Ox­ford his­to­rian’s talks about ‘age of Asia’

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE PEOPLE - By YANG YANG yangyangs@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Ox­ford Univer­sity his­tory pro­fes­sor Peter Frankopan says his­to­ri­ans should be brave: “Oth­er­wise, there is no point of writ­ing his­tory.”

In his lat­est book, The Silk Roads: A New His­tory of the World, he has tried to nar­rate the his­tory of the world from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive — from what “kept be­ing told of the im­por­tance of the Mediter­ranean as a cra­dle of civ­i­liza­tion, when it seemed so ob­vi­ous that this was not where civ­i­liza­tion had re­ally been forged”, as he writes in the pref­ace.

“The real cru­cible, the ‘Mediter­ranean’ in its lit­eral mean­ing — the cen­ter of the world — was not a sea sep­a­rat­ing Europe and North Africa, but right in the heart of Asia.”

At the end of the 672-page book, Frankopan con­cludes “we are see­ing the signs of the world’s cen­ter of grav­ity shift­ing — back to where it lay for mil­len­nia”.

Af­ter elab­o­rat­ing the his­tor­i­cal de­vel­op­ment of the Silk Roads since its birth more than 2,000 years ago from dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives, such as faiths, trades, wars and dis­eases, Frankopan writes: “It is easy to feel con­fused and dis­turbed by dis­lo­ca­tion and vi­o­lence in the Is­lamic world, by re­li­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism, by clashes between Rus­sia and its neigh­bors or by China’s strug­gle with ex­trem­ism in its western prov­inces. What we are wit­ness­ing, how­ever, are the birthing pains of a re­gion that once dom­i­nated the in­tel­lec­tual, cul­tural and eco­nomic land­scape and which is now re-emerg­ing.”

Ques­tioned by many crit­ics on be­ing “overly op­ti­mistic” about the con­clu­sion of his book, Frankopan says in an in­ter­view with China Daily: “I’m not be­ing op­ti­mistic. I am say­ing that there is al­ways part of the world that drives and is most af­fected by changes, and it has al­ways been like that.”

The whole world is in the process of change, he adds, and “I could try to an­swer, but the key point is that the change doesn’t hap­pen in the space of one week, one month or one year, and we’ll see what will hap­pen”.

He at­tributes the change to what was hap­pen­ing in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pak­istan, In­dia, China and even the last phase of the for­mer Soviet Union some 25 years ago.

“That was the birth of the change. We’re liv­ing in an age of Asia,” he says.

In the con­text of the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive, Frankopan says the great­est chal­lenge for China is the need to con­stantly ex­plain it­self to the out­side world.

“That’s hard,” he says.


There is al­ready a strong be­lief in China, not just within govern­ment but also among peo­ple, that the Chi­nese are very spe­cial, Chi­nese cul­ture is very rich and Chi­nese his­tory is strong, he says. “There’s no need to be ex­plain­ing this way.”

That can be bet­ter done by mak­ing as many friends as pos­si­ble, he says.

Although it still needs time to see how the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive de­vel­ops, Frankopan says, “I’m still more or less op­ti­mistic in­so­far as it looks to me po­ten­tially the most im­por­tant in­vest­ment plan for hun­dreds of years”.

Since he pub­lished The Silk Roads: A New His­tory of the World in 2015, more than 1 mil­lion copies in English and other languages, in­clud­ing Fin­nish, Korean, Dutch, Dan­ish, French Swedish, Rus­sian, Croa­t­ian and Spanish, have been sold, mak­ing the book a best-seller around the world.

Since the Chi­nese trans­la­tion of his book was pub­lished in Septem­ber 2016, more than 500,000 copies have been sold.

Since he was 6 years old, Frankopan has been fas­ci­nated by the world map and cu­ri­ous about the cen­ter of the world. He says he has be­ing work­ing on the book for 40 years.

Happy with his work as a his­to­rian, he has spent the last 25 to 30 years work­ing in li­braries, look­ing for an­swers to his own ques­tions, such as: Why the world to­day looks the way it does? Why is it that English lan­guage is so com­mon all over the world? Why is it that China is chang­ing to­day?

Ev­ery­body is try­ing to un­der­stand what the world is go­ing to be to­mor­row, but they are look­ing to the past to ex­plain that, he says.

“Sud­denly it looks that th­ese ques­tions that I’m ask­ing, ev­ery­body else wants to know some an­swers. And I’m mod­est enough to know that I don’t have all the an­swers but at least I’ve tried to think about what th­ese ques­tions are and I think that’s why this book has been so suc­cess­ful all over the world,” he says.


The Chi­nese trans­la­tion of Peter Frankopan’s

Peter Frankopan, Bri­tish

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