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Globalization in Asia

Globalization In Classical China

While the term globalization is relatively new in China, its concept is not. China has participated in globalization for thousands of years. For the most part, the history of China involves open-ended relations with the world. As a Middle Kingdom (zhongguo), China reached across the globe in exploration with the express purpose of exchanging ideas, technology, and goods. In the preface to a book on Eastern and Western cultures, Jeff Yang writes, "America was Asian before it was American; the ancestors of the continent's original inhabitants were Siberians who made the long, cold journey across the Bering Strait some 11,000 years ago" (Yang et al., introduction). Yang goes on to state that "the Chinese have their own pre-Columbus discovery myth: they claim that Hui Shen, a Buddhist monk living in the fifth century C.E., sailed to Mexico, lived there for 40 years, and returned to tell the tale." While these examples are legendary, they do point to Zheng He, a Yunnan Muslim explorer from the Ming dynasty who traveled to India and Africa on seven voyages between 1405 and 1433. With hundreds of vessels and thousands of sailors, the expeditions were not "colonizing." Rather, they were "diplomatic." As John Fairbank relates, "They exchanged gifts, enrolled tributaries, and brought back geographic information and scientific curiosities" (p. 138). Jacques Gernet argues that the expeditions followed well-established trade routes of the eleventh century that continued uninterrupted for several hundred years. In explaining the differences between Mongol military conquest and Ming explorations, Gernet writes that "it was no longer a question of undertaking mere conquests for the sake of economic exploitation but of securing the recognition of the power and prestige of the Ming empire in South-East Asia and the Indian Ocean" (p. 401).

The Ming voyages were curtailed in 1433 and their records destroyed in 1479. Nevertheless, China was far out front of any other nation in the age of exploration. It was a half century ahead of the Portuguese traveling to the Gold Coast of Africa or of Columbus arriving in the West Indies. Although highly speculative, Gavin Menzies even proposes that Zheng He made a voyage to North America in 1421 in gigantic junks almost five hundred feet long.

As early as the Qin Dynasty (221 B.C.E.), China utilized the Silk Roads to India as two-way streets of communications, commerce, and culture. Along the trade routes, goods such as tea and silk came from China, while hundreds of Buddhist religions came from India. The Silk Roads stretched from Chang'an, the capital of the Western Han dynasty through Dunhuang, the Tarim Basin, Kashgar, and the Pamir Mountains all the way to Antioch on the Mediterranean Sea. Other routes moved to Hanoi in Vietnam through to Indonesia, the Malay Peninsula, and the Indian Ocean, which facilitated sea commerce to the Roman Orient. In 139 B.C.E. Emperor Han Wudi sent his envoy Zhang Qian to the edges of the Hellenistic world in Bactria, from whence Zhang Qian returned with information on the distant Roman world. Bringing silk and bamboo to the West, he came back with pearls, linen, and horses from central Asia. In 104, 102, and 42 B.C.E. Chinese armies defeated the Turkic nomad Xiongnu alongside captive Roman soldiers in the former Greek kingdom of Sogdiana. Describing further Roman contact, Ann Paludan writes, "In A.D. 122 jugglers from Da Qin (Rome) arrived [in China] from the south and were followed in 166 by a group of merchants claiming to be ambassadors from the Roman emperor Antun (Marcus Aurelius Antoninus)" (p. 56). Attesting to the early interaction between Eastern and Western civilizations, anyone visiting the Confucian homes in China's Anhui Province notices similarities with Roman houses, especially the open courtyard designs, entrances, and interior chambers.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Gastrula to Glow dischargeGlobalization in Asia - Asian Views Of Globalization, The Global Village, Definitions Of Globalization: West And East, Globalization In Classical China