The book entitled the Origins of the Modern World: A Global and Ecological Narrative, presents a refreshing take on the influence of the West in Asia. It essentially focuses on the historical events that unfolded between the period of 1400 and 1900. It was during this critical period that Europe began the exploration into the far reaches of Asia and the creation of trading routes linking the old world and the new world. According to the author, much of the development can be traced back to the 1400s where the “biological old regime” created trading networks that tied together the Eurasian countries and certain parts of East Africa.
It is interesting to note, however, that the development that this movement spurred was not caused so much by the clear superiority of the European Institutions that were established at that time but rather were from the “conjunction” of European marginality in the then world’s economy. While most of the old world was technologically advanced as compared to Asia, they still needed a source of raw materials and labor and thus the conquest for the new world began.
Though the old world, including Asia, had ample resources, the lack of technological expertise to begin process and take advantage of the market forced these countries to ally themselves with countries of the old world. A perfect example of this would be the dependency that the West had on the events that occurred outside of the European continent. Slaves were needed in Africa to work at the mines located in the New World and later on to work on the plantations. From the trading perspective, there is the Chinese example which was crucial for the rise of the English.
While China had extensive reserves of coal, they did not have any access or trading relations with other countries who needed such resources. The English on the other hand, not only needed such resources but they also had access to such countries. The dominance and influence that the west soon exerted over most of Asia was caused by these “conjunctions”, as the author terms it. Most of Asia had the resources that the other countries in the region offered and therefore there was a need to trade with other countries.
This was something which the West was able to take advantage of. In seeking to bolster trade, many of the countries in Asia would try to create “conjunctions” with the West. This led to the growing influence of the West over much of Asia with many Western powers soon establishing colonies within the region, such as those of the East India Trading Company or the holdings of Spain and Portugal over territories in South East Asia like the Philippines and Macau.
The influence of the West was of course short lived. This was, of course, borne out of necessity since the competition in Europe during this time created smaller European nation-states. A good example of this would be the efforts of the Hapsburgs to consolidate their empire which required immense amounts of silver which by the 1800s over three-quarters of which was soon found in China. It was the industrial revolution, however, which would be the proverbial straw which broke the camel’s back.
Soon enough, the exploitation by the West caused the “deindustrialization” of a number of the countries in Asia such as China and India. India, for example, was no longer exporting cotton but rather taken the opposite action by importing cotton goods. While China and India previously held positions of power previously, the backward stance they took and the reemergence of industrial production in Europe had soon undermined the position that China and India once enjoyed thus leading to the undoing of the European presence.