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Trade, Buddhism, and the Kushan Connection: Exchange across the Pamir Knot and the Making of the Silk Roads, 2nd Century bce to 5th Century CE  

Tomas Larson Høisæter

The history of contact and exchange across the mountain ranges radiating out from the Pamir knot, separating the three regions of Central Asia, Inner Asia, and Northwestern India, can be traced far back into prehistory, seen in the movements of languages, crops, and animals. From around the 2nd century bce onward, however, these connections steadily grew in intensity. New political connections were drawn across the mountains by the rise of the Kushan Empire in Central Asia, as they came to control much of Northwestern India and exert a significant influence in Inner Asia. Around the same time, Buddhism was spreading northward from Northwestern India into both Central and Inner Asia, bringing with it several innovations and practices that would come to shape these two regions for almost a millennium. Finally, paralleling these political and cultural developments, economic interaction between the three regions steadily grew, with both merchants and large quantities of goods moving between them. These developments feed into one another as local communities grew more and more enmeshed into the growing networks, serving to lay the foundation upon which the fabled Silk Roads could operate.

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South Asia in the Great Divergence Debate  

Kaveh Yazdani

Since the seminal publication of Kenneth Pomeranz’s The Great Divergence (2000), there has been a continuing upsurge of writings on the possible reasons behind the rise of the West from a “global perspective.” Most of these studies focus on comparisons between Western Europe and China. Yet, in recent years works on India and the great divergence have followed suit, taking up research questions that have not been as prominent since the proliferation of debates on the subcontinent’s pre-colonial potentialities for capitalist development in the 1960s and 1970s. As of now, the paucity of quantitative data complicates endeavors to compare pre-colonial India with Europe and explore the underlying reasons behind the great divergence. Case studies examining the socio-economic history of a number of South Asian regions are still needed in order to conduct systematic comparisons between both advanced and underdeveloped regions of the subcontinent and those of Europe. The existing evidence, however, suggests that some of the "core areas" of 16th- to 18th-century India had more or less comparable levels of agricultural productivity, transport facilities (during the dry season), military capabilities in terms of ground forces (e.g., Mysore and the Marathas), commercial and manufacturing capacities (especially in textile, ship, and metal production), and social mobility of merchants (e.g., in Gujarat). Moreover, Indian rulers and artisans did not shy away from adopting European know-how (e.g., in weapon and ship production) when it redounded to their advantage. On the other hand, South Asia possessed some geo-climatic disadvantages vis-à-vis Western Europe that also impeded investments in infrastructure. India seems to have had a lower degree of consumer demand and lagged behind Western Europe in a number of fields such as mechanical engineering, the level of productive forces, higher education, circulation of useful knowledge, institutional efficiency, upper-class property rights, the nascent bourgeois class consciousness, and inter-communal and proto-national identity formations.

Article

Treaty Ports and the Foreign Community in Modern China  

Pär Cassel

Unlike other parts of the non-European world, China was never fully colonized by the Western imperial powers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Instead, the Western powers built up a network of open ports, where foreigners could reside and trade under the protective shield of consular jurisdiction and gunboat diplomacy. Even though the treaty ports arguably played a limited role in transforming China’s domestic economy, they became emblematic of China’s and East Asia’s encounter with capitalist modernity, and they left an indelible legacy on Chinese domestic politics and foreign relations. With the notable exception of Beijing and some other cities, most major urban areas in China today are former treaty ports and many of them were the first to open for trade when the People’s Republic of China embarked on economic reform in 1978.

Article

Ships and Shipping in Southeast Asia  

Pierre-Yves Manguin

Southeast Asian polities were destined to play an active role in the world economy because of their location at the crossroads of East Asian maritime routes and their richness in commodities that were in demand in the whole of Eurasia. For a long time, historians restricted their role to examination of regional peddling trade carried out in small ships. Research on ships and trade networks in the past few decades, however, has returned considerable agency to local societies, particularly to Austronesian speakers of insular Southeast Asia, from proto-historic to early modern times. As far in the past as two thousand years ago, following locally developed shipbuilding technologies and navigational practices, they built large and sophisticated ships that plied South China Sea and Indian Ocean routes, as documented by 1st-millennium Chinese and later Portuguese sources and now confirmed by nautical archaeology. Textual sources also confirm that local shipmasters played a prominent part in locally and internationally run trade networks, which firmly places their operations into the mainstream of Asian global maritime history.

