3 The Rise of Maritaime Asia
The Unjust _Barbarian Asia_ Thesis
The German Leopold von Ranke (1795_1886) is said to be the founding father of modern historical scholarship. One of Ranke_s most important works is his Outline of World History (originally published as _er die Epchen der neueren Gescheichte), which was originally a series of lectures given for the King of Bavaria, Maximilian II in 1854. Approaching his sixtieth birthday, Ranke drew upon the vast stock of knowledge he had accumulated over his long career. In the first lecture, titled _How Should We Interpret the Concept of Progress in History?_, Ranke alluded to the history of Asia: _Let us now turn to Asia. We know that civilization sprang up there and that the Asian continent has undergone several cultural stages. But historical development in this region has on the whole been retrogressive. Asian culture was at its zenith in its most ancient period ... The invasion of the savage tribe of the Mongols brought culture in Asia to a complete standstill._ In the fourteenth lecture, Ranke stated, _The barbarism that pervaded Asia in those times still holds sway today. Here is a clear case where we cannot expect what we take to be the usual progress of mankind._
These extracts from the Outline of World History show that Ranke had an ineradicable disdain for Asia and even felt something akin to hostility towards the Mongols. On the other hand, Ranke was full of praise for the European Christian world, in which he felt the utmost confidence as an integrated cultural entity: _One of the fundamental concepts I have reached, and I am convinced that this is absolutely right, is that the European Christian peoples should be viewed collectively as a harmonious whole which is akin to a single nation ... This is the great ethnic community of Western Europe._
Ranke delivered these lectures in 1854, the year in which Japan signed peace and amity treaties with America and other Western powers. It is clear from a single reading that even the greatest European historian of the time harbored a very strong Eurocentric bias. Incidentally, Ranke_s pupil Ludwig Riess came to Japan in 1887 at the invitation of the Japanese government to teach world history (i. e. Western history) at Tokyo Imperial University (now Tokyo University), which marked the birth of the study of modern history in Japan. As a result, historical scholarship in Japan had a conspicuous Eurocentric bias from the beginning. Did Asia really embark on a path of barbarism from the time of the Mongol dynasty in China, as eminent modern Europeans such as Ranke believed? At the time of the Mongol dynasty, a sentimental young Italian visited China. His name was Marco Polo (1254_1324). Setting out from his native Venice with his father Nicolo and uncle Maffeo, the 21 year old Marco Polo arrived in Shangdo (Kaiping) in 1275. For 17 years until he returned to Venice in 1292, Marco Polo was cordially treated by the Mongol ruler Kublai Khan and traveled extensively throughout China. He was amazed by the wealth of the country and wrote about it in detail in his journals, in which he described Japan as the _land of gold, Zipangu._ Marco Polo_s description of Japan is recorded in The Travels of Marco Polo, an account which triggered the age of great voyages by explorers obsessed with dreams of the Orient. The civilization of China under Mongol rule, which Ranke had dismissed as the death of Eastern culture, was an object of yearning for Europeans, and it was the information about this civilization provided by Marco Polo that encouraged them to set out in search of this Utopia.
Marco Polo_s route is also very significant. On the outward half of his journey, he took the east-west land route, the Silk Road, in the opposite direction, and when he returned he took the _sea route,_ traveling south across the China Sea, through Southeast Asia, and finally to Venice.