division of labor and cyclical dynamic from 1400 to 1800. The evidence and argument are that within this global economy Asians and particularly Chinese were preponderant, no more "traditional" than Europeans, and in fact largely far less so. The historical documentation poses an ‘emperor has no clothes’ challenge to all received Eurocentric historiography and social theory from Montesquieu, Marx and Weber, or Toynbee and Polanyi, to Rostow, Braudel and Wallerstein. The books's global economic analysis offers a more holistic theoretical alternative. Cite>The Rise of the West was not due to any ‘European Miracle exceptionalism’ that allegedly permitted it to pull itself up by its own bootstraps as Weberians have contended. Nor did Europe build a ‘European world-economy around itself’ a la Braudel and thereby as per Marx and Wallerstein [as well as my own WORLD ACCUMULATION 1492-1789] initiating a European centered ‘Modern Capitalist World-System’ primarily by exploiting the wealth of its American and African colonies. Instead, Europe used its American silver to buy itself marginal entry into the long since existing world market in Asia, which was much larger, more productive and competitive, continued to expand much faster until 1800, and was able to support a rate of population growth in Asia that was more than double that of Europe until 1750. Then changing world economic/ demographic/ ecological relations and relative factor prices in the competitive global economy resulted in the temporary ‘Decline of the East’ and the opportunity for the also temporary ‘The Rise of the West’. Europe took advantage of this world economic opportunity through import substitution, export promotion and technological change to become Newly Industrializing Economies after 1800, as again happening today in East Asia. That region is now REgaining its ‘traditional’ dominance in the global economy, with the Chinese ‘Middle Kingdom’ again at its ‘center.’


The introductory Chapter 1 suggests that received historiography and social theory fall seriously short of what we need. Marx and Weber or Parsons and Rostow and their many disciples are far and away too Eurocentric, and Braudel and Wallerstein also are still not nearly holistic enough. None of them is able, or even willing, to address the global problematique, whose whole is more than the sum or its parts. Chapter 2 outlines the productive division of labor and the multilateral trade framework, as well as the sectoral and regional inter-connections within the global economy. Chapter 3 signals how American and Japanese money went around the world circulatory system and provided the life blood that made the world go round. Chapter 4 examines the resulting world population, productive,income and trade quantities, the related technological qualities and institutional mechanisms, as well as how several regions in Asia maintained and even increased their global preponderance therein. Chapters 5 and 6 propose a global marcohistory that treats the Decline of the East and the Rise of the West as related and successive processes within and generated by the global world economic structure and dynamic. Chapter 6 inquires how Asia's world economic advantage between 1400 and 1800 turned to its disadvantage and to the [temporary] advantage of the West to face the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. World-encompassing macro- and micro-economic analysis is used to account for The Rise of the West in global instead of the received Eurocentric terms. The concluding Chapter 7 then builds on the historical evidence and argument of this book to derive theoretical conclusions about how to analyze this global whole. Only a globally holistic analysis can permit a better, indeed any even minimally satisfactory, comprehension of how the whole world economic structure and dynamic shape and differentiate its sectoral and regional parts East and West, North and South. Recourse to a more holistic global historiography and social theory suggests how Asian, and particularly Chinese, predominance in the world economy through the eighteenth century presages its return to dominance also in the twenty-first century.

Andre Gunder Frank
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