There was a period in World History when for many centuries India and China dominated world commerce. Up to the start of the Industrial Revolution in Europe about 1750, India and China controlled approximately 45% of global wealth. In fact for a thousand years before, the major trade routes across Asia by land (the Silk Roads), and the maritime route across the Indian Ocean, featured an abundance of Chinese and Indian merchants.
One scholar, Scott C. Levi, estimates that there were at any one time up to 35,000 Indian merchants working the Silk Roads. Perhaps there were as many or more Chinese. There were also many Central Asian peoples as traders across Asia, especially the Sogdians. Christianity was present across Asia in these trading ventures, as well as Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam.
A few months ago I wrote a blog post about a recent book called The Silk Roads, by Peter Frankopan. It brings a comprehensive view to the global network of wealth creation before 1500 represented in the routes together called the Silk Roads. Many of these trading efforts ended in the centuries after 1500 with the growth of the European colonial powers and their own trading companies.
But things are changing again. A 500 year period of global dominance by the West and particularly the United States is ending. It will still take a couple of generations to be seen more fully, but it is coming.
There are currently 84 billionaires just in India! In a recent article by Frankopan in the Times of India, the author of the Silk Roads brings out the challenges of global inequalities, including in India. But he also points out that an encouraging trend is happening also in India. According to a recent study by Bain and Co., “the number of Indians giving money to charity the last six years has climbed dramatically, with fully 100 million more people giving time or money to good causes in 2013 than 2009.” (quoting Frankopan).
If Indian and Chinese billionaires, not to mention millionaires, developed a greater commitment to philanthropy, there could be some dramatic changes especially in their own societies. But the impact on world trade also continues to grow by the year. This is not to say that the US and Europe are in irreversible decline. But no one can deny that demographic and social changes are happening.
We are entering now a new 500 year period in World History. It will be messy, exciting, chaotic and filled with hope for millions. More on that in my next post.