Article

The Peopling of Madagascar  

Atholl Anderson

Since the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century the observed ethnic complexity of the Malagasy, the Madagascan people, has been a subject of conjecture in several respects. When did people first reach Madagascar? Where did the different elements of the population originate? What was the sequence of their arrival? What was the nature of their maritime migrations? Early answers to these questions relied on the historical traditions of some Malagasy populations, especially of the Merina and highland groups, and on an extensive archive of historical and ethnographic observations. Recent approaches, through historical linguistics, palaeoecology, genomic history, and archaeology, especially in the last thirty years have provided new perspectives on the enduring issues of Madagascan population history. The age of initial colonization is still debated vigorously, but the bulk of current archaeological data, together with linguistic and genomic histories, suggest that people first arrived around the middle of the first millennium ce or later. Evidence of linguistic origins and human genetics supports the prevailing view that the first people came from Southeast Asia, the majority of them specifically from Borneo. Later Bantu migration from Africa was followed by admixture of those populations and other smaller groups from South Asia, in Madagascar. Admixture in East Africa before migration to Madagascar is no longer favored, although it cannot be ruled out entirely. Voyaging capability is a key topic that is, however, difficult to pin down. There is no necessity in the current data to envisage transoceanic voyages, and no evidence of Southeast Asian vessels in East Africa or Madagascar in the first millennium ce, although it is impossible to rule that out. The safest assumption at present is that contact between Southeast Asia and Madagascar during the period of colonization occurred through the established network of coastal and monsoon passages and shipping around the northern perimeter of the Indian Ocean.

Article

Uyghur Historiography  

Ablet Kamalov

The history of Uyghurs, the Turkic Muslim people indigenous to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China, also known as East Turkestan, is represented differently in historiographies of many countries. Chinese historiography depicts Uyghurs as migrants in their homeland, referring to the migration of nomadic Uyghurs from the present territory of Mongolia in 840 ce, in contrast to the Han Chinese who started settling down in this region much earlier. The history of Uyghurs is interpreted in Chinese works based on the concept of a “Chinese nation,” according to which all peoples populating the country have comprised one nation since ancient times. Uyghurs are therefore depicted as people who never set up their own independent states. The Uyghur ethnocentric vision of the past, on the contrary, substantiates the indigenousness of Uyghurs to their homeland. It highlights the Central Asian origin of Uyghurs, who belong to the family of Turkic nationalities and have a history much longer than that of the Han Chinese. As an oppressed ethnic minority in China, Uyghurs were excluded from writing their own history; therefore, a Uyghur national narrative was developed mainly outside China. Soviet historians made significant contributions to the formulation of the main principles of Uyghur national history. The process of writing Uyghur history is influenced by dominating narratives in PRC and other countries that have sizable Uyghur communities (Turkey and post-Soviet Central Asian nations). Despite the domination of narratives on the history of Uyghurs in many countries, academic research on Uyghur history has gained significant achievements, although as a field of research Uyghur and Xinjiang studies occupy peripheral positions in Central Eurasian studies.

Article

The Appropriation of Islam in the Maldives  

Boris Wille

The Maldives is one of four Muslim majority countries in South Asia. The contemporary Islamic Republic of the Maldives frames itself as a “100 percent Muslim nation.” The state religion is Islam, all 380,000 citizens are Muslims by law, and the practice of other religions is prohibited. Ever since the first Muslim exposure, probably in the 10th century, Islam has gradually evolved into a sociocultural configuration that affects most domains of archipelagic society and culture. It shapes foreign relations, informs legislation, and influences arts and architecture, as well as language and scripture. Scholarship of Islam and Islamization in the Maldives acknowledges the historical trajectories of the appropriation of Islam as well as its contemporary relevance in Maldivian identity and state politics.

Article

Modern Nepal  

Marie Lecomte-Tilouine

Within the study of the modern period of Nepali history, history is considered here both as a narrative with its internal logic, notably the periodization of history produced by Nepali historians, as well as a series of statements, events, regulations, etc., which are incorporated in this narrative. Periodization of history in Nepal establishes a direct and necessary link between modern Nepal and its national territory. Indeed, the beginning of the modern era is determined by the “unification” of the fifty independent kingdoms and tribal territories that gave birth to the anational territory of Nepal during the second half of the 18th century. Such a correspondence makes modernity and the unified territory of Nepal coincide in a single space time. Yet, a closer examination of the logic behind periodization sheds light on its Kathmandu-centric, and dynastic perspective. This resulted in the formation of a hybrid conception of the national territory and of its center of power. From being the standard of the territory’s time and space, the Kathmandu Valley became the chronotope of the historical narrative dealing with the first half of the 19th century. It continued to form the territory’s remarkable center following the seizing of power by the Rana prime ministers (1846–1951), but now by assuming a futurist dimension, which conversely, plunged the rest of the country back in time.

