Nayan Chanda Interview (2007): Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley
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Nayan, welcome back to Berkeley.
Thank you very much, Harry.
When did you get the idea for doing this book?
The idea of doing this book came towards the beginning of this millennium. The idea started in 1999 when I was preparing, as editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review, to publish some special issues on the new millennium in 2000. On doing research to find out what we should be writing in 2000 I said, how [about] finding out how life was on January 1, 1000, so that we can compare how life has changed? That result led me to realize that what we take for granted in Asia as "Asian" wasn't there in 1000. Just an example: chili -- hot food -- is [part of] Asian culinary identity. Chili wasn't in Asia. Chili was brought by Portuguese and Spanish traders in the sixteenth century. Same thing with tobacco. Chinese are the world's biggest smokers, but there was no tobacco until the sixteenth century. Stuff like that made me realize that the world that we live in today has roots going to far, far away, and far distant in time. Thinking all that and asking myself questions brought me to take a look at globalization and history in perspective.
And your purpose and goal is to inform people about the intricacies of this history and how it led to where we are today?
Yes, it is. To understand how we came about, how the world we live in now came about. Globalization as a terminology is very distinct; it came into the dictionary only in 1961. But as a historical process in which world communities, people living distances, were increasingly connected, that phenomenon is very old. I wanted to track that phenomenon, the process, and how it came [to] where we are today.
In addition to being an editor of these two very important global weeklies, Far Eastern Economic Review [and] the Wall Street Journal weekly on Asia, you were trained in history, and your father was a historian. So, this is like a duck going back to the water, really.
In some ways, yes. As a student of history I always found it extremely useful and interesting to look at present events with some historical perspective, to understand better. So, that's certainly my training in history, and my father's influence certainly played a role.
Going into the book, did you start with a hypothesis about what you were going to find, and did it hold up?
Yes. The hypothesis emerged slowly as I read on. I started asking the question, "Why these things are globalized, how did it happen?" and then asked myself the question, "If it is globalized, somebody must have done it, somebody had taken it upon themselves to bring things from point A to point B and from B to C; who were these people?" The idea of finding actors who were involved in globalization emerged slowly, and I ultimately settled on four actors: the traders, preachers, adventurers, and warriors. So, that eureka moment came pretty early on.
So, you're looking at the world's interconnectedness, and you [find] -- shall we call them Weberian ideal types? Warriors, preachers, traders, and adventurers. Real people; they're not "ideal," but in some sense they're a type that recurs again and again.
And their motivation is universal. The lone traders of the Mesopotamian civilization who started out riding a donkey, going several hundred miles, have now been replaced by 63,000 multinationals who are taking their stuff on container ship and jumbo jet. Preachers -- Christian, Buddhist, Islamic preachers -- have now been joined by a new category of preachers, the people who are interested in human rights, environment. They want the world to live better and live well and follow certain principles. Adventurers, the Marco Polos and the Ibn Batutas, have been now replaced by hundreds and millions of tourists and migrants who are traveling the world looking for a fulfilling life. And then warriors -- Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan's warriors have been replaced by warriors of different types who may be actually flying a predator drone sitting in an air force base in the United States. But the nature of the decision or desire to dominate and establish a universal empire -- that survives. So, that's the point I try to make, that the four motivations that I have defined have been with us from the beginning of history.
Now let's put on your historian's hat. Do individuals make history? As you look at this history that you're talking about, is it the Alexander the Great or the theologian who travels the world who are making the history, or do they become part of larger historical forces? That's an old question in history. Is it men and women that make history or these social forces?
I come to the conclusion that it is individual men and women who make history by riding a tide or a force which goes beyond them. So, if they are not on that tide, if they're not on the flow, they'll not be able to make much difference. But riding that flow they do make a difference.
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