Book Review: The Eastern Origin of Western Civilization
The book, “The Eastern Origins of Western Civilization” authored by John M. Hobson demystifies the mainstream accounts of the rise of the West by refuting the historical theory that associates the rise of the West to self development. The author argues otherwise citing evidence that the West was a product of interactions with more technically and socially advanced Eastern civilization. While the historical theory behind the rise of the West unveils that Europe developed on its own with little or no help from the East, Hobson argues otherwise by unraveling the fact that indeed, most of the conspicuous developments in Europe were triggered by the West’s interaction with the East. Hobson also recognizes that the East played a greater role in the story of the progressive global history. As such, he attributes the rise of the oriental West to two key processes including the Eastern inventions, which he claims were central to major development projects in Europe and imperialism through which Europeans annexed several resources such as land, labor, and markets from the East after the building of European identity in 1453 (Hobson 308).
This book therefore, presents a critical look at the Eastern people as the key player that saw the successful rise of the West by rebutting claims that the West was conceived from a virgin birth. Key ideas presented in the book include the Chinese inventions that played a great role in European progress, contacts with the East and the outside world prompted cultural movements and ideas, the American silver and not the European powers created world trade, and European powers gained trading rights by force. Therefore, this review presents a critical evaluation of Hobson’s book giving appropriate examples from the text to illustrate my understanding.
John Hobson’s book is one of a kind that views the Europe’s history from a critical viewpoint. The book goes against the conservative believes about the historical accounts surrounding the rise of the West and flouts what appears to have been a great misconception about the rise of Europe.This book tries to redraw the historical map by simply providing crucial facts and evidences that back up his claims. This provocative book uses an unusual approach to history and unlike other history book that merely supplement others; it is written on a strong foundation that challenges the Eurocentric tales acknowledging the fundamental development to itself (Hobson 1). I think that this book brings out one of the most controversial idea that catches many in surprises and attracts the reader to read more. At first, when I picked up the book to read, I expected to read about the usual Europe history that glorifies itself for a miracle growth. At first, the title surprised me and for once I thought it was a fictitious story with no real connection to the Eurocentric history. To my amazement, it was exactly the opposite and given the chronological facts provided therein, the book actually goes against all odds to flout the works of many writers such as Eric Jones’ “The European Miracle and Growth Recurring”. The author clearly aligns his thesis with lucid evidence to back his claims up.
The author bases his discussion throughout the book on a thesis that argues against the existing conceited quasi-positivism of international relation theory in the contemporary world and its inability to see the realism behind the Eurocentric history both in the current and ancient times practice. John Hobson thesis is a critique of the obvious claim that the West developed solely from its own political, economic, and social advancements. He blatantly opposes this by acknowledging the critical role played by the Chinese inventions both technologically and economically (Hobson 50). This means that, the Western civilization in terms of economic and technological influence on the West had a significant impact on what the West can proudly call it their own invention. He tends to bring it to the attention of the reader that throughout their understanding of the history of Europe development, they have been lied to and that for the last decades, they have all believed lies concerning the rise of Europe. The book is made even simpler for the readers to really understand what Hobson is trying to say through the use of comparison tables that clearly bring out the contrasting approach that Hobson gives as regards to the historical account of the European’s progress.
China, which was then an economic superpower among other Eastern countries had a hand in technological advancements and setting up of institutions that provided the West a possible ground to advance both economically, socially, and politically. The continuous interaction between the West and the East was very imperative to the development of the West because Europeans copied Eastern civilization for a long-term influence (Hobson 30). Surprisingly, this is not the way most historians put it and instead of acknowledging the Eastern civilization as the key reason behind the development, they attribute this to Western civilization as something that developed independently. His thesis is clear throughout the discussion because he subsequently develops it throughout the book showing clearly how many Chinese innovations and inventions contributed to the progress of the West while trying to critique many historians who portray Europe in a wrong picture than the history really dictates. He even critique the conventional believe that the European powers were actually behind the creation of the world trade (Hobson 12).
John Hobson’s aim is to demystify the common believe that Europe’s progress was an internal nudge that involved innovations from people from within and that no other external force was responsible for the rise of Europe. He clearly unravels that many inventions that were crucial for the progress of the West were exclusively from the Chinese. He explains that Javanese, Indians, and Chinese had all made it across to the Cape many decades ago, if not centuries, before Vasco Da Gama. It should not be forgotten that indeed, Vasco Da Gama only managed to navigate across to India because he was guided by an unnamed Gujarati Muslim pilot, who certainly came from the East (Hobson 21). While the Eurocentric history reveals that Da Gama was the first explorer to make contact with a primordial and remote Indian people in his Asian exploration. In reality, Indians had already engaged in trading activities with the rest of Eurasia and in fact, the book unveils that Indians were economically finer in comparison to their Portuguese counterparts (Hobson 22).