Article

Khorezm and the Khanate of Khiva  

William Wood

The Khanate of Khiva, one of the Uzbek khanates of Central Asia, refers to a political entity in the region of Khorezm from the early 16th century until 1920. The term itself, which was not used by locals who instead used the name vilayet Khwārazm (“country of Khwārazm”), dates from 18th-century Russian usage. Khorezm is an ancient center of sedentary civilization with a distinct culture and history that came under Uzbek rule as the latter migrated southward from their pasturelands on the steppe beginning in the early 16th century. In contrast to the related dynasties in Transoxiana, the Khanate of Khiva retained a greater degree of pastoralism, though the state was still fundamentally built on sedentary agriculture. Though no doubt affected by historical variations in the volume and routes of the overland caravan trade, Khiva remained a key center for transregional trade throughout its history, especially with the growing Russia Empire to the north. Political structures in Khiva remained weak and decentralized until the 19th century, when the Qongrat dynasty succeeded in transforming the khanate into the most centralized state in the region. Among the legacies of the khanate is its promotion of a distinctive Turkic literary culture, which interacted fruitfully with the dominant Persian culture of neighboring regions. As with other states in Central Asia, by the second half of the 19th century Khiva became a target of the expanding Russian Empire, which conquered Khorezm in 1873. While the tsarist state initially preserved a portion of the khanate under Qongrat rule as a protectorate, after the Bolshevik Revolution this state was soon dissolved and absorbed into the Soviet Union.

Article

Islam in Southeast Asia to c. 1800  

R. Michael Feener

Southeast Asia has been a historical crossroads of major world civilizations for nearly two millennia. Muslim traders were sojourning along the shores of the Indonesian archipelago from at least the 8th century, and by the turn of the 14th century local Muslim communities had taken root, and the region’s first sultanate was established in northern Sumatra. Since then, Muslim communities had been established across many other parts of Southeast Asia, where in the 21st century they comprise demographic majorities in the nation-states of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei and significant minority populations in the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and Singapore. The Islamization of these societies, and their inclusion into an expanding constellation of Muslim societies in the medieval and early modern periods, was facilitated by intensifications of activity along the maritime trading routes linking Southeast Asia to ports on the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and Swahili Coasts with those of India and China over the medieval and early modern periods. Over the course of this history, the expansion of Islam in the region was not dominantly directed from any single source but rather the result of diverse, interlaced strands of commercial and cultural circulations that connected the region to multiple points in an expanding Muslim world—adopting local traditions to produce diverse and dynamic vernacular forms of Islamic cultural expression.

Article

Kachin Communities in Myanmar  

Mandy Sadan

The term “Kachin” is an exonym that references several subcommunities, all of which have traditionally resided in the northernmost region of Burma (modern Myanmar). The name “Kachin State” for this region evidences this historical connection. Kachin communities are identified as comprising six main subgroups, but the boundaries of these are often contested. Identity politics in Myanmar is complex and highly sensitive, given the ongoing conflicts in which many communities, including those identified as Kachin, have been involved for many decades; it is also ongoing. Kachin communities also have strong cross-border relations with cognate groups of people residing in northeast India, Yunnan, and Thailand, as well as a globally dispersed diaspora, which is particularly large in the United States, Japan, and Thailand. Kachin communities were impacted directly by the experience of British colonial rule from its beginnings in Burma in 1824, even though they were not brought under any administrative system until after full British control over the Burmese kingdom was established after 1885. However, neither British nor Burmese (later, Myanmar) administrations have been able to bring the Kachin region fully under their control. At independence from British rule in 1948, many Kachin elites hoped that there would be a federal system, but as hopes for this diminished with the emergence of a military dictatorship, the movement for resistance gained ground. As many other parts of the country fell into civil war, so too did the new Kachin State. The Kachin Independence Army was founded in the early 1960s and by 1963 had declared open conflict with the Burmese military regime. A ceasefire was signed in 1994 and provided some respite, but as the situation again deteriorated through exploitative resource extraction, environmental degradation, and the social harms caused by the widespread availability of narcotics and opiates, considerable popular support for a return to war was felt. The ceasefire collapsed in 2011 leading to more active conflict. This social and political upheaval over many decades has resulted in dramatic changes to Kachin communities and has impacted their tangible and intangible heritage irreparably. There is a great deal still to learn about the histories of Kachin communities in Myanmar, but to do so will require creativity and long-term support for and engagement with local scholars and researchers.

