Asia in Western and World History: A Guide for Teaching
The teaching of the histories and cultures of Asian lands in American colleges and universities has become increasingly important as the role of Asia in the international economy grows almost geometrically (notwithstanding recent economic troubles in the region). However, a large proportion of those expected to incorporate Asian topics into their lectures do not have a background in the region, and often those who wish to include Asia in their lectures do not know where to turn for information. Compounding the problem is the fact that many college libraries (especially at the community college level) have only recently begun to add titles on Asian topics. Asia in Western and World History, edited by Ainslee T. Embree and Carol Gluck, includes essays by over eighty scholars and is a wonderful resource for those instructors interested in finding material for lectures on Asian history or simply material to enrich lectures that deal predominantly with Western themes. Even history instructors whose specialty is an Asian land or region will find a wealth of stimulating information in this work. [End Page 436]
The guide is divided into four sections: (1) “Asia in Western History,” with essays designed to assist the integration of Asian topics into courses with a primarily Western focus; (2) “Asia in World History,” containing essays on topics that could be integrated into world civilizations lectures or topics that could stand alone as lectures themselves; (3) “Modern Asia, 1660–1900,” providing an overview of recent Asian history, organized chronologically; (4) “Themes in Asian History,” including survey essays on topics that could be integrated into a variety of history courses. A section called “Postscript” offers summaries of all the included essays. The instructor in search of Asian topics can skim these one- or two-paragraph summaries before plunging into the main essays. Indeed, an instructor would benefit by using these summaries as guides to whole lecture topics as well as supplementary material. The essays themselves include discussions of major debates on topics in Asian and world history, as well as chronological narratives surveying particular topics.
It is impossible in a short review to provide more than a couple of examples of the variety of materials contained in this guide. I was especially pleased to see several essays on China by Cho-yun Hsu. His ability to make understandable a broad view combined with specific details is fully on display. His short essay, “Some Contrasts and Comparisons of Zhou China and Ancient Greece,” includes a wonderful comparison of the influence of Plato and Confucius on the West and China, respectively. After noting the sharp differences in the premises of these two philosophers, he concludes that the Confucian literati in many respects resembled the educated guardians of Plato’s republic.
Another example is Lynda Norene Shaffer’s essay, “A Concrete Panoply of Intercultural Exchange: Asia in World History,” which places the early European voyages in world historical context. Shaffer’s main point in this essay is that “the voyages and many of the developments associated with them were not without their precedents” (p. 810). Shaffer then details these precedents, providing material that would enhance several of the lectures in a world civilizations class. After reading this essay, one should go back several hundred pages and read a few of the essays in the section “Asia in World History” for more information, organized geographically.
Although I was impressed by the overall usefulness of this guide, I was disappointed that very few of the essays contain references or guides to further reading. For example, the otherwise excellent essay by Henry D. Smith II, “Five Myths about Early Modern Japan,” would have been enhanced by an annotated list of readings. The notes at the end of the essay really do not provide enough guidance for someone [End Page 437] interested in pursuing the topics presented. Those who are not Asia specialists (and many who are) would be greatly assisted by being equipped with the means to go beyond the material presented in the essays.
In their introduction the editors go to great lengths to apologize for what is not included in this guide. This is not necessary. Nobody, including this reviewer, is going to be completely satisfied with all the interpretations presented or the selection of topics. And, as the editors themselves acknowledge, the guide is not intended to be a complete, state-of-the-field collection of essays on Asian history. Better to have stressed instead what the guide is, rather than what it is not: a compendium of essays on Asian topics that instructors will feel comfortable browsing through in their search for material to broaden the scope of their lectures.