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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Abdul Sheriff's Clarifying Rejoinder on China

...Thank you for a very interesting review of my book and your powerful recommendation...

One issue that has become quite topical, but frankly I was not working under that cloud at that time, was the rise of modern China. I feel that in your search for why China did not become imperialist in the 15th century and conquered the Indian Ocean before the Portuguese, you stop with the name China, rather than the mode of production in China at that time. I searched for answers not from Achebe or Morris who, from your quotes offer no explanation at all, but from historians of China, such as Wang Gungwu. China was a feudal society with a powerful landed class served by its powerful mandarins, jealous about their monopoly of power within China, Therefore they were hostile to the Ming expeditions which would have opened the way for the enrichment of the merchants and other classes, or further strengthen the Emperor. With the first opportunity, they forced the winding down of the adventure. The rest is ‘ifish’ history.

I do not think this analysis can be carried over to modern China which is emerging as a so-called ‘socialist/capitalist’ state that is at the stage of grabbing natural resources for its capitalist classes. I myself asked the question at one of the conferences at what stage China may embark on imperialist expansionism to protect its worldwide interests if they are challenged. But I do not want to enter into that debate, because it will require a more profound analysis of the current mode of production and the changed circumstances in the world, instead of joining the bandwagon of China-bashing based on rather shallow analysis that I have seen so far – and nor is that within my interest or competence.

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