Article

Environmental Change and Chinese Empire  

David A. Bello

Agriculture—especially grain cultivation—informed the primary environmental ground of imperial China (221 to 1912 ce) and was ideally intended to produce human habitat from state-supervised environmental change. The consequent political and socioeconomic development of the empire and its constituent dynasties was conditioned within larger global ecological contexts that can be abbreviated as two major climate shifts, the Medieval Warm Period (MWP, c. 1000–1300 ce) and the Little Ice Age (LIA, c. 1400–1900 ce). Before 1000 ce, China likely experienced a number of less prolonged alternations of cold and warm climate, such as the Sui-Tang Warm Period (650–700 ce). Chinese empire’s adaptations in response were rooted in agriculture, augmented by agro-pastoral and pastoral measures mainly concentrated along and above north China’s steppe ecotone. Critical inputs for the sustainability of environmental relations were maintained throughout the imperial period and came from domestic and foreign sources—most critically including the fertile eroded silt of the north China Loess Plateau, the water resources of the Yellow and Yangzi river basins, a high-yield crop suite of both dryland and wet rice varieties, south China fast-growth tree species, and New World silver and highland crops. Ongoing development and exploitation of these resources across the succession of seven major—and over a dozen more localized—dynasties over two millennia allowed China’s population to expand at globally unprecedented rates, numbering from tens of millions around the year 0 ce to hundreds of millions during the 18th century. In the process, biodiversity—especially that of wild growth forest habitats—was steadily reduced from north to south, successively. The empire’s main resource base and population centers correspondingly relocated south of the Yangzi around the watershed Song (960–1279 ce) period, with the Grand Canal tapping both of China’s major rivers to deliver southern abundance as far north as Beijing by the Yuan (1279–1368 ce). Inner and Southeast Asian peripheries came under comparable agro-commercial developmental pressure only during the Ming–Qing period (1368–1912 ce). With the onset of the 19th century, however, destabilizing environmental pressures emerged across the empire, many of them paradoxically driven by once-effective adaptations.

Article

Earth, Water, Air, and Fire: Toward an Ecological History of Premodern Inner Eurasia  

John L. Brooke and Henry Misa

The histories of humanity and nature are deeply entangled across Inner Eurasia. Great expanses of steppe and mountain connected peoples at the far ends of the landmass and sustained unique civilizational zones of nomadic and settled societies. These are regions profoundly shaped by some of the most complex climatic regimes and by one of the most devastating disease vectors in the world. Viewed in the longue durée of the Holocene, the premodern prehistory and history of Inner Eurasia takes on new dimensions when reviewed in the context of the latest work being done in environmental, climate, and genetic science.

Article

Early Medieval Bengal  

Ryosuke Furui

In the early medieval period (6th–12th centuries), diverse terrains of South Asia experienced the rise of regional political powers and the socioeconomic development that would later culminate in the formation of regions. Bengal was no exception and saw the plural strands of historical changes and developments, intertwined with each other. In terms of political process, the first phase of the strand consisted of the rise of subregional kingships after the collapse of Gupta rule in the mid-6th century and the growth of subordinate rulers under them in the subsequent centuries. It was followed by the emergence of regional kingships of the Pālas and the Candras traversing several subregions and the enhancement of their powers in relation to subordinate rulers in the period between the mid-8th century and the mid-12th century. The last phase was the integration of almost all the subregions under the Senas, with stronger control over subordinate rulers and rural society in the second half of the 12th century. In terms of social change, the emphasis was on the hierarchization of land relations from the cultivation of moderate plots by the family labor of peasant householders to the management of large landholdings with layers of overlapping land rights, of which the bottom consisted of actual cultivation by agrarian laborers. Social change also came about through the organization of hereditary occupational groups and the systematization of their mutual relations toward a jāti order. The growth of brahmins as a group—by establishing a clearer identity and imposing their authority in social reorganization—constituted another pillar of the historical process. Political and social processes conditioned, as well as were conditioned, by the economic processes of agrarian expansion and the commercialization of rural economy, which proceeded in the subregions of Bengal in different forms and paces.