Hobson even elucidates that it was indeed the Chinese, Indian, and some African inventions as well as certain Islamic nations who provided the relevant science and technologies that proved critical in providing the foundation for the Portuguese ships and navigation. This simply shows that the East was more advanced and knowledgeable than the West because Vasco Da Gamma was the first European explorer to link Europe with Asia. Even Da Gamma would not have made it to India without the crucial help from the rest of the world and mainly from the East, who proved to be more superior to their Western counterparts. Besides, he clearly states that after 1700, the major technologies and technological ideas that spurred on the British agricultural and industrial revolutions all diffused across from China. The European enlightenment was stimulated by Chinese ideas both technologically and economically and as a fact, they played a major role in enhancing more development in Europe as well as outside Europe (Hobson 174).
Additionally, Hobson is trying to tell us that indeed, Europe was not as mighty as history reveals as far as world trade is concerned because of the fact that the European powers did not create world trade but rather relied on the American silver to combine into economically active Eastern markets. The Eurocentric theory states that China pulled out of the world and left a space that was immediately replaced by the superior Europeans. However, Hobson disagrees with this claim and instead he affirms that indeed, China remained unsurpassed as the leading world trader and the producer and was able to stand firm against Western incursions as well as dictate terms to the European traders in between the period of 1434 to 1839. This was the same period when Europeans failed to defeat the Asians and remained dependent upon them for a slice of the lucrative Eastern trade (Hobson 181).
Through these assertions, with appropriate examples, Hobson manages to capture the attention of the readers. The reader is able to grasp that indeed, there was no way that Europe could claim to have propelled world trade because the reader draws facts clearly provided in Hobson’s discussion. Besides, Hobson succeeds to convince the reader that European supremacy was not derived from free trade, reasoned rule, and democracy because this as he explicates it is but a jingoistic fairy tale. Hobson unveils that European powers gained trading rights against others’ will, and that the industrial revolution in Britain was developed under harsh regulations. Mark you, the assimilation of Chinese technologies and ideas enabled the British Industrial Revolution. It should however be noted that Non-Europeans and especially Africans slaves significantly contributed to British industrialization through the appropriation and exploitation of their vast resources, which were obtained with a lot of coercion (Hobson 182).
Hobson’s aims are clearly justified and supported and he achieves this by enriching the book with unique information and knowledge that keeps the reader glued to the book from the start to the end. The book is well written and all the discussion is based on the aforementioned claims, which are critical in challenging the Eurocentric history. He succeeds to correct the myth that the West and the East never came into contact by clearly explaining that it was indeed the interaction between them that made a significant change in their development endeavors. Through this, the reader is able to take hold of the fact that civilization started way back and that globalization is not a new thing. Hobson’s book presents an unconventional anti-Eurocentric idea of some of the main decisive moments in the world history in the previous one thousand and five hundred years. He tries to make it known to the readers that the anti-Eurocentric idea should actually make up the prime focus of any analytical attention. This enables him to concurrently lay out some of the fundamental arguments of the book while contrasting them with the Eurocentric version (Hobson 318-321: table 13.2).
In conclusion, I recommend John Hobson’s book as one of the boldest history books that goes takes an unusual way to explain the world history and in particular, the crucial role of the Eastern civilization in triggering the progress witness in Europe. Albeit all that Hobson provides may not be proven to be true, his ability to bring together a wide array of historical findings provide a chronological flow of historic events that demolish the Eurocentric theory. This essay provides a lucid and critical review of John Hobson’s book based on his thesis that contrasts the widespread belief on Eurocentrism. His arguments are based on his main idea that indeed, the Western civilization did not come on itself rather; it was enhanced by the contact between the East and the West. The book has well articulated statements based on clear evidence that supports Hobson’s thesis. The book is written in an easy and clear way that attracts the attention of the reader wanting to know more as regards to Hobson’s unique approach to explaining the world history. It should be noted that, the Hobson’s book endeavors to engage the reader through several rhetorical questions that keeps the reader glued from the start to the end wanting to understand every detail.
Hobson, John M. The Eastern Origins of Western Civilisation . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Print