Between 1903 and 1950, aviation technology was spread around the world and became a key concern of governments and a cultural marker of modernity. After 1903, Asia had to be explored again. Almost as soon as heavier than air flight became possible, French and British fliers began pioneering new routes to Asian cities and developing new maps and new airports along the way. With these new forms of knowledge, the colonial powers quickly moved to tie together their empires. New mapping techniques allowed for new forms of control, including what the British called “air policing,” the idea that judicious use of aircraft, and in some cases bombs and poison gas, could cheaply pacify far-flung colonial populations.
Aviation was one field, however, where the Europeans did not have a long lead on Asians. Just as Europeans were using aviation to express their dominance, Asians were using it to express their modernity. Feng Ru was making and flying his own planes in San Francisco by 1912, and Siam had an air force by 1913. Asian social and political elites, who had once traveled by rail and steamship, now preferred to fly instead. “Air-mindedness” became a marker of global citizenship.
Japan was the first Asian country to have an aviation industry. They proved their technological prowess to the rest of the world when they entered World War II. Their pilots bombed cities and fleets across Asia between 1937and 1945. The experience of being bombed as well as the drills and community organizations that grew out of experience ushered in a societal awareness of the military power of airplanes. The war culminated with two atomic air raids and was followed by a scramble to occupy and connect the newly liberated and independent parts of Asia. The post–World War II period led to an intensified effort to tie Asia together with faster transportation
Navigation played a major role in the integration of East Asian polities and economies prior to and during the arrival of European traders in the 16th and 17th centuries. That arrival stimulated an increase in the volume of intra-regional trade in East Asia as Chinese merchants organized exports on a large scale to meet European demand, yet the history of the production of nautical charts in China has been little studied, due in no small part to the poor survival of sea charts and other documentation. The most important new addition to maritime charting in the past decade is the rediscovery of the Selden Map in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. This map of navigation routes throughout East Asia is unprecedented, and may be seen as marking the beginning of the transformation of Chinese cartography under the influence of European mapping techniques.
Monica H. Green
When the first hominins and their successors migrated north from Africa into Eurasia, they created a new, interlinked disease environment. They brought some diseases, such as malaria, with them from Africa, and newly encountered others, such as plague, in Eurasia. Regional changes in climate played a role in human health, not simply due to their influence in determining the success of year-to-year harvests and grazing lands, but also because periods of warming or severe and sudden cooling shifted the interactions between humans and the flora and fauna that made up their environment. Exchanges of disease between the two continents would continue up through the medieval era. Whereas vast distances and low population density likely shielded Eurasian populations from frequent epidemic outbreaks up through the Neolithic period, by the beginning of the common era, with its vastly intensified trade networks, Eurasia would begin to see a new phenomenon: pandemics, including the Justinianic Plague and the Black Death, the largest mortality events in human history. The diseases of medieval Eurasia are still among the world’s leading infectious killers and causes of debilitating morbidity. Because they have all persisted to the present day (with the exception of smallpox), modern science plays an important role in their historical reconstruction.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History. Please check back later for the full article.
In 1907 the first Japanese-made motorcar was unveiled. A century later, the phenomenon of kuruma banare [車離れ], literally “turning one’s back on the car,” but often translated as “de-motorization,” appeared in the international press. Falling sales suggested that Japan’s domestic car market had reached full capacity reversing an almost continuous historical trend of increasing car ownership. In the 1960s and 1970s, personal car ownership changed the social and cultural fabric of everyday life and transformed the urban environment and landscape. However, the automobile also became the focus of anxieties about traffic congestion, air pollution, noise levels, and safety and by the end of the 20th century was seen as ultimately damaging to community, social harmony, and the environment. While reports of the death of the motorcar turned out to be exaggerations, Japan became the “Asian pathfinder” for setting ultimate limits for the growth of fossil-fueled automobiles worldwide. Historiographically, the focus on the astounding success of Japan’s major automobile manufacturers in international markets drew attention away from the social and cultural history of the car itself in Japan. Yet the story of how Japan was transformed from an essentially wheel-less society at the dawn of the 20th century into the first industrial power to have achieved almost full-capacity car ownership is no less remarkable and sheds light on current dilemmas surrounding car use and sustainability in developing countries such as China and India.
