Empire in Asia

A New Global History

The European Miracle

Book Cover

Book Title

The European Miracle: Environments, Economies and Geopolitics in the History of Europe and Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003


Jones, Eric


The author broaches the main question of why Europe emerged at the forefront of economic development. Recognizing that China, Mughal and the Islamic world had also developed sophisticated integrated market systems and a single coinage system, Jones regarded these practices as remaining insufficient to bring about much growth. The author recognizes that Europeans had arrived late at the Asian trade since the bulk trade had already existed, confined within the Mediterranean Basin, Chinese waterways, the Sea of Japan and the 'Indonesian Mediterranean". Yet, Jones saw that differences in trading activity around the world were those of degree, and not of kind.

Two perspectives were highlighted as reasons for British economic development after the acquisition of colonies. The 'Little Englander' view talks about Britain industrializing unaided in an income-stagnant world, while the 'imperialism view' sees British or European industrialization achieved at the expense of non-Western societies. Despite acknowledging that there was some truth in the 'imperialism view', Jones blames Asia's downward economic trajectory on Asian imperial powers rather than the Western imperialists. He compared Europe's economic development to Asia; that the former escaped the categorical dangers of giant centralized empires as those in Asia.

Scope (Topics Covered, Time Period)

The period in focus is 1400-1800, within which the author broaches the topics of the despotic nature of Asian empires, contrasted with Europe who was in the midst of the political, technological and geographic upheavals which were to position it as the pivotal birthplace of the industrial world. Jones explore the adverse consequences of the Mongol invasions, conquering China and Persia, reducing their value in an instant. He blamed the nature of Asian empires as possessing an inherent inability to provide a sustained long-term of economic development.

Argument (Methodology, Significance)

Jones discusses at length the adverse consequences of the Mongol invasions, conquering China after a loss of one-third of its population, reducing the irrigation agriculture of Persia to desert status. Thus, he blames the nature of Asian empires for not being able to provide a sustained long-term of economic development since "Pie-slicing conflicts always recurred when lack of success in war or over-long periods of peace exposed the developmental barrenness of the past" The Ottoman empire was seen to have run out of fresh spoils and corrupted itself ever more in the internal struggle for wealth; Mughal empire ran to the ground on the shoals of Maratha resistance; the Manchu empire ran on, despite eventual massive strife, as long as it could cope with population pressure by an internal colonization.

The repeated labeling of Asian institutions as despotic creates an unfair picture that seems to be explained only by the internal struggles, instability and poor economic and technological development. In addition, Jones repeatedly argue that the nation-state emerged as a positive framework to forge unity by competitive exchanges of know-how and factors of production. However, his argument should be examined with a broader awareness of world history, since there is insufficient comparison between both the Asian and Western empires.

Jones discussed European and Asian economic growth within a comparative framework. The period of analysis 1400-1800 was seen as the period when Europe underwent the political, technological and geographic upheavals which were to make it the birthplace of the industrial world. The novelty of Europe's 'Discoveries' was that it was already complex enough to use the vast resources now within reach, and to develop as world. However, a problem of having comparative framework in judging the military despotisms of the Ottoman, Mughal and Manchu systems as primarily responsible for the blighted developmental prospects of their subjects. This means that the fallacy of this book lies in the fact that it was largely judged according to European terms.

Annotated by Michelle Djong