March 9-12, 1998
Beijing University, PRC
The IIAS-Beida International Symposium on Modernization in Asia and China: 1860-1960
During this conference some thirty papers were presented by both Chinese and Western scholars. Many stressed the role of government in modernization, and some questioned the modernization of government and challenged ideas about its proper functions in society. The traditional Marxist-Leninist framework of analysis (including such issues as periodization, the role of imperialism and colonialism, and the result of state intervention in capitalist development) was quite noticeable, but increasingly, attention was turned to internal social and economic factors in China and other Asian countries. Sometimes, such as with the generalizations about the adaptivity of traditional Chinese culture and its periodic waves of 'self-negation' (in contrast with the 'complete westernization' of Taiwan) by Chang Paomin of the Institute of Political Economy of Taiwan Chengkung University, historical interpretations differed widely.
In accordance with the conference theme, transnational issues were highlighted. Different periodizations were suggested for the process of peripherization in Southeast Asia, which some saw as a twin sister of modern commercial development. Several historians compared Japanese and Taiwanese or Korean developments with those in China. Liu Hong (National University of Singapore) sketched the role of China (or rather, of its image) in the post-colonial build-up of Indonesia, and Kurt Radtke analysed the foundations of the image of China in pre-war Japan. Vermeer examined the rapid economic modernization effort of the Chinese government in Taiwan under pressure of the Western powers and Japan from the 1860s till the 1890s. Thomas Lindblad outlined three phases in Indonesia's economic orientation, using international trade and investment data. Li Minghuan presented interesting data about the life and work of Wenzhou migrants in Europe.
Most historians showed great interest in such economic questions, such as industrialization and capital formation. Zhu Yingui compared the role of capital in China with that in Japan. Some papers discussed rural organizational change. Chong Wai-keong contrasted the Chinese share-holding companies set up since the late Qing period with the Western limited liability companies, and stressed their nationalistic appeal and fund-raising efforts. David Clayton characterized Hongkong's industrial structure as being dominated by small, market-oriented, family firms, and looked for explanations of why their transaction costs were so low. At the micro-level, Wang Hongsheng analysed the links between politics and education in the recent history of his native village, and particularly the conflicts between the youth and the older generation.
Professor Dong Zhenghua of the host institute, the Center for Studies of World Modernization Processes, scrutinized modernization, first as a process and second, as a goal; besides the progress from agricultural to industrial societies, he emphasized cultural and psychological changes: secularization, urbanization, and diversification.
Very lively exchanges of views followed the formal comments of the discussants. Dong Zhenghua and Eduard Vermeer will edit a selection of revised papers, for publication in book form in the Beida Modern History series, scheduled for spring 1999.
Dr Eduard B. Vermeer is a member of the Academic Committee of the IIAS.