Wang Gungwu: the Deep structure of Eurasia and its Civilization

Wang Yiwu: The deep structure of Eurasia and its civilization

The first picture is from: Oriental IC; this article is from WeChat official account: IPP Review (ID:IPP-REVIEW); by Wang Gungwu (Professor, National University of Singapore, former President of the University of Hong Kong)

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On the other hand, in the same time, the Chinese character of the civilization and the view of the world based on the mainland are also shaped. When the marine character of the Mediterranean civilization made a breakthrough, the first light of the era of globalization was opened, and a general impulse on the standard of civilization and the level of civilization was rolling.

At the same time, it has brought about a dramatic change in productivity, but also brought a century-old prosperity and a century-old Xiaoso based on the context of civilization and the difficulties of civilization. In this paper, the formation of the Mediterranean norms has its deep reasons of history and politics, but the existence of the deep structure of Eurasian continent also makes people have to respect its endogenous development momentum and path selection.

Facing the future, whether for Eurasia or the world, to establish a balanced global historical view based on land and ocean, and to understand the different hearts and minds of civilization endowment and civilized discourse through mutual learning of civilization, we can get the truth in the context of a new round of globalization. This article is originally published in Wang Gungwu on the History of the World. The article only represents the author's point of view and is hereby compiled and issued for you to think about.


My understanding of the history of the world before the modern times is that all the history of writing can take place in Eurasia, and the land on three sides of the sea is always concerned with the waves of the sea and the waves that affect the ocean.

However, compared with the incidents on the land, the records of the various marine maritime activities appear to be messy and fragmented. The lack of data suggests that the role of maritime affairs in the early development of major civilizations is not so conspicuous.

Along the margins of Eurasia, the three successive and prominent civilizations are clearly discernible. The western tip is the Mediterranean civilization that pioneered the development of neighboring regions such as West Asia, North Africa and Southern Europe.

The southern edge of Eurasia witnessed the rise of Indian civilization, and its Dravidian part was adjacent to the Indian Ocean and extended eastward to the South China Sea. To the east of the Eurasian core is the Chinese civilization (Siniccivilization); the Chinese civilization spread to the Japanese islands on the Pacific Ocean, but its influence is relatively weak in Southeast Asia.

The hinterland of Eurasia is a vast expanse of land stretching from the Rhine River in Europe to the east, through the prairies of Russia and Central Asia, to the Indo River – the Ganges River and the source highlands of the Yellow, Yangtze and Mekong Rivers. From there, These large rivers rush south to the sea and into the western Pacific.

Among the three major civilizations, the Mediterranean differs from the other two in that it has a sea between the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean. In contrast, the Indian plains are close to the vast Indian Ocean, while the Chinese land faces the east and south, facing hundreds of islands between the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean.

The modern era of globalization is a product of ocean exploration, part of the Mediterranean expansion that began in 1952 after the Iberian Peninsula. It was a real process of globalization, which gradually integrated the world economy from the mid-18th century.

This expansion is maritime, and its origins can be traced back to the control of power between the major naval forces of the Mediterranean for thousands of years. A ruthless hegemony breeds an intrusive culture that produces an empire that takes control of both land and sea in its own hands.

When the struggle finally spread to the Atlantic Ocean, its momentum was unstoppable, and it soon spread to the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. The expansion of transoceanicity has completely changed the interrelationship between the three civilizations.

At this time there was a new continent formed by the Americas, and soon it was part of the European half of the Mediterranean.

The expedition to the Atlantic coast provides access to the other two oceans. The portuguese bypassed Africa into the Indian Ocean, while others, such as the Spaniards, took the other side, bypassing South America into the Pacific. They are all in the same way in South-East Asia, and in just a few decades, the world is largely marine.

What is breaking here is the past and present life of modern history: emerging forces rising in the eighteenth century continue to build new systematic norms for the rest of the world, (systemic norms). These norms are supported by the rapid development of science and technology, backed by the industrial revolution and capitalism, and supported by the cohesion of the national empire (nationalempires), which creates new wealth and power on the basis of the nation-state (nation states).

National, Civilized, and Mediterranean Norms (The Mediterranean Norms)

The origin of this transformation can be traced back to the Mediterranean. Since the beginning of the five-year-old civilization, what has happened there is different. The sea colonies of the Phoenicians and the Greeks laid the foundation for the great land and sea empires, creating a power system capable of expanding in all directions, and then heading north, east, and south.

About 1500 years ago, there was a drastic change. At that time, the countries around the Mediterranean formed a separatist situation because of the fierce differences in the interpretation of monotheism. The Mediterranean civilization has been more or less divided.

This is very different from the situation in the last millennium. In the past, the Mediterranean was like an inner lake. Wanbang and the empire were free to compete for business opportunities and glory on the lake.

