Chapter 8 begins with a quotation from the New York Times in 2003. In this quote, the journalist is describing the idea of building a paved highway “from the spot where Europe kisses the tip of this continent into the heart of sub-Saharan Africa.” She (for some reason I assume it’s a she although I don’t really know why) writes as though this a novel idea, as if no one has ever traveled through Europe and into Africa before. Does she know anything of history? Has she never heard of trade and trade routes? Exchange among distant peoples from far-away lands is nothing new. Global economy is not a new idea although many think it is. 1500-500 years ago, long-distance trade played a significant role in shaping whole societies. For many, economic self-sufficiency was diminished as they began producing specialized products for trade. Local religions and cultures were also affected as was the health of many people. Initially, trading by land was expensive. Camel caravans could only carry so much and so they frequently carried whatever would bring them the most profit – luxury products, such as silk, destined for an elite and wealthy market. Transportation costs were much lower on the sea. Ships could carry much larger and heavy loads so they eventually carried goods destined for a mass market like textiles, pepper, timber, rice, sugar, and wheat.
The idea of China being the next superpower has, quite frankly, freaked out several people that I know. They are unfamiliar with most of China’s history and know more of, as our book says, the weak and dependent country that existed during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But we owe a lot to the Chinese (and the nations that influenced them) – agricultural and industrial advances, red light districts, woodblock and movable type printing, printed books, navigational technologies, and gunpowder to name a few. Thankfully, foot binding went out of style during the twentieth century and won’t likely make a comeback for a while.
Of particular interest to me in this chapter was the discussion about China’s relationship with its nomadic northern neighbors. China wasn’t a self-contained nation as is largely thought. Even though they built the Great Wall to keep the nomads out, they relied upon them heavily at times and the tribute system they created didn’t quite work the way they said it did. Created to make non-Chinese authorities acknowledge Chinese superiority and their own subordination, the tribute system frequently found emperors “paying heavily for protection from nomadic incursion.” In other words, the Chinese were paying the nomads off – bribing them for their own security. It made me think…how often do we do this same sort of thing in our lives today and, because of our own arrogance and pride, still think that we’re the ones in control?
As a Christian I believe that Jesus was both God and man. I have no idea what the beliefs of Nestorianism were, other than what our book tells me, but I’m surprised that European Christians thought them heretics for their belief that Jesus “had two quite distinct natures, one human and one divine.” That sentence makes me wonder who the Europeans and Nestorians thought Jesus was. Perhaps I’ll find out as I read some more…Nope didn’t find out anything more about that. I did have an interesting discussion about it with some friends though. One idea brought up was that the word distinct, meaning not the same or separate, may have caused the issue for the Europeans.
Chapter 10 didn’t really strike me all that much. It basically talked about the spread of Christianity and the unifications and divisions it created over several centuries. I am starting to get a little annoyed with how our book is organized though. I really wish it would stop jumping back and forth in history and just present things in a chronological manner. Perhaps I’m just more of a linear thinker than the author is.