Modern science and technology (S&T) has been present in India almost as long as it has anywhere else in the world. But the nature of its blossoming in India was substantially different, due to the huge (if not sole) role played by India’s colonial experience—especially the British colonial rule. The colonial state used modern S&T in practical and ideological ways to control the territory and its resources, and to keep colonial subjects in awe and submission. Correspondingly, the local intelligentsia’s interest in science was marked by ideological and instrumental concerns. The compulsions of colonialism did not allow for an easy flow of knowledge and expertise. Yet, with limited openings in education and scientific professions, Indians were able to acquire a measure of proficiency that could even lead to a Nobel Prize. The engagement, however, was not marked by one-way diffusion and passive acceptance, but by active appropriation and redefinition according to local imperatives. There was also an active critique of modern S&T—especially in its “big” forms and violent faces. After independence, the new nation state opted for a path of massive development of industry and agriculture through deployment of modern S&T, whereby world-class institutions, infrastructure industries, and research laboratories were opened in different parts of the country. While these have produced remarkable results, the meeting of science and state has led to stark ironies and difficulties. Also, continuing critiques of the authority of modern S&T, the undesirable economic, social, and ecological effects produced by it, and the renewed interest in “traditional alternatives” pose serious challenges to any uncontested or triumphalist march of modern S&T in India.
During the 518 years of Korea’s Chosŏn dynasty (1392–1910), many things changed and many things stayed the same. After the Yi family established the Chosŏn dynasty, Confucianism became the dominant philosophy. Although Confucianism’s grip on Chosŏn weakened somewhat at the end of the 19th century, it nevertheless continued to provide the basic framework for how government officials and most of the educated elite conceptualized ethics, religion, nature, and technology. This changed when the Chosŏn dynasty was absorbed into the Japanese empire in 1910. Chosŏn-era science, technology, and religion operated within a Confucian framework. This affected astronomical, geographical, mathematical, and medicinal thought and practice. It also affected the role of technology in Chosŏn life and society. Moreover, when Buddhism, folk religion and, from the end of the 18th century even Christianity, were practiced in Korea, it was necessary to maneuver within constraints imposed by a Confucian state and society.
Korea’s Confucianism was imported from China. Koreans, however “Koreanized” what they adopted from China to make it their own. When dealing with religion, Chosŏn-era Koreans adopted a much harsher attitude toward non-Confucian religions. When dealing with science and technology, Koreans sometimes made improvements on Chinese models. For example, in the 15th century, Koreans built astronomical instruments that were better than those they had learned about from Chinese astronomers. And, in the 17th century, Koreans produced the most comprehensive encyclopedia of traditional East Asian medicine of pre-modern times. However, none of those changes threatened the hegemony of Confucianism. Chosŏn Korea remained Confucian in its science, technology, and religiosity for over five centuries.
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.
The Indian Ocean and its adjoining seas, from the Middle East and East Africa to Southeast Asia, have been witness to the nautical ventures of most, if not all, major sea powers of world history. Progress in nautical archaeology in the past few decades has brought about a much better understanding of shipbuilding traditions of the Indian Ocean, until then limited to textual and ethnographic sources. Only a few shipwreck sites and terrestrial sites with ship remains have been studied so far along the shores of the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, or the Indian Ocean proper. Many more were found in recent excavations in the Southeast Asian seas, which were built along Southeast Asian or Indian Ocean shipbuilding traditions.
Two main technical traditions can now be clearly identified for pre-modern times: the Arabo-Indian sewn-plank ships of the western Indian Ocean, which survived into our times, and the Southeast Asian vessels that evolved from a distinctive sewn-plank technology to fully doweled assemblages, as could still be observed in Indonesian vessels of the late 20th century.
The still limited number of shipwrecks brought to light in the Indian Ocean as well as the considerable imbalance in archaeological research between the Indian Ocean proper and the Southeast Asian seas have hindered the advancement of the discipline. Considerable difficulties and interpretation problems have moreover been generated by biased commercial excavations and subsequent incomplete excavation records, not to speak of the ethical problems raised in the process. Such deficiencies still prevent solid conclusions being drawn on the development of regional shipbuilding traditions, and on the historical role of the ships and people who sailed along the essential Indian Ocean maritime networks.