After 1500 years, local conflicts continued, and Mediterranean civilization was still in a state of division. The southern half of the European side of the Mediterranean fell into the hands of Muslim Arab forces, a force that has survived the seventh century.

The 1500-year-old split formed a blockade for Western Europeans, preventing them from directly reaching the splendid civilization on the other side of Eurasia. Their merchants are not able to enter the Indian market directly, nor can they reach Chinese cities that are more distant and possibly more prosperous.

They know the distant oriental Huatianbao, and they want to go there for business, but the fragmented Mediterranean makes it difficult for them to move. They then turned to the Atlantic Ocean. The Portuguese led other Europeans, first to India, then to Southeast Asia, China and Japan. The Spaniards, the Dutch and the British followed.

They all prefer monopolistic trade methods and deal with Arab, Indian and Chinese businessmen with their unrivaled naval strength. Thus, after all three oceans were broken in by them, these latecomers completely changed the historical discourse.

Particularly striking is that they have developed a tradition of maritime conflict within the Mediterranean that allowed them to impose a global power structure in areas that did not have a continuing naval tradition.

History records the battle between Malay and Zhan (Chams) in the waters of South China and Java. There are also historical materials to follow when (SriVijayan) ruled over both sides of the Strait of Malacca. We also know that the (Chola) rulers of southern India had the ability to send navies across the Bay of Bengal to challenge the supremacy of Sri Lanka.

Since then, the Manchu Boyi (Majapahit) and the Thai navy have also had several short battles. But none of what they did before the 16th century was comparable to the ongoing and deadly naval wars in the Mediterranean.

In addition, the New World of the Americas brought new resources to Western Europe and promoted the rise of science and technology, capitalism and industrial revolution there. As a result, the new naval empire is even more powerful, bringing earth-shaking changes to the world.

In this globalized world, the old feudal empire had to give way to commercial empire that competed for power within Europe. The mutual engagement lasted for several decades, and a series of talks between them laid the foundation for the formation of sovereign and mercantilist countries, and finally reached the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia.

They then evolved into nation-states such as the Netherlands, France and Britain, which dominated the history of the 19 th and 20 th centuries.

These empire laid the foundation for a new set of system norms that countries began to accept gradually (especially after World War II, with the disintegration of the empire). Since then, only ethnic states have been eligible to become members of the United Nations.

Many Asian countries have tried to break away from various post-colonial forms to construct their own peoples. They are still working hard to accomplish this mission. At the same time, some alternative structures have emerged.

This began during the Cold War, when the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, tried to split the world among them. Neither the United States nor the Soviet Union can be satisfied with being a nation-state or empire.

In this regard, some nation-states with common interests responded by developing various regional organizations.

When the Cold War ended in the 1990 s, the global superpowers were left alone, an unprecedented situation. Over the past century, the systematic norms of the world have been determined by the manipulation of powerful national empires by two superpowers.

Forty years later, there is only one superpower in the world. This change has occurred mainly because the superior navy has the strength to build today's globalization and the global economy has grown.

Deep structure of Eurasia and its civilization

In view of this global framework, we cannot help but ask, in the study of future developments, whether it is meaningful to discuss the history of the relatively balanced and stable relationship between the continent and the sea in the past.

At this time, the term "deep structure" provides a useful way to think about the question "How will the past affect the present?" Francois Gipouloux mentioned this potential structure in the book The Asian Mediterranean. For example, there was already a structure in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean long before the arrival of the Mediterranean powers.

That is the kind of network relationship in the semi-Mediterranean (semi-Mediterranean) condition, which is concentrated in the world's largest island, the Southeast Asian Islands.

What is the deep structure there? It is clear that there is a structure that links the different parts of Eurasia, and its traces are ubiquitous in documented history and can be traced back to the sixteenth century.

The Mediterranean of Asia reveals the existence of such a network. Its structure is very different from that of the Mediterranean, because it is not subject to the ongoing maritime conflict between the Imperial Navy. In addition, there have never been two comparable forces in the network that have been overwhelming for 1500 years.

Compared to the Greeks and the Persians, there is much less conflict between the Roman Empire and the Greek Empire, between the Crusades and the Arabs in the Mediterranean Sea, between the Persian Gulf and the East China Sea.

What is unique about the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific is that its rulers are based on the power of the continent, both in Indian civilization and in Chinese civilization. For thousands of years, they have not contend with rivals at sea. The only difference in this framework is Japan, which is far from the northeast.

There, the Japanese did accumulate considerable military strength, but they chose to be detached from mainland affairs for most of history, until the late sixteenth century, when the European Navy had really appeared on the coast of Japan. When it was time, Japan began to emerge.

