What Will Asia’s Ascendance Bring?
04/10/2012 5 comentarios
In 1889, two years after an eccentric American millionaire established the European edition of The New York Herald, precursor of International Herald Tribune, Rudyard Kipling dined with some British businessmen in Hong Kong. The imperial rulers of China, most recently humiliated by France, had reluctantly started to modernize their vast domain; British entrepreneurs, who had long chafed at the Middle Kingdom’s stubborn isolationism, were drawn to the new possibility of investments and profits. Kipling, however, worried that these men who were doing their best to ‘‘force upon the great Empire all the stimulants of the West, railways, tramlines, and so forth’’ were deeply misguided. ‘‘What will happen,’’ he wondered, ‘‘when China really wakes up, runs a line from Shanghai to Lhasa, and controls her own gun-factories and arsenals?’’ The future feared by Kipling, in which Asians adopt the stimulants of Western countries and the East comes dangerously close to meeting the West as equals, is now our present: abrupt emergence of China, after intense period of economic globalization, and the redrawing of Asia’s political and economic relationships will define the next 125 years just as the previous century and a quarter was defined by a worldwide diffusion of Western models of politics, economy and culture. But in the late 1880s, rise of the East and relative decline of the West would have seemed very remote. Having broken out of their small continent, Europeans were still in the middle of an unprecedented global expansion, fueled by industrial capitalism. Most of Asia’s predominantly agrarian societies had been subordinated; the scramble for Africa, which even Germany, a latecomer to imperial expansion, would join, had only just begun. In less than a decade, United States, having completed its internal expansion, would also start an international quest for markets and territories; and Kipling would be on hand to exhort the country to share white man’s burden and civilize the natives of Asia and Africa. This white man’s presumption was not baseless. The political and philosophical breakthroughs of French Revolution and the Enlightenment combined with industrial revolution had brought about a radical new vision of human possibility, one previously unknown to or untested by the agrarian, religious-minded, communitarian peoples of Europe as well as Asia and Africa. This new conception of good life, defined for centuries by association with religious virtue, had as its center sovereign individual: liberated from older obligations to guild and church, his pursuit of self-interest would be henceforth assisted by the continuous technical innovation, commercial expansion and the political institutions of nation-state. Competing European empires brought this new vision to Asia and Africa through the 19th century; and easy successes over poorly equipped natives seemed to vindicate it. Thus, Woodrow Wilson in 1901, high noon of imperialism, confidently proclaiming ‘‘the universal world of commerce,’’ could say ‘‘the East is to be opened and transformed’’ and ‘‘the standards of the West are to be imposed upon it’’ (…..)