Five centuries and two globalizations … Is history repeating itself?

Our today topic is is history repeats itself ?Do you think that is history repeating itself?From when can we talk about globalization? For Francois Giraudoux, specialist of the Chinese economy and author of The Asian Mediterranean (1), the first is that globalization, the 16 th century saw the establishment of commercial connections across the globe, linking the economic destinies Europe, Asia and the Americas through market networks. And this first globalization, he believes, if achieved by the expansion of Europe, results mainly from the attraction exercised by China. As a result, contemporary globalization, which it believes will begin in 1985, would in fact be a “remodelization”. And it would once again put China at the heart of world trade.

His demonstration is carried out in five stages, which form so many chapters of an abundant work: after having recalled the history of European maritime merchant networks in the Middle Ages (part 1), he undertakes to make a comparison, happens at the same time in Asia (part 2), then describes the interleaving of these two spheres exchange from the 16 th century (part 3); the remodeling and its consequences provide the respective material of the last two parts.

History Repeating Itself

Gipouloux is a skilful synthesis of the history of commerce over the last six centuries, and invites us, with the numerous authors whose works he cites and relates, to decenter the gaze. Of course, the title of Asian Mediterranean gives the work a braudelian tone, since it ostensibly refers to the Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World …(2), a book in which Fernand Braudel stressed, inter alia, that maritime space, an intercultural zone of contact, is a melting pot of technical and industrial innovations, and a focal point of entrepreneurial initiatives. It is the place par excellence where the benefit of market flows can be multiplied. The author recalls that the prosperity of Genoa, based on trade, authorized in 1293 this small Italian Republic to raise three to four times more taxes than France! And that we owe to the Italian city-states the invention, the improvement or the first versions of tools now universal: from the double-entry accounting (assets / liabilities) to the bill of exchange, joint-stock company, economic intelligence, banking or marine insurance …

But the title of the Asian Mediterranean is also advanced for two reasons. The first is of a methodological nature: it is necessary to recall that global history must go beyond the preceding analyzes by revising its classics, even Braudel’s work, to which the author intends to refer more for his Metaphorical power “than for its approach, even if it was already multidisciplinary. For Gipouloux, “three paradigms have been the principle of three fundamental disciplines of the social sciences (…) : the national entity as the unit of the accounts of the economy; territory and physical space as the basis of economic geography; the territorial State as the basic unit of the system of international relations. “However, one observation must be made: these three paradigms lose their relevance in the face of globalization, which obliterates state borders and calls for analyzes on another scale.

Is history repeating itself

The second reason is structural: East Asia is geographically organized around a common space that extends from the Korean and Japanese coasts to the Indonesian and Malay seafronts, passing through China and Asia of the continental South-East. Far from being closed, this zone extends naturally to the Indian Ocean and opens the 16 th century to the Pacific. The particularity of this space is that it has been marked out for a long time by the market diasporas. Pastors of culture, brokers, mediators, intermediaries or even “interlopes” (smugglers, racketeers …) …, these populations have managed to free themselves from the control of the States bordering this area, structuring itself over the “urban networks” of exchanges initiated from the major port cities.

Yesterday Sakai, Naha, Srivijaya or Malacca; today Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, Singapore … Historically , the commercial tentacles of these emporia(powers designed to project themselves in distant markets, which have as corollary physical sites, cities serving as warehouses) have been deployed, demonstrates Gipouloux, on the margins of the States, even against them. Of course, the Chinese mandarin elites only contemplated trade: the neighboring peoples did not do business with the Celestial Empire, they addressed to him as vassals gifts, and the etiquette obliged to answer by other presents . Consequently, Asian merchants were penalized in comparison with their European counterparts: the former were subjected to the arbitrariness of civil servants, the latter were guaranteed their freedoms by charters, and their activities benefited from fair legal proceedings. But the oriental merchants kept the sense of business:

Is history repeating itself

One of the many merits of the book is that it makes it possible to return to a certain number of clichés. Asian merchants were not squeezed out of the trade from the 16 th century but lasted long as partners of the Portuguese, British and Dutch. The Chinese were not passive in the face of the western irruption, and even took over the island of Taiwan in the Low Countries. The Japanese shogunal regime decreed only very gradually, at the beginning of the 17 th century, a closure ( sakoku) of the archipelago to foreigners, and this decline remained relative … But the main idea of ​​Gipouloux is above all to demonstrate that China, far from being a passive actor of this first globalization, is the heart around which everything orbit. Teas, silks, porcelains …, its products make it the pole of attraction, the “pump suction” of the money of the world. The precious metal is the main currency accepted by the Empire. And this pomp, this “haemorrhage of coin” begins because, on equal weight, money is exchanged for twice as much gold in China as in Europe. The Spanish, the main producers of silver thanks to the mines of Peru and Mexico, take note, opening a link from Mexico to the Philippines, Acapulco-Manila, seen as a relay to the Chinese market. The author retains 1571 as a convenient landmark of this globalization, because this year sees the capture of Manila by the Spaniards. For their part, the British captured these flows and interfered (like the Portuguese before them, whom they evicted with the help of the Dutch) in the commercial circuits that had existed since ancient times in these eastern seas.

This genealogy of the first globalization sounds like a slow rehearsal of the great contemporary play that is today’s globalization. The movement began in the 1980s: the dissemination of the Japanese industrial model throughout Asia – “characterized by the systematic search for value added in production for export”- thanks to the relocations caused by the surge in the yen, dramatic lowering of transport and communication costs, liberalization of capital and the eruption of China into the world market … Then there is the resurgence of “flexible empires”, from vast transnational economic zones to multipolar meshes. The nation-state is no longer the actor of the economy. Here comes the era of “reticular organisms” (3), powers here urban that are surfing financial and technological networks on a global scale, but whose activity it is difficult to quantify since the accounting tools remain prisoners national dimensions.

Is history repeating itself

Gipouloux enhances his demonstration by comparing two contemporary metropolises: Hong Kong and Shanghai. While both cities bear witness to China’s integration into the globalized market, it demonstrates that the former occupies a higher ranking in the global urban hierarchy. It is a major service center: offshore trade logistics platform, coordinator of industrial processes relocated within the continent, manager of foreign investments, while assuming more primary functions (warehouses always). In contrast, Shanghai, which is astounding in its dynamism, gives a small place to service activities and still suffers from the handicaps of the past: planned economy, centralized policy, administrative corruption, lack of legal transparency combine to prevent the city from cutting croupiers her rival.

Whatever the emblematic city of this movement, it is none the less that, moving from the continental base that has been his for two or three centuries of eclipse, China has undertaken to reconquer the place it has long occupied in the world economy: number one. But she can now do that to turn into thalassocracy, she had started doing when Admiral Zheng He in the first half of the 15 th century, projected colossal fleets up eastern coasts of Africa. Yet the question, begun under the Sung in the 11 th century, remains: a decentralized China, following an expansive logic, as opposed to a centralized China centered on the hinterland and to the sclerotic legal system, does it not eventually incur the risk of political disintegration and fragmentation of its economic space?

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