In short, there is no power cut in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific that can be comparable to the Mediterranean region. Trade activities on the two oceans are largely peaceful, and the migration of business, culture and religion is carried out without major conflicts. No matter is settled by resorting to sea warfare.

Indeed, at the beginning of the fifteenth century, Emperor Ming Yongle sent Zheng He to lead a large-scale ocean fleet to the West. This is the first powerful navy to successfully cross two oceans.

This shows that the Chinese have the ability to support naval operations, but these voyages ended in a historic run. As soon as Zheng He concluded that there were no rivals in the ocean, the rulers of the Ming Dynasty disbanded the Navy and showed no further official interest outside China's coastline. Since then, China’s activities in the open sea have largely left businessmen in the two southern provinces of Fujian and Guangdong.

The lack of this official interest will bring us back to the deep structure of China's history based on the mainland. The semi-Mediterranean features of the East China Sea and the South China Sea have never been subject to any strong or lasting concern, since China has been on the mainland since ancient times.

Of course, after the 10th century, when China’s population moved to the southeast, when China’s separatist regime and the court were forced to move south, people would certainly be more and more interested in grasping business opportunities. But in the end, the dynasties continued to build on the basis of continental self-sufficiency, and the northern part of it had to face the threat of attacks and incursions by the Eurasian tribes all year round.

The situation in South Asia is different because the Indian civilization does not depend on a centralized bureaucratic state system, and its coastal kingdoms and ports are independent of the central control. Many polities along the coast of India conduct maritime trade on their own, and also negotiate business with foreign businessmen who come across the ocean. Those foreign businessmen are mainly from the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, and a few are from the East.

But what India and China have in common is the threat of land from Central Asia. The enemy always comes from the northwest inland, while the Indian subcontinent is relatively open and vulnerable to grassland cavalry. As a result, for thousands of years, India's rulers have spent a lot of effort defending land borders to ensure that they do not lose.

In the vast and land-wide South-East Asia, the situation is not the same. Here, the division of the interests between the mainland and the island has made a unique history. I mentioned earlier that there has been no development of any force that can compete with China or India.

The differences in the region lie mainly within the region itself, between parties dependent on maritime trade, especially in the Malay Islands, and continents threatened by inland enemies. The confrontation between the native Mon-Khmer Kingdom (Mon-Khmer kingdoms) and Thai and Burmese troops from the north has led them to focus on the land for a long time.

In any case, in most cases, land-based countries and maritime countries in the region are basically self-sufficient.

In general, the key historical factors that determine the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific power system come from the hinterland of Eurasia, that is, the forces on the horse's back, similar to those who have hit China, India and the Mediterranean.

Offensive forces that connect the three civilizations by land in Central Asia remain unstoppable. Land trade along the so-called "Silk Road" depends on the shared interests of many different tribal countries and ancient oasis towns and is always subject to local conflicts (if not for full-scale war).

In contrast, maritime connections rarely involve political wrangling, so few people are bothered to document the benefits of maritime connections for parties engaged in business. The maritime record is mainly about the ship's exchanges between the ports. Every year, with the changes of the seasons and monsoons, there is no dramatic ups and downs.

Land-Ocean: Building the Internal Power of Balanced Global History

After the 16th century, with the global development of the oceans, the business activities through Eurasia declined sharply, and the region has therefore relegated to a secondary role in the development of the past three hundred years. So, is the core of Eurasia so irrelevant? If we look at the deep structure there, we know that this is not the case.

The political systems of the countries in the hinterland of Eurasia remain as they always are, and their eyes are outward, and they are examined in all directions in the east, west and south. Among them are those that have grown and prospered from the global forces that have changed the world economy.

In fact, the Eurasian core has never been innocuous, because the modernization of western Europe enabled the Russians to move eastward from the time of Peter the Great, while other developments on the mainland led to the reverse westward migration of the Manchu Dynasty.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the two forces of Russia and China met in the middle of Eurasia, and that scene was far less dramatic than the globalization of the ocean at the time. But their meeting is still significant, and the two empires eventually played an important role in global affairs. Especially after 1945, when the two superpowers launched a cold war, the meeting between China and Russia allowed the mainland forces to have the opportunity to counter the maritime dominant forces.

Despite this, continental countries are still at a disadvantage. During the Cold War, the most elite navies were mainly on the side of a liberal democracy or a capitalist system. The maritime advantage made the economy of the United States and its allies develop rapidly, while constraining the development of the Soviet bloc. The latter is only on the open coast of China's coastal areas. Therefore, the victory of the West is the victory of ocean hegemony.

The Chinese side has paid a high price for centuries because of neglect of the navy. They did try to reinvigorate and build a new navy in time, but they lost to the Japanese at the end of the 19th century. After 1911, the Republic of China fell into separatism and was invaded by Japan. It was impossible to set up a hard naval.

