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It’s a troubling question for many. All individuals, individual cultures, and peoples are equal, but why did Europe dominate for so many centuries? Today at Fudan University, James J. O’Donnell, University Professor at Georgetown University, gave the third in a series of guest lectures on “Ancient History in the Modern Age.” He spoke about how the exclusivity of Christianity influenced the development of European thought, and how Europe “turned away” from the variety of human experience they found in the Age of Discovery.
After the lecture, a student asked, “What is the secret of the Europeans, that they can attract the attention of the whole world to follow them?”
O’Donnell’ answered, “Western ‘success’ has three factors, none of which were necessary. One is that there was an ancient civilization in the Mediterranean than was quite successful and well developed, so certain basic levels of economy and society and organization were achieved.
“Second, Western Europe turns out to be geographically and in climate a good place for people with not much technology to live and prosper. Farming and shipping and trade and communication were possible for people with limited technology in ways that were more difficult for people in the Middle East and Africa and Central Asia, where the climate was different and it wasn’t so possible for simple farmers to be so successful.
“And third, there is an element of chance and accident here. Moveable type and oceangoing travel were invented in China but they were decisively implemented and made use of in Western Europe, and so the great revolutions of the 15th, 16th, and 17th Centuries, in which westerners took a lead… happened in that part of the world, and gave an advantage to that part of the world. I believe that advantage is now expired and that the technologies of the last century put all of humankind on a more equal footing and essentially all societies with a certain level of industrialization and advancement can be successful.
“I spoke last time of my thought experiment, that maybe the west will continue to dominate, maybe China will dominate, or in my example maybe Brazil and Latin America will dominate. Since my last lecture [on Tuesday] we now have a Latin American Pope, that’s a first invention; Brazil is succeeding economically, maybe in 300 years Latin America will take advantage of its opportunities to become the most advanced society in the world. I think we are at a period in which it is no longer clear the west will continue to dominate, as it was probably clear a hundred years ago that the west had to dominate for a while longer. We’ll see.” (Recorded 2013.03.14 at Fudan University, Shanghai)
It’s almost the New Year in China. On February 10, the world will enter the Year of the Snake. It’s thus spring break in China, so I came trough Japan and arrived in Seattle today where I will transfer to Atlanta.
The writer Nagai Kafū studied abroad in Shanghai and arrived in Tacoma by boat from Shanghai in 1903. In 1908 he published his Amerika monogatari, or American Stories. It seems he encountered brazen racism in American and didn’t altogether enjoy his time here, though he liked the theatre in New York. Did you know a Japanese writer wrote stories about America in 1908?
“A Tree That Took Flight”
At the plain’s edge
Right at the cliff over the valley
Stood a tree we wished at for good luck
Watching our comings and goings
That tree towered over us all
Its bark was rubbed smooth
Where small hands could reach
Inside it was too tangled to fathom
Once the wind howled
And at the dawn’s light
That tree was nowhere to be found