Development of Europe and Asia between 1400 and 1900: a Comparison based on the Book “Worlds of History” By Kevin Reilly

Development of Europe and Asia between 1400 and 1900: a Comparison based on the Book “Worlds of History” By Kevin Reilly

European civilization and Asian civilization are remarkably different - Development of Europe and Asia between 1400 and 1900: a Comparison based on the Book “Worlds of History” By Kevin Reilly introduction. It is impossible to speak of a single civilization in Asia, for there are at least several civilizations: Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Arabic to name a few. The European civilization is more unified, although it is impossible to completely equate Scotland and Greece as a single civilizational space. Nevertheless, there exist some features which allow to distinguish European civilization(s) from the Asian civilization(s) in modern time, or namely after 1400. Those features allowed Europe and it’s daughter civilizations (like after-Columbian America) to dominate on the planet. Asia, in contrast had to become a colony or half-colony of Europeans with only some exceptions. This paper is to examine the civilizational development of Europe and Asia in the period between 1400 and 1900 in order to examine the reasons which predetermined European leading positions in the world. He civilizational The final point is to prove that exactly the “typically European” phenomena caused Europe to become a global leader. Facts and ideas from the book “Worlds of History” By Kevin Reilly shall be used for analysis.

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Before XV century AD Europe and Asia were relatively “equal”, although different, and after 1400-1500 Europe has overcome a significant civilizational breakthrough. As Keilly noticed, “both China and Europe set sail for global expansion in the fifteenth century, but China’s explorations ended just as Europe’s began, so there must be some factors that lead to different outcomes of similar efforts.”[1] This means that in this period something has happened in Europe, what made it different from Asia.

It is possible to name firearms, organizational capability, social structure, book printing and many other things. However, China had a good organizational capability and firearms and book printing even before Europeans had. So there must be some another reason for European success. And this reason can be found in religious and ideological grounds.

First and foremost it is necessary to speak of religion which was a vital determinant of life in those times. Both Roman Catholic church and the medieval and oriental doctrines like Confucianism and Buddhism were rather conservative. They preached humility and obedience to the authorities. This was closely related and moreover this determined the political system of those countries and relationships between people and authorities. As Protestantism came to be in early XVI century the situation has changed dramatically. Protestant ethics described the place of man in the world in a very different way, so that the church and the state in Europe had to change and become more dynamic and become open for rapid development[2]. Whether Catholic church wanted it or not, it had to accept those features of Protestantism in order to successfully struggle against it. Thusly European civilization became more developed and more expansive on the ideological level. In contrast, religious dogmas in China and Japan aimed to preserve a state, which seemed to be ideal for the political and religious authorities and took a defensive position in respect of new ideas. While Europe passed a stage of industrial revolution and Enlightenment, Asia ossified in conservatism, until cannons of European steamboats thundered in it’s harbors[3].

The scientific revolution, which has already been mentioned, was not actually so “revolutionary”. Most of it’s ideas surprisingly came from Asia, including paper, gunpowder and compass. Europe has not invented something totally new, rather it was able to properly estimate those civilizational achievements and make them large-scaled. Where the Chinese had only experiments and fireworks, the Europeans had armies with rifles and cannons, where Chinese had only small libraries for nobles the Europeans created a massive ideological machinery of book publishing and media. Massive production and the following economic boom were one of the most effective weapons of Europeans in their global domination. Reilly puts a question: “Modern society has been shaped dramatically by capitalism and the industrial revolution, but these two forces are not the same. Which one is principally responsible for the creation of our modern world: the economic system of the market or the technology of the industrial revolution?”[4] The answer is that they were combined and mutually conditioned. Capitalism would be impossible without industrial revolution, but as soon as first features of this revolution came to be, capitalism started to ginger the revolution, and the revolution in turn contributed to development of capitalism.

Superiority of Europe allowed it to begin contesting remote colonies. Asia had to face this challenge after 1700. China became a half-colony with nominal emperor in top, and Japan had to struggle against mighty cultural and economic pressure. The only way for Asia to restore it’s positions was to accept some of the European features[5]. After 1850 an intensive westernization began in China and Japan resulting in cross-cultural interaction. Asia accepted many of the European technical innovations as well as forms of government and social life, but Europe suddenly found itself under strong influence of Asia. Such influence can be traced now in the popularity of Buddhism, eastern philosophy, kimono and sushi in Europe, when Europe and Asia both enter a new century of their development.

Works cited

Kevin Reilly (2007) Worlds of History, vol 2. Bedford/St. Martin’s 3rd edition

[1] Kevin Reilly (2007) Worlds of History, vol 2. Bedford/St. Martin’s 3rd edition, p.- 10

[3] For this see: Kevin Reilly (2007) Worlds of History, vol 2. Bedford/St. Martin’s 3rd edition, chap. 3
[4] Kevin Reilly (2007) Worlds of History, vol 2. Bedford/St. Martin’s 3rd edition, p.- 98

[5] Supra note, chap. 9

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