Nayan Chanda Interview (2007): Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley
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Talking now about the craft at work here in your writing this book, which I will show to the audience again, one gets the sense that the craft of journalism empowers you to tell these stories to further the general education about these problems. Is that a fair assessment? Because in the book there are beautiful stories, vignettes, that powerfully bring home the point.
Yes, being a journalist basically means being a communicator, transferring useful, interesting information to the general public in a way that they can appreciate. Scholars publish papers, scholars publish their research. They don't need to communicate because they are writing for their peers, whereas a journalist is writing for a larger audience who needs to be entertained as they're informed. Just pure information would not do. So, you can say that my being a journalist for over thirty years has helped me to see how I can present these historical facts and analyses in a more attractive way.
In this story you're telling there is an interplay between these different types over time that I would like to talk to you a little about. The Silk Road, which in history is a very important trade route, is also an important route for preachers. Talk a little about that, because these forces embodied in the individual categories, and in the stories of particular individuals in history, interface with each other.
Absolutely. In fact, this is the other thing which I remark in the book, that these four actors are not separated by walls. In fact, all four could be in one person, all four motivations, certainly two or three. Take for instance Christopher Columbus. Was he an adventurer, was he a trader, or was he a preacher? In fact, all three. In fact, he was a warrior, too. He goes out across the Atlantic to go to India. He didn't go to discover anything, so in that sense he was not a discoverer. He was going to an old place, India, by a new route so that you could get there fast, and once he gets there he will get the spices, which makes him one of each person. And he wanted to go to Japan -- "Achipangoo," as Marco Polo described in his book -- which apparently had roofs made of gold tiles. So, Columbus wanted to go to Japan, as well, to get gold. And what do they do with the gold? He will enrich the Spanish coffer so that the Spanish king could raise an army to go and reconquer Jerusalem from the Muslims. So, again, a Christian missionary zeal was one of his motivations.
So, the roles of the actors are sometimes overlapping. And as you mentioned, the Silk Road was developed by traders but it was used by preachers. Xuanzang, the famous Chinese preacher, a monk, came down the Silk Road to India, he spent sixteen years, and he went back by the Silk Road. He went back carrying with him 700 Buddhist texts, which actually was a huge contribution to understanding between China and India, and to overall understanding of Buddhism globally, because those texts survived in the Dunhuang Cave, translated by the Chinese into Chinese. It was found by Aurel Stein, an Austrian archeologist, and those documents provided the information that historians now have to understand what was the Buddhist doctrine like and what was the society like. So, the connections were established by preachers, and adventurers like Aurel Stein find them and bring it to the world. So, there was always overlap between these four actors.
Looking back at this history, not talking yet about the present, which we're going to get into in a second, is it a story of several steps forward and then a few steps back, and then steps forward again? In other words, is there something you can tell us about this cycle of the pendulum swinging forward and then back a little, but then forward more?
Absolutely. This has never been a linear progress. It's always twists and turns and ups and downs. Take, for instance, the Indus Valley civilization, which developed in the Indus River valley in western India, and the Euphrates-Tigris River valley in Mesopotamia. These two civilizations were trading pretty heavily 4000 years ago. Archaeologists now surmise that this trading involved a lot of felling of timber, making of boats, making of houses. Whether as a result of this deforestation, river beds silted up and trading became difficult, and one part of civilization disappeared and the trading stopped. And then the trading began again by another route which later on led to the silk route, basically by using camels.
The camel caravan, and the horse caravan which developed later in the ninth, tenth, eleventh centuries, were also the carrier of bubonic plague from central Asia. The plague germ traveled along the trade route and reached Europe in the fourteenth century. That devastated Europe -- a third of the European population perished in eight years, as this disease spread through the trade route. Trading basically stopped, so we can say that globalization was stopped in its tracks by black death in Europe; but then it resumed again. Those who survived weren't really better, and all the motivations that we have described came into play and life resumed again and trading again flourished
Then, of course, came the rise of the Muslim power in the Middle East, blocking the trade route to India. India was the major destination, and China, for the Europeans looking for spices, silk, cotton textiles. So, then they started looking for alternative routes, which led to Columbus' attempt across the Atlantic, and Vasco da Gama going around Africa to reach India in 1498. So, there have been obstacles and people have found a way around them.
So it's a compelling force which is, you're arguing, embedded in the human condition.
I think it's the human DNA. We can say that globalization, or the desire to leave one's home to go somewhere to connect, to live better, to have an enriching or more fulfilling life, is something that is so inherent in us that it's impossible to stop.
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