Why did Asia decline?

And why is it on the way back up again?

My book of the moment, Thunder from the East, presents the worringly convincing theory that a culture of greed was the missing ingredient in China, India, Japan and South Korea in the 500 years or so during which Europe and America’s rise was mirrored by Asia’s decline- an Asia that had dominated the world economy for well over a thousand years. That certainly makes sense if you contrast Confucianism and the caste system with rapacious conquistadors and the British empire.

The book adds that political unity in India and China was probably a bad thing in those terms, but I have another candidate for the greatest influence on rise and decline- a belief in the future.

I think these two factors probably also explain the change in Britain since the decline that ended (?) in the 1970s. Perhaps a better test is how well it explains Japan’s Edo-era stagnation, Meiji-era to 1990s rise, and recent decline.

Perhaps the most interesting difference between the Japanese and this theory is that even during the bubble years I wouldn’t say that there was much of a culture of greed. Obsession with financial security and a better future for your children, yes. Vicious competition for survival between companies at a time when not expanding as quickly as everyone else meant fading away to nothing, yes. Excess, yes- but that was fueled more by expense accounts than outrageous pay cheques. That was perhaps connected to the big difference in Japan, a belief that everyone should be middle class and generally more or less the same. And once the bubble burst they soon went back to the natural thrifty ways that make some of my Korean students call the Japanese stingy.

Even more recently, the Japanese seem to have lost any belief in a better future as well.

So, that explains that major part of world history then! Any other theories?

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1 Comment

  1. K said,

    September 24, 2010 at 12:25 am

    I’m not sure about the other countries but in my Chinese history class there certainly was a lot of greed. Despite “following” Confucious, most of the goverment employees, from the magistrate to the governor general, were corrupt. Their greed was so great in 1850 that at one point they were sending the appropriate taxes of 40,000,000 dollars to Beijin, but keept 200,000,000 of “extra” taxes for themselves. Mind you this is a few years back.
    I personally think that the main pattern seen in China, as I haven’t studied the others, was corruption, and then the fall of the government, which happened to coincide with the growth of Europe and America.

    Just my own two cents :)
    Like I said this is a little farther back, and perhaps out dated?


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