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9-08-2015, 21:05


A history of our world over the past century is more fascinating than fiction, filled with drama, the unexpected overtaking events. The lives of millions on every continent have been shaped by changes that occurred. Our world is one of vibrant cultures and different paths of development, a world of gross inequalities, greater than ever. But how is a world history to be written, from what perspective? Inevitably this world history has a Western perspective, but avoids the lofty generalisations of briefer accounts. Basic facts – who has time for them? But without sufficient detail interpretations are imposed and readers are in no position to form judgements of their own. A longer account need not be read all at once, detail need not deaden but can provide insights and bring history to life. Our world is closely interrelated. Today, the US exceeds in power and wealth all other countries, its outreach is global. Economies and trade are interlinked. Visual and audio communication can be sent from one part of the world to another in an instant. The Internet is virtually universal. Mass travel by air and sea is commonplace. The environment is also of global concern. Migration has created multinational cultures. Does this not lead to the conclusion that a world history should be written from a global perspective and that the nation state should no longer dominate? Is world history a distinctive discipline? Stimulating accounts have been based on this premise, as if viewing history from outer space. Undeniably there are global issues, but claims that the age of the nation state is past are premature and to ignore its influence in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries obscures an understanding of the past and the present. The US does have the ability to intervene all over the globe but here too limits of power apply; US policy is based on its national interests as are the policies of other nations. There is global cooperation where it suits national interests but nothing like world government. National interests also contribute to the gross inequalities of wealth between different regions of the world, in the twenty-first century greater than ever. An end to history is not in sight either. It has been argued that the conflict of ideology is past and that ‘democracy’ and the ‘free enterprise market economy’ have triumphed. But these are labels capable of many interpretations. Furthermore, to base history on such a conclusion is taking the Western perspective to extremes. Different paths of development have dominated the past and will not disappear in the future. That is why this book still emphasises the importance of nations interacting, of national histories and of the distinctive cultural development of regions. While endeavouring not to ignore global issues, they are therefore not seen as the primary cause of change, of peace and war, wealth and poverty. The book is based on my reading over the past thirty years, more works of scholarship than I can reasonably list and, for current affairs, on major periodicals such as The Economist, Time, Newsweek, the daily press, broadcasts and a limited amount of foreign news as well as the Internet. But I have also derived immense benefit from discussions with colleagues and students in Britain and abroad. I cannot mention them all individually and must make do here with a collective thank you. But some people have helped so much that I would like to express my appreciation to them individually – to my agent Bruce Hunter, of David Highams, who oversees my relations with publishers, to Victoria Peters of the Routledge publishers Taylor & Francis, to Pauline Roberts, my personal secretary, who now for many years has encouraged me and turned with skill and endless patience, hand-written pages into wellpresented discs. Above all, to Patricia my wife, who has allowed me the space to write and provided spiritual and physical sustenance. Technical note: First, some basic statistics are provided of population, trade and industry in various countries for purposes of comparison. They are often taken for granted. Authorities frequently disagree on these in detail; they should, therefore, be regarded as indicative rather than absolutely precise. A comparison of standards of living between countries is not an exact science. I have given per-capita figures of the gross national product (GNP) as a very rough guide; but these represent only averages in societies where differentials of income may be great; furthermore, they are expressed in US dollars and so are dependent on exchange rates; actual costs of living also vary widely between countries; the per-capita GNP cannot, therefore, be simply translated into comparative standards of living and provide but a rough guide. The purchasing parity guide in US dollars is an improvement but, again, can only be viewed as indicative. Second, the transliteration from Chinese to Roman lettering presents special problems. The Pinyin system of romanisation was officially adopted by China on 1 January 1979 for international use, replacing the Wade-Giles system. Thus, where Wade-Giles had Mao Tse-tung and Teng Hsaio-ping, Pinyin gives Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. For clarity’s sake, the usage in this book is not entirely consistent: the chosen form is Pinyin, but Wade-Giles is kept for certain older names where it is more easily recognisable, for example Shanghai, Chiang Kaishek and the Kuomintang. Peking changes to the Pinyin form Beijing after the communist takeover.