Dialogue Between Yale Historian Valerie Hansen & Dr. Wang Huiyao






On May 27, the Center for China and Globalization (CCG) hosted an exchange between Prof. Valerie Hansen, historian, Sinologist and the Stanley Woodward Professor of History at Yale University, and CCG president, Dr. Wang Huiyao.



Like the Belt and Road Initiative (“一带一路”) is inspired by the history of the Silk Road, many elements of globalization today are rooted in history. How does the study of world history shed a light on today’s globalized world?



Living in the 21st century, many ponder when this world started being so interconnected. The study of world history is about discovering links across time and cultures from a global perspective. According to celebrated world historian Valerie Hansen from Yale, globalization began 500 years before Columbus discovered America. In her ground-breaking book, The Year 1000: When Explorers Connected the World—and Globalization Began, Prof. Hansen shows how gradual coalescence of many parts of the globe started to form 1000 years ago, hence the rise of globalization. Moreover, Prof. Hansen suggests China’s Quanzhou in the Song Dynasty was one of the most globalized places in the world at the time.


Topics of this exchange included society, culture and trade in the Song dynasty, the importance of the Silk Road, revelation of globalization 1000 years ago, the significance of Confucianism in the history of East Asia, and challenges facing global governance today such as inequality.



Wang Huiyao: Hello everyone, good evening and good morning. Professor Hansen, good morning to you and welcome to CCG “China and the world” dialogue live from CCG head office here in Beijing. And thank you for joining us today. We have many audiences online, this is a series of episodes that we have been organizing for the last several months and we’re very pleased to have Professor Valerie Hansen with us today. This virtual program is part of the “China and the world” webinar series seeking to engage global thought leaders and well-known scholars on topics connecting current situation and of course the situation of globalization and China’s role in it.


I want to firstly introduce Professor Hansen: she is a world-renowned historian and sinologist and has been a professor at Yale since 1998 and is a great friend of China, she lived in China for six plus years. Professor Hansen is interested in Chinese history and civilization and has taught at or visited institutions in China including Peking University and also Xiamen University. I also saw a report of the lecture she gave at Peking University about two years ago. She was also a visiting scholar to University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, and the Collège de France in Paris.


She has made major contributions to the studies of world history, traditional China and world history. Her books on these subjects have gained international recognition, including The Silk Road: A New History – for which she was awarded with the Gustav Ranis International Book Prize and International Convention of Asia Scholars Book Prize in 2013. Her books also included Negotiating Daily Life in Traditional China and most recently, The Year 1000: When Explorers Connected the World—and Globalization Began, which is where we begin our discussion today.


I have a copy of your book in Chinese, hopefully we’re going to publish it very soon – this is a sample book that I have. As professor Hansen knows, the study of globalization really gets a lot of attention, of course, we are very pleased to invite you to be a guest of our think tank, the Center for China and Globalization. You are a very well-known scholar on globalization and particularly you have extended the length of the process of globalization, suggesting the origin of that was 500 years before Columbus, which I think is a great discovery. And also, we feel that globalization has really changed the world beyond recognition and actually we are now at the crossroads. You know we have de-globalization, continues globalization and many new trends. How are we going to meet the challenge of future globalization – by looking at the history, looking at some of the fundamentals that you’ve been discovering in your book. It is really fascinating to talk about it with you today.


So, I know you’re also very proficient in mandarin, perhaps you could introduce a bit in mandarin and then to say Hi to the large audience in China but also other parts of the world. So, Professor Hansen, can you introduce yourself in Mandarin to the Chinese and overseas audience?



Valerie Hansen: Thanks so much for talking about my book on a Chinese evening and an American morning. I think we communicated before by email about the topic we’re going to talk about today. Mr. Wang and I, we’re both the products of globalization, can we say that? You studied in Canada, England and US, and I studied in Asia. So, we both had the opportunity to study abroad when we were young. You mentioned my book, and the most important conclusion is that it brings the beginning of globalization 500 years earlier. The historians in general think that the Age of Columbus marks a new phase in history. I also think that Columbus and Da Gama start a new phase. If we start from 1500 AD, our main concern is in Europe. So, it’s an Eurocentric history, and my book is going to look at other places. There’s China, there’s the Vikings, there’s Polynesia, they were already running around the world in 1000 AD. Again, I express my thanks for inviting me to today’s conversation.