Therefore, the victory of the Communist Party of China in 1949 was entirely won in the land war. They don't even have a warship. For the first time, the People's Liberation Army mentioned that the Navy was the time to cross the Yangtze River in 1948. Even after the victory, they only formed an alliance with mainland powers. There are no maritime countries to help them train the navy, because the maritime countries are the enemies across the sea.

Therefore, even if there is only one superpower left since the 1990s, China is still facing a maritime superpower that completely dominates the ups and downs, and its strength even exceeds that of the United Kingdom.

In the long history of the river, there is also a enlightenment worth taking. The demonstration of global naval powers, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom was guided. The Netherlands is located in continental Europe, while the UK is made up of islands. The former has thus been shielded by large continental powers such as Germany and France, and its navy has not helped it to be strong on land.

The United Kingdom is unconstrained in the open sea and has grown into the most powerful naval force in history. But in the end, the British still couldn't hold on because they didn't have the mainland to help maintain their strength. In addition, as an island country so close to the European continent, whenever a European country develops a strong naval force, it will be vulnerable.

Therefore, in both world wars in the twentieth century, Britain needed a mainland-based navy such as the United States to save it.

On the other side of the earth, Japan has similar problems. That is, in the long run, it is not enough to be an island country. A navy without a continental foundation is not enough. Britain was close to becoming a superpower, but its strength is not guaranteed because it has no mainland to rely on. But Americans do. This is the key to today's system specification. For the first time in history, there was such a powerful country on the mainland and above the sea.

It was this advantage that enabled American naval power to dominate the world since 1945. The United States has no enemies on the land boundary, so it is an invincible maritime country galloping three oceans. They learned a lesson from the British navy and greatly strengthened security on land.

In contrast, continental countries like Germany and Russia have become lame. They simply don't want to go to the open sea easily. Therefore, their mainland power cannot support the kind of navy that is needed as a global power.

As for Japan, it has the same fate as Britain. It has no continental foundation and desperately wants to land in North Korea, the three eastern provinces and enter China. In the end, all this left them out of reach and their grand plans were finally shattered.

This brings our discussion back to China, saying what is emerging in China and why it is so important to Americans and others. China is known for its continental strength and now has the ability to develop the navy. The Chinese had owned the Navy 500 years ago, but they lost again.

They are now trying to recreate the necessary psychological set to ensure a sustainable future for their new navy. If done, China will become another big country with strong land-supported naval power. At this stage, the Chinese navy is not yet comparable to the United States Navy. But they now attach great importance to maritime affairs.

It is still a relatively new development, and there is no naval tradition in China. It is clear that the so-called "China's neighbors are facing their naval threat"-called alarm, for example, may face a challenge for fear of the U. S. hegemony in China's coastal waters.

The Chinese recognize that the problems they face are multifaceted. There are two pressing issues:

China is economically linked to the global maritime economy, and its future development depends on it. They obviously need safe and secure conditions at sea.

At the same time, two-thirds of its borders are land borders, and unlike the United States, China does have potential risks on land. This is by no means a cranky thought. The Chinese have a history of thousands of years of resistance to land risks, and they will never think that there will be no such enemy in the future. There are more than a dozen of their neighbors, not always good neighbors. Therefore, they will never be immune from continental threats.

Here, we return to the deep structure of civilization. Eurasia has had a strong influence on the history of Chinese civilization and Indian civilization, and this influence will continue to be rooted in their civilization. China has a strong sense of the ocean especially because it sees that its civilization was almost destroyed by enemies from the sea. Now that Chinese civilization has undergone a modernization, it wants to ensure that the history of failure will never repeat itself.

Therefore, as long as the powerful navy insists on the right to freedom of action on the coast of china, china's leaders must pay close attention to the navy while at the same time it must not be forgotten that two-thirds of china's borders are on the mainland. Even in the midst of their naval arms and other complex preparations to deal with the threat of the future, the strong European heritage will still warn them that they must continue to develop a new and balanced global view of history.

This article is published in the preface to the 2018 edition of Wang Gungwu on World History. The original title is "the Eurasian continent that cannot be bypassed", the space is limited, the content has been edited and deleted. The picture comes from the network, if there is infringement, please contact and delete.)

This article from the micro-channel public number: IPP Comments (ID: IPP-REVIEW); Author: Wang Gung Wu (National University of Singapore, the former University of Hong Kong)

* the article is an independent point of view of the author, which does not represent the position of the tiger olfactory net. This article is published by the IPP Review and edited by the tiger olfactory net. Reprint this article with the consent of the author, and please attach the source (tiger olfactory net) and links to this page. Original link:

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