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Prof. Kenneth L Pomeranz Visit GHC of CNU

Professor Kenneth L Pomeranz from the University of California at Irvine made a brief visit to the Global History Center at Capital Normal University on July 14th, 2010, where he gave a lecture on the land rights and economic change in China and its long-term impact on China's contemporary development and earlier in the morning attended a seminar along with the faculty at GHC, its graduate students and PhD candidates.

Prof. Pomeranz's seminar focused on two themes which are closely related to both his widely recognized work The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy and the questions bewildering the teachers and students interested in the field of comparative history, with one of the themes covering the position of China's history in world history, the other concerning the approach with which we could make global history more than just a compiling method.

Talking about the first theme, Prof. Pomeranz admitted that it's a tricky question, especially for someone from the US just like himself. Because the western academia of history has always considered the progress of modern development is the evolvement of capitalism, in which China is seen as an unhelping part. So he strengthened that the question is not how to put China's history into world history, but how to put it differently. Today there are about 200 countries in the world, among which there are six huge nations geographically: the US, Canada, China, Brazil, India, Russia. How did they become the way it is now? One standard way of looking at world history is to focus on how these dominant nations becoming dominant. In this way, China once again becomes the outsider, but it was not the truth. The capitalism theory is too simple. They only started the progress in the last 500 years. There could be found a spectrum of cases like great countries expansion in ways not similar to Western nations. China's story became alike to that then. The one case he cited is because of the way standard history is afraid, china has sometimes been in the story but never has been in the center area of the narration. Classic, early modern, modern specification is seeing china's awkward fitting in. I don't think we can find exactly right category into which we can put the outsiders. But we should tell and train our students to do this, to consciously tell which category is better than the standard one. The unity structured by the westerners is not for the globe and also it cannot account for all the dynamics of all civilizations. Dynasties in china for a long time provided the dynamics as well. In a sense, late Ming to mid 19th is an integral part of development despite of the two different dynasties. He wants to study a China history in the center place of the world.

The other thing Prof. Pomeranz emphasized is that strengthening china's position doesn't have to take china as a whole. That's why he chose to study England and Jiangnan, or maybe Lingnan, and then draw our attention to the comparison between them. The silver flow into China from the new world was not identical throughout China either, we could be sure that its impact gets weaker as we go from the coast inward. So we can look beyond the nations as well as break them into pieces.

Along those lines, we cannot insist the historians take the world as a whole at all time. World history is to see the world as a whole, or maybe as civilization unit. China could be put into different units of those kinds, like the unit of the East Asia, of the Silk Road, of South China Sea, of Himalayan mountain foot. What we find productive more and more is to explore the new units into which we can put world history. Of course, questions like taxation or those concerning the government still need us to look on the national level. But the essence of Prof. Pomeranz's work is to live off the government as possible. His way is to see how long he can go without its involvement. Someone says china didn't have private land rights, or china's Confucius is not encouraging for the merchants. Those are not fully fowl in any way, but they need more explanation. So we are not erasing government at all, but to try to do history without it, and bring it back the last minute we need to.

When comes to the question of how to do history, Prof. Pomeranz followed his earlier points concerning different units. He believes that none of them is necessarily better than the other. What topics of history are practical for human being or say graduate students? We will continue in a narrow range of topics. Scholars studying world history can be traced back to 5 schools, and they keep arguing with each other well at the same time cooperating with each other. This is the approach they adopt to manage world history in a practical way. The other way is to stand up on Mars, that is to say to find other point of view. He said that after 1800, there are gradually more global phenomena like children education by their non-kin??s, but there are few people studying it. Another example he gave the audience at GHC is choosing marriage partners. This part of convergence deserves our attention. In Prof. Pomeranz's viewpoint, there are lots of ways to slice history into pieces which we are capable of managing.

Prof. Pomeranz then continued: the railroad construction and designing is a rather old topic, it turns into totally different problem if we focus ourselves on this specific network of people designing and building it. Looking at the problems confronting people then or people working at railroads in different parts of the world will be rewarding. This is another way of curving out the practical history which will still take us around the world. He also raised the suggestion that we choose comparative history that will take us to various places which we find interesting. The point is to use world history to break away from the old-fashioned comparative history which treats nations as people and to find a topic small enough, seizable, and then take it around the world. An example of this is the developing of ports, or its quarantine with which to coerce people. Prof. Pomeranz suggested that the problems other kinds of social sciences had better answers used to be very bad in our view. But we should learn from them, including those economists. And he also mentioned something indispensable in the study of comparative history: the elements of comparative study must be similar in some way. How can we put an apple computer and a horse together? He believes that the time when the boundaries melt down is when history gets interesting.

Prof. Pomeranz then lectured to the faculty and students here at CNU with his latest research concerning the land rights and economic change in China and its long-term impact on China??s contemporary development and communicated with the students.