If an Oxford don had set out in the 1960s on the formidable task of writing a history of the world in the last millennium, almost certainly his main theme would have been the rise to dominance of the West, especially in the areas of science, politics, and economic and military power. This would have been true no matter which side he supported in the great ideological divide of the Cold War. Both the political Left and the Right had little doubt the West was the vanguard of history. The major Asian civilizations might have held vastly greater populations but for at least five hundred out of the past thousand years they had been on the receiving end of the great historical movements of the era rather than out in front, setting the pace.

In the Sixties, the history of Asia would have been written as something of a tragedy, a story of opportunities lost, of the closing of minds, of political weakness and disintegration. China, ...


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