/ World History and the Inner Asian Factor in Early Qing China: Views and Issues from American Scholarship

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Since the 1980s, world history has grown rapidly as a field, especially in the United States.[1] Western scholars and teachers of world history have increasingly striven to expand the horizons of their knowledge and concepts beyond Europe and the European-based colonial empires, to grant all parts of the world significant roles in the overall dynamic of humankind, and to see patterns or periods within that dynamic which may involve, but are not the same as, the standard ones in the history of Western civilization. This "de-Eurocentrizing" or "humano-centrizing" of world history has raised a call on specialists in the histories of various parts of the world to frame their research topics and write their books and articles in ways that are more useful and accessible to those who wish to take a world-historical perspective, but who need more knowledge from areas beyond their own fields of primary research. Specialists in Chinese history, in the past decade or so, have been responding to this appeal by experimenting with historical concepts and vocabulary-especially in periodization-that are less particular to Chinese history alone and more applicable across large, inter-regional, inter-civilizational spans of space and time.[2]

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    1. In large part, this has been in response to the pioneering works of William H. McNeill, which began to be influential in the previous two decades—especially his Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community (1963), The Contemporary World (1967), A World History (1967), Europe's Steppe Frontier (1974), and Plagues and Peoples (1976). McNeill's contributions have continued to be a major stimulus to world-historical scholarship, the most widely read perhaps being Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000 (1982), and The Age of Gunpowder Empires, 1450-1800 (1989). McNeill also was one of the founders, in 1982, of the World History Association.return to text

    2. The only major Western-language exposition to date of Chinese history in world-historical perspective is S.A.M. Adshead's China in World History (NY: St. Martin's Press, 1988). This admirable effort shows, however, the difficulty that Western scholars have in setting aside the periodization concepts of European history and the European lens for viewing the world. Developments between China the world are discussed in chapters on "Antiquity," "Late Antiquity," the "Middle Ages," the "Renaissance," the "Enlightenment," and the "Modern Age," following standard European spans of years. Almost no reference is made to the early Qing period-only a few remarks about techniques introduced to China in the Kangxi reign by the Jesuits.return to text