Article

European Piracy in the Indian Ocean  

Kevin P. McDonald

Defining European piracy in the Indian Ocean is a complicated task and depends entirely on competing definitions and perspectives. As newcomers to the region, Europeans inserted themselves, often violently, into a complex long-distance trade system that had functioned relatively smoothly for centuries before the Portuguese arrival in 1498. Divergent cultural norms, particularly long-standing religious differences, were a central issue for the militantly Catholic Iberians, as they did not accept nor respect claims of sovereignty from local Muslim and Hindu rulers. Among Europeans, a similar dynamic applied after the Reformation, as rising Protestant empires, such as the Dutch and British, began to compete with the Portuguese, and each other, for control of the lucrative Indian Ocean commodities and markets as they battled for global trade dominance. Since the total number of Europeans in the region at any given moment remained quite low relative to the size of the Indigenous populations, they relied on violence and coercion to achieve their economic objectives. The persistence of European piracy in the Indian Ocean exposes a long-standing interconnected Indo-Atlantic world that is yet to be fully integrated into the historical narratives regarding European imperial and Atlantic histories.

Article

Imperial Maritime China  

Angela Schottenhammer

Imperial China has a long-standing, multifaceted, and interesting imperial maritime history. Of particular importance in this context are the commercial dimensions of China’s maritime contacts with the outside world. From approximately the 7th century until Yuan 元 times (1279–1367), China even developed as a commercial maritime power, although its maritime trade was, until the late 11th century, basically dominated by foreign merchants. During the Yuan and early Ming dynasties (1368–1644), China was also a naval power—the attempts of Qubilai Khan (r. 1260–1295) to subdue Japan are well known. But their maritime interests took the Mongols as far as Southeast and South Asia. The early Ming 明 period, under the third Ming Emperor, Yongle 永樂 (r. 1403–1424), is characterized by unforeseen political, military, and commercial maritime expansion. After 1435, following the instructions of the first Ming emperor, Hongwu 洪武 (r. 1368–1398), China officially retreated from the seas and prohibited all private maritime commerce, until internal socioeconomic and financial problems and the great demand of foreigners—after 1500 also including the Europeans—for Chinese products urged the government to “reopen” its borders for trade. The rulers of the last imperial dynasty, the Qing 清 (1644–1911), first concentrated on securing their maritime borders against competing commercial and political interests, then managed a flourishing trade, increasingly also with Europeans, but were finally confronted with the colonialist and imperialistic claims of the Europeans. After the Opium Wars (1839–1842), the maritime commerce and politics of China were more and more controlled by European powers, especially the British.

Article

Archaeology of Buddhism in Asia  

Himanshu Prabha Ray

The eightfold path shown by the Buddha in the middle of the first millennium bce was founded on wisdom, morality, and concentration. Like other contemporary Indic religions, Buddha dhamma had no central organization, nor did it follow a single text as its guiding principle. Its core principle was refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha, though as it expanded across Asia, it absorbed local traditions, responded to historical factors, and evolved philosophically. The physical manifestations of the dhamma appeared in the archaeological record at least two hundred to three hundred years later, in the form of inscriptions, stūpas, images, and other objects of veneration. Relic and image worship were important factors in the expansion of Buddhism across the subcontinent and into other parts of Asia. This essay is framed. Four themes are significant in the archaeology of Buddhism: the history of archaeology in Asia with reference to Buddhism; defining a chronology for the historical Buddha and sites associated with Buddhism; identifying regional specificities and contexts for Buddhist sites as they emerged across Asia; and finally addressing the issue of interconnectedness and interlinkages between the various sites within the Buddhist sāsana. The active participation of learned monks and nuns in the stūpa cult and their mobility across Asia is a factor that is underscored in this paper.

Article

Zheng He and Ming China’s Voyages in the Early 15th Century  

Geoff Wade

Over the first three decades of the 15th century, Ming China dispatched a succession of naval fleets through the Southeast Asian seas and across the Indian Ocean, reaching South Asia, the Middle East, and even the east coast of Africa. These were the largest and best-armed naval fleets in the world at that time, comprising more than 100 ships and tens of thousands of troops. Like similar overland military missions sent to Đại Việt and Yunnan in the same period; these missions were initially intended to awe foreign powers and create legitimacy for the usurping emperor, Yongle. The maritime missions were generally led by eunuch officials, the most famous of whom was Zheng He. In the 21st century the Chinese state depicts these missions as “voyages of peace and friendship” and utilizes this trope in its contemporary diplomacy. However, the Ming sources reveal that military violence was an integral aspect of the successive voyages, whilst the fact that many rulers from Southeast Asian polities were taken to China by the eunuch-led missions also suggests that some degree of coercion was employed. The missions were ended by the court in the mid-1430s over concerns about the costs and the need for such missions.

