This page is a document to record what has become a 3 year journey in decsontructing my Eurocentric historical programming.
What we Cauc’s refer to as “The Renaissance” was actually in world historical terms just “A Renaissance”. In terms of cultural growth, decline, and rebirth, China has had several “renaissances”. The significant fact about our Renaissance is that it included exploration and contact with other cultures, along with the beginnings of some of the most significant technological changes, in navigation, communication etc. that had effect on societies worldwide.
Some of the questions I have been grappling with, once I have discarded the idea that “the Renaissance” was the ONLY cultural renaissance ever to have occurred are:
Why did this Renaissance occur at this moment in time?
What was unique to Italian socieity and economy that made it a fertile culture for a renaissance?
I just learned through Engineering an Empire series that had the Ming emperor Yongle lived longer, and his Admiral Zheng He had been allowed to continue the voyages of his “treasure fleet”, the beginning of world exploration may have begun with the Chinese, not the Portuguese. The discovery of the Pacific coast of the North American continent could have been the equivalent of Columbus’s landing in the Carribean. Mandarin might have been the common language of the Americas. The last treasure fleet voyage is dated at 1433, and possibly traversed the Cape of Good Hope around the south of the African continent. [Gavin Menzies‘ book 1421: The Year China Discovered the World ] Prince Henry, the Navigator, was contemporaneously exploring the African continent in the opposite direction with the goal of circumnavigating Africa to reach India. What might have happened if these two ocean going superpowers had met ?
Other factors I am aware of are the effects of the Black Death on Medieval economy, and the rise of the economic and political power of the merchant “princes” in the Italian principalities.
But a question I keep asking myself is what was it about Europe and European culture that had the propensity to assimilate and evolve that seemed to be missing in other world societies. Indeed the medieval period survived in Japan relatively unchanged for over 450 years until the Meiji era. Yes, the geographic isolation was a factor, but I think what is more significant is that the value of change is not always viewed postively in Japanese culture, even in modern times. The traditions of the ancient Egyptians went unchanged for 1000s of years, their art and architecture carefully adhereing to a similar foundation of structure and style. By comparison, consider the number of different periods in art history for a period of only 1000 years in Europe from 1001 to 2001. If Eurocentric culture had followed a similar path in artistic expression, the painting and sculpture of the 21st century would have strong resemblance and relationship to the same arts of the 11th century. One needs only to compare the Bayeux Tapestry and the xxxxx by xxxxx to know