THE IDEA OF CHINA: Myth and Theory in Geographic Thought by Andrew March

THE IDEA OF CHINA: Myth and Theory in Geographic Thought

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KIRKUS REVIEW

March attempts to expose the Europocentrism that underlies the stereotypes of China in Western scholarship. He traces myths of the Orient from Greek thinkers through Montesquieu, Turgot and Hegel, finding common interpretations of ""excess"" (the oldest, richest, finest land) and ""uniformity"" (wide planes, masses of people, eons of history). Such theories have contrasted more advanced European ""moderation"" and ""diversity"" (which, it is argued, produce social and intellectual progress) to Eastern historical stagnation. The modern variation is exemplified by Wittfogel: the physical face of China forced it to ""accommodate itself too well to a defective natural setting and thereby lost the possibility of safely generating industrial capitalism (and/or socialism) without outside intervention."" In particular, it was necessary to construct an elaborate waterworks system, which established a broad, overbearing bureaucracy. March insists that a simple reading of the facts refutes this, and that, in any case, the waterworks were organized at the local level. A related myth is that China's resources are so limited that population pressure and starvation will make expansion inevitable. Such fables have been used to rationalize U.S. presence in Asia and suggest an approaching military confrontation. March finds Maoist thought particularly creative: revolutionary social change -- in which ""people are not just passive consumers"" or determined objects of historical cause, ""they are producers and inventors"" -- may be the answer to the ""population/resources"" problem. Non-scholars may find portions of this book recondite, and not all of this is new; but it is well worth reading.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1974
Publisher: Praeger