Article

Modern Kyrgyzstan  

Rafis Abazov

Modern Kyrgyzstan emerged as a political entity in 1924 when the Kara-Kyrgyz Autonomous Oblast (KKAO) was established as an autonomous oblast (province) under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation after the completion of the border delimitation in Central Asia (1924–1926). However, the oblast very soon was renamed Kyrgyz Autonomous Oblast (May 1925). The oblast was upgraded to the status of the Kyrgyz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Kyrgyz ASSR) on February 1, 1926 (also within the Russian Federation). Its status was further elevated on December 5, 1936 when the country became the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic (Kyrgyz SSR or in short Kirgizia (in Russian) and a full member of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). During its early days, the new republic lacked the cohesive national economic system, strong national identity, and human resources necessary for functioning as a nation-state. Therefore, the central Soviet government in Moscow initiated huge investment and technology transfers, and recruited the tens of thousands of specialists (from teachers to engineers) it felt were necessary to move to the country in the 1920s and 1930s. The consequences of the Soviet policies were two. One was rapid economic growth between 1930s and 1960s (in fact one of the highest in the USSR), including rapid industrialization and urbanization. The other was the rapid demographic change due to the massive immigration from other parts of the Soviet Union, especially from Belorussia, the Russian Federation and Ukraine. The Kyrgyz people benefited from the cultural revolution of the 1920s and 1930s, as the literacy rate grew from 4.7 percent in 1926 to 70–80 percent in 1936 (Soviet official estimates). The Kyrgyz SSR experienced a second wave of industrialization and mass migration in the 1940s as hundreds of factories were moved to the republic from the war zone, and tens of thousands of Volga Germans and people from the Caucasus and Crimea were deported to the Kyrgyz land. However, despite massive investments and impressive economic growth between the 1950s and 1970s, the Kyrgyz SSR remained one of the poorest republics in the term of per capita in the USSR. Economic conditions in the country deteriorated in the late 1980s due to the blunders in the Gorbachev policy of perestroika. Yet, the Kyrgyz government continued to support the preservation of the Soviet Union, although small emerging opposition groups called for secession from Moscow. The Kyrgyz government declared its full independence in 1991 as the Soviet Union finally disintegrated. The country was renamed the Kyrgyz Republic (KR). Under the leadership of President Askar Akayev (1990–2005), the first democratically elected president in the history of Kyrgyzstan, the country became one of the most democratic states in the Central Asian region. It has struggled to revive its crumbling economy and infrastructure and to address its chronic problems of mass poverty and unemployment. Intransigent economic problems and systemic corruption have led to two consecutive revolutions in Kyrgyzstan (in 2005 and 2010). Yet, the country has established economic, legal, and institutional foundations for the development of a modern, competitive and productive national economy as the nation still dreams of developing Kyrgyzstan to become the “Switzerland of Central Asia.”

Article

Asian Piracy  

Sebastian R. Prange

Piracy has been an important and persistent feature of Asia’s maritime history. In fact, the largest pirate organizations in all of history were found in Asia. Although often regarded as the antithesis of trade, piracy is actually closely related to the world of commerce. Pirates were themselves often traders (or smugglers) and relied on merchants to outfit their ships and sell their plunder. Despite the obvious and primary economic dimension of piracy, pirates were also political actors. This observation is significant because piracy has traditionally been distinguished from other forms of maritime predation (especially privateering, but also naval warfare) by stressing its supposedly inherently private nature. In Asia, however, the history of piracy is very much defined by its political contexts. Pirates themselves formed polities, whether as part of established coastal communities or in their endeavors to build their own states. What is more, as was the case in Europe, pirates often colluded with territorial states that used them as an instrument of state power, in order to harass and weaken their rivals. The political dimension of Asian piracy has long been overlooked due to the preponderance of European concepts and sources, which tend to depict all Asians involved in maritime predation as mere criminals. More nuanced studies of Asian pirates, especially when based on non-European sources, promise fresh insights into the commercial, social, and political worlds of maritime Asia.