Date: Sun, 12 Nov 1995 19:21:59 -0500
Reply-To: H-NET List for World History <H-WORLD@msu.edu>
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From: "Patrick Manning, Northeastern University" <MANNING@neu.edu>
Subject: Asian-based world economy, Part 1
To: Multiple recipients of list H-WORLD <H-WORLD@msu.edu>
Asian-based world economy 1400-1800: A horizontally integrative macrohistory
By Andre Gunder Frank, University of Amsterdam
12 November 1995
Editor's note: This is part one of
a twp-part posting. In it, Andre
Gunder Frank provides H-WORLD sub-
scribers with excerpts of his forth-coming
study arguing for an Asian-based world economy, 1400-1800. The
excerpting is informal, and does not
include details of references.
Gunder Frank is currently traveling,
but will return to join the discussion in late November.
Publisher's note: The date from the header of the second part is: Sun, 12 Nov 1995 19:23:04 -0500
Asia's rightful and historically documented place has been denied
by the dominance of excessively Eurocentric perspectives on early
modern and recent world economic history - and social science!
As the master [European/ist] historian Fernand Braudel (1979:134)
astutely observed "Europe invented historians and then made good
use of them." It is time to help right these Euro-[or Western-]
centric mis-interpretations by historians, social scientists and
the general public by offering an interpretation of modern and
economic world history, which again allots Asia its due. That is
the goal here, even if this essay may only be my hesitant first
PUTTING EUROPE IN ITS AFRO-ASIAN PLACE
Alas however, Adam Smith - writing still before the industrial
revolution in Europe - was the last major [Western] social
scientist to appreciate that Europe was a johnny come lately in
the development of the wealth of nations. "China is a much richer
country than any part of Europe," Smith (1937:189) remarked
still in 1776. Moreover, he also did not regard the "greatest
events in the history" to have been any European gift to mankind,
of civilization, capitalism or anything else. On the contrary,
Then with the spread of European colonialism in the second half
of the 19th century, world history was re-written wholesale - and
social science was [new] born, not only as a European, but as a
Eurocentric invention. Other social "scientists" may have risen
to dispute against Marx [and supposedly to agree with Smith], but
they all agreed with each other and with Marx not only that 1492
and 1498 were the two greatest events in the history of mankind,
but that ever since that history had been marked by the alleged
uniqueness of [West] Europeans, which supposedly generated "The
Rise of the West" and gave rise to "the development and spread
of capitalism" in the world.
Now we are all - knowingly or not - disciples of this completely
Eurocentric social science and history, all the moreso since
Talcott Parsons enshrined Weberianism in sociology and political
science when the United States became economically and
culturally dominant in the world after World War II. All of The
Structure of Social Action, "modernization theory," and also the
economist Rostow's (1959) Stages of Economic Growth were cut with
the same theoretical cookie cutter from the same Eurocentric
A whole library full of books and articles has been devoted to
explaining "The Rise of the West" in terms of its own supposed
"exceptionalism." Interestingly, William McNeill (1963), the dean
of world historians who used this title for his pathbreaking
book, is among the few western historians to take exception to
this exceptionalism. Not so E.L. Jones (1981), who revealingly
entitles his book The European Miracle, and many others, like
White Jr. (1962), Hall (1985) or Baechler, Hall and Mann (1988).
They all find the rest of the world deficient or defective in
some crucial historical, economic, social, political,
ideological, or cultural respect in comparison to the West.
Therefore, these authors also revert to an internal explanation
of the presumed superiority of the West to explain its ascendance
over the rest of the world. For all of them, the rise of Europe
was a unique "miracle" and not a product of Eurasian history and
of shifts within the world [system]. ....
In general, there is no basis for the latter day European put-
downs of Asians as having allegedly had and been held back by
some "Asian mode of production" [Marx], or "hydraulic/
bureaucratic society" [Wittfogel] or the lack of "rationality"
or even ir-rationality [Weber, Sombart]; but rather a
"redistributive" [Polanyi], or some other "traditional" [Lerner,
Rostow and all "modernizationists"] society. ... .I shall argue
elsewhere (Frank and Zeitlin, in preparation) that this
Eurocentric bias vitiates almost all of received social science
theory and that the historical evidence [even the little of it
presented below] effectively negates the alleged European
origin, let alone exceptionalism, of modern social development -
- and thereby pulls the rug and the very basis out from under
social science theory as we know it....
Even the European Braudel recognized
Everywhere from Egypt to Japan, we shall find genuine
capitalists, wholesalers, rentiers of trade, and their
thousands of auxiliaries, commission agents, brokers,
money-changers and bankers. As for the techniques,
possibilities or guarantees of exchange, any of these
groups of merchants would stand comparisons with its
western equivalents (Braudel 1982:486).
