Lecture Outline: Early Modern Asia

Early Modern Asia

Early Modern exists as a connective era in European historiography between the Middle Ages (which end with the Renaissance, mostly) and the Modern era (which begins with the Industrial Revolution and French Revolution, both late 1700s). It didn’t have much independent character until historians, especially non-European historians, began to try to compare cultural and economic developments.

Historiography and periodization: What is “Early Modern”?

  • centralizing state authority with increasingly regularized — bureaucratic and professionalized — administrations
  • substantial and growing urban economies
  • proto-industrial (aka “putting out”) production of some commodities: specialization and market networks of great sophistication necessary for function.
  • historically high rates of literacy (roughly 25% and up),
  • flourishing entertainment culture: literacy and prosperity support drama, literature, art
  • globalization of trade.
  • Imperialism: most Early Modern societies are either expansionistic or subject to external imperial pressures.

Not all societies meet all hallmarks. More importantly, different societies will reach this era of growth and change (it’s not a stable period) at different times. Just because Europe went through its Early Modern phase from roughly 1450-1750 doesn’t mean that anyone else does.

Early Modern Asia

  • China — Early Modern since the 11th century!
    • Imperial bureaucracy and advanced protoindustrial economy
  • Korea — Early Modern since about 1400
    • Weaker central authority, but high levels of education and literacy and global trade
  • Japan — Early Modern since 1600 unification
    • Samurai control and Castle towns create urbanization, commercialization and rising literacy.
  • India — Early Modern economy and society, but a subject of imperialistic pressures: no centralization, except under British control.

Early Modern is a useful term, if defined properly and used responsibly. It clearly describes both European and Asian developments before the modern, industrial era.