THE ASIAN ECONOMIC TRAIN AND THE EUROPEAN CABOOSE
....The Portuguese have "bewitched" historians to devote
attention to them all out of proportion to their importance in
Asian trade. .....
The preponderance of Asia in the world economy has been masked
not only by the attention devoted to "the rise of the West" in
the world, but also by the undue focus on European economic and
political penetration of Asia. The Europeans did not in any sense
"create" either the world economic system itself nor
"capitalism." Europe itself was not a first rank power nor an
economic core region during these three centuries. The core
regions, especially of industrial production, were in China and
India; and West Asia and Southeast Asia also remained
economically more important than Europe. Likewise, China and
India were the primary centres of the accumulation of capital in
the world system, and China was in overall balance of trade
surplus throughout most of this period. Indeed, Europe was in
deficit with all regions to the East. West Asia was in surplus
with Europe, but in deficit with India. India was in surplus
westward but in deficit eastward to Southeast Asia and China,
whence India re-exported bullion received from the West.
In political terms, the hegemonic influence of China, India, and
the Ottomans was considerably greater than that of the Europeans.
Asian hegemony was not seriously threatened before the second
half of the 18th century. Islam's geographic expansion continued
through the 16th century. Hodgson (1974, 1993) and Djait (1985)
are emphatic that Islam was still decidedly dominant [hegemonic?]
in the world at the end of that century or even later and that
any contemporary observer had good grounds for anticipating more
of the same....
Perhaps even more significantly, Asian production was much
greater, and it was more productive and competitive than anything
the Europeans were able to muster, even with the help of the gold
and silver they brought from the Americas and Africa. Using GNP
estimates by Bairoch, still in 1750 Asia had a GNP of $ 120
billion [in 1960 US dollars] while all the "West," meaning Europe
and the Americas [but also including Russia and Japan because of
how Bairoch grouped his estimates] had a GNP before the
industrial revolution of only $ 35 billion. Still a century
later in 1860, the respective amounts were $ 165 billion and $
115 billion (re-calculated from Braudel 1982:534). According to
Angus Maddison's (1991:10) estimates, per capita production or
income were almost the same in China and Western Europe in 1400.
For as late as 1700 to 1750 (Bairoch 1993) reviews estimates by
various authors, and finds [that standards of living were about
on a par world-wide].
Beyond the sheer larger amount of product - by after all a much
larger population - in Asia, its production was also much more
productive, and therefore more competitive on the world market.
As Chaudhuri (1978:104-5) rightly observes
the demand for industrial products, even in a pre-machine
age, measures the extent of specialisation and the division
of labour reached by a society. There is no question that
from this point of view the Indian subcontinent and China
possessed the most advanced and varied economies in Asia in
the period from 1500 to 1750 (Chaudhuri 1978:204-5).
Not only in Asia, however, but in the world!
It is clear that Asia's absorption of silver, and to a
lesser extent gold for a limited period in the seventeenth
century, was primarily the result of a relative difference
in international production cost and prices. It was not
until the large-sale application of machinery in the
nineteenth century radically altered the structure of
production costs that Europe was able to bridge the effect
of the price differentials (Chaudhuri 1978:456).
"No one disputes the existence of a world market for silver. The
issue is how to model it" (Flynn in Tracy 1991: 337). "The price
of silver in Peru ... must have some influence on its price, not
only at all the silver mines of Europe, but at those of China"
observed Adam Smith (1776/1937:168). There had been an Afro-
Eurasian-wide market for gold and silver since time immemorial.
Caribbean gold was added to it by the Spaniards from the voyages
of Columbus and his followers; and a major new infusion of American
silver began with the discovery of the silver mines at Zacatecas
in Mexico in 1548. This new silver made an impact in various
parts of Asia certainly from 1600, if not before, to 1800.
That is, Japan alone contributed 8 thousand out of this 28
thousand ton total, or almost 30 percent, and therefore perhaps
fully one quarter of total world production, including that of
Persia, etc., during this critical period -- and more than that
ended up in China, since it received an unknown part of the
remaining silver as well.
Thus between 1600 and 1800, continental Asia absorbed at least
32 thousand tons of silver from the Americas via Europe, 3
thousand tons via Manila, and perhaps 10 thousand tons from
Japan, or a total of at least 45 thousand tons or nearly 40
percent of the world production of 116 thousand tons that did not
remain in the Americas, apart from its own production. A still
unknown but large share of this silver ended up in China, which
also received silver over the trans- and circum- Asian eastward
bound routes. China received significant parts of the silver
exported from Europe via the Levant, West-,South-, and Southeast
The historical/empirical sections of the present essay
demonstrated that the real world during the period between about
1400 and 1800, not to mention also the past before that, was
itself also very different from what is alleged by received
theory. Eurocentric history and "classical" social science, but
also still Wallerstein's "modern world-system" suppose and/or
allege e European predominance, which simply did not exist. Still
until about 1800 the world economy was by no stretch of the
imagination European-centred nor in any significant way defined
or marked by any European-born [nor European borne] "capitalism,"
let alone development. Still less was there any real "capitalist
development" initiated, generated, diffused or otherwise
propagated or perpetrated by Europeans or the West. THAT occurred
ONLY by the stretch of European-centric imagination, and even
that only belatedly since the nineteenth century, as Bernal has
already emphasized. Instead, the data in the preceding sections
have shown unequivocally that the world economy was
[WHY/HOW DID THE EUROPEANS MANAGE?]
The answer, literally in a word, is that the Europeans bought
themselves a seat, and then even a whole railway car, on the
Asian train. How were any - literally - poor Europeans able to
afford the price of even a third class ticket to board the Asian
economic train? Well, the Europeans somehow found and/or stole,
extorted, or earned the money to do so. Again how so?
Precisely that is also the explanation of Blaut (1977,1992,1993)
who, in all these regards, seems to be the modern alter ego of
Adam Smith. Both understand and explain the first two answers
to the question of how the poor Europeans managed access to the
thriving Asian market is 1) they used their American money, and
2) they used the profits of both their production/imports from
and their exports to America and Africa, and their investment of
the proceeds of all of these in Europe itself.
However the third answer alluded to above to how the Europeans
managed, is that they also used both the American silver money
and the European profits to buy into the wealth of Asia itself.
As Smith noted, and all the evidence reviewed above shows, Europe
used its commodities, or what comes to the same thing, the only
commodities it could sell in Asia, that is its American gold and
silver, to buy Asian products. Moreover, as also documented
above, Europe used its silver purchasing power to muscle in on
the intra-Asian "country" trade. Europeans derived more profits
from their participation in the intra-Asian trade than they did
from their Asian imports into Europe, even though many of the
latter in turn generated further profits for them as re-exports
to Africa and the Americas. So the Europeans were able to profit
from the much more productive and wealthy Asian economies by
participating in the intra-Asian trade; and that in turn they
were able to do ultimately only thanks to their American silver.
Without that silver per se primarily, and secondarily the
division of labor and profits it generated in Europe itself, the
Europeans would not have had a leg, or even a single toe, to
stand on with which to compete in the Asian market. Only their
American money, and not any "exceptional" European "qualities,"
which, as Smith still realized even in 1776, had not been even
remotely up to Asian standards, permitted the Europeans to buy
their ticket on the Asian economic train and/or to take a third
class seat on it.
So how is it that this otherwise apparently hopeless European
gamble in Asia panned out - and finally hit the jackpot? Only
because while the Europeans were gathering strength on the back
of the Americas, Africa and Asia itself, the Asian economies and
polities were also weakening themselves during parts of the 18th
century -- so much so that their paths or graphs finally crossed
... in about 1815. However, in the half century before that,
another - fourth - element entered into the European/Asian
Ernest Mandel (1968: 119-120) estimated the European colonial
booty between 1500 and 1800 at 1,000 million gold pounds
sterling, of which 100 to 150 million reached Britain from India
alone between 1750 and 1800, while it invested in the new
industrial "revolution," especially in steam engines and textile
technology. Yet by 1800 the capital invested in steam-operated
industry in all of Europe was still less than what its colonial
profits had been. The most scrupulous student of the British
economy for that period, Phyllis Deane (1965) detailed "six main
ways in which foreign trade can have helped to precipitate the
first industrial revolution (quoted in detail in Frank
In conclusion, attending to the alas only posthumously published
plea of Joseph Fletcher to do integrative "horizontal"
macrohistory is the most important and neglected task of history.
This essay has been a modest effort to help remedy this neglect
for the early modern period he referred to. Recall that the world
renowned historian Ranke is most known for having called for a
history "wie es eigentlich gewesen ist" [how it really was].
However, Ranke also said that "there is no history but world
history." That world history is wie [how] all history eigentlich
gewesen ist. There is NO way to understand it - or even any part
of it! - without abandoning the blinkers of the Eurocentric
tunnel vision, which still so confines us to darkness. For there
is NO light at the end of that Eurocentric tunnel. As in the
proverbial joke about looking for the watch under the wrong light
post, in this case both the bright light and the real world watch
are elsewhere. And that is NO joke!