Wang Huiyao: Thank you. Actually, it’s really fascinating that we’ve been talking to many international opinion leaders or well-known scholars and politicians about the subject of globalization. And you, not only study the history of globalizationmaking a contribution to this area with all the evidence that you been discovering as well as connecting them with logicbut also are very familiar with China. For example, you talked about Fujian Quanzhou in the China’s Song Dynasty. There’s so many international migrants, also merchants and all different kinds of people who came to Quanzhou. I actually visited a museum in Quanzhou where you can see all the evidence of people visiting from the Middle East, India and other parts of the world. So it’s really fascinating to look at that part of history.


We’ve been benefiting enormously from globalization – as you rightly said, we’re productof globalization. You know our experience has luckily brought us to to different parts of the world, so that we have this global view. But what’s the reason that led to you going into this study of globalizationMaybe you can tell us about your background and how you came to this conclusion on the Vikings and people in Quanzhou and how they moved around the world 1000 years ago, which is fascinating history.


Valerie Hansen: I’ve come to globalization from the Silk Road, as you said, and in my Silk Road book focus, of course, on China, what’s now China and now Central Asia. And the year often histories of the Silk Road end around the year 1000, that’s when the cave in Dunhuang closes. And, you know, there’s a theory from a Professor at Peking University named Rong Xinjiang, who has proposed that the people living in Dunhuang heard about the fall of the Cotan to the armies of the Qara Khanid . Their response to that invasion was to close the document cave. Not everybody agrees with that theory, but it’s a known fact that the Qara Khanid do take Cotan in the year one thousand and another event, a key event in the year one thousand is the Treaty of China in between the Liao and the Song. So, when I was finishing the Silk Road book, I knew about those two events and I knew that the Vikings had touched down in Canada really probably around exactly the year 1000. And I wondered if there was any connection among those three events. And I mean, after spending five years looking around, I concluded that a lot of the world are undergoing the same process in the year 1000. Those regions are getting bigger. People are encountering people from other places and from other regions, and that is having a profound effect on people. And there are earlier examples of contacts among people in different countries. Extensive contacts of the Silk Road are one example. The Roman Empire has trade contacts with India, but in the year 1000, more much of the world is affected by these new contacts. And so that’s how I ended up with this topic and this idea,


Wang Huiyao: That’s really great. Your previous book is a masterpiece, The Silk Road: A New History, with documents, basically you describe the remarkable findings that revolutionized our understanding of the trade routes of the Silk Road. So, in this book you explore the eight sites on that island along the road from Xi’an to Samarkand and to the Middle East, where envoys, pilgrims, and travelers mixed in the cosmopolitan community with different religions and explain how this modern commercial artillery becomes the world’s most famous cultural superhighway. So probably we could say, even though globalization begins a thousand years ago, but also probably the spirit, or the ID, you know, maybe some original culture of the globalization already began when the Silk Road started. I mean, that’s where people started to move around, at least culturally, spiritually and communication-wise. Would you say that the Silk Road may also had a huge impact on globalization as well?


Valerie Hansen: I think the Silk Road – what’s going on in China and Central Asia, in the Silk Road, there are parallels in other parts of the world, like Europe. We know less about Africa and America because we don’t have written sources from those places or very minimal written sources. But the impact, I would say, in the period before the year 1000, not that many people are affected. They may meet someone from another place and people in China. I mean, you know, all historical processes, especially when you study China, there’s no beginning. Right? You say this is when things begin and someone says, no, no, no. It begins earlier than you think. There’s an evidence showing that there’s even an earlier evidence of this phenomenon that you’re talking about. And I think with the Silk Road, there’s a shipwreck called Belitung. That’s an African or an Indonesian boat that was found in the Java Sea near off the coast of Indonesia in a place called Belitung. And it was carrying Chinese ceramics. So, the date of the ship is 826 – 827. And we know that because there’s a Chinese a pot with the date written in Chinese on it. And it was carrying 60,000 ceramics. In the year 826, that’s already mass productions. And that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about in my book. That’s a very early example. 100 years later, there’s another shipwreck and it’s carrying 600,000 Chinese pots in a single ship. So, you know, yes, there’s some evidence of it earlier. But I bring up those two examples because those are examples of how shipping and ocean travel is on a completely different scale than overland trade. And the Silk Road is mostly about the period before 1000, mostly about overland trade. And there’s a constraint on overland trade that animals can carry only so much in a period, right? There are no machines, right.? There’s no mechanization. So, you have a group of – I mean, I think everyone’s mental image of the Silk Road is, of camels. In fact, the most of the trade and we know this from Chinese documents is on horseback or on donkeys or in carts. And it’s only on camels when you’re going through the desert, through sand. And if people have a choice in the sand, they go on roads. So, I think there’s a real change in the year 1000, because we see this shift, we see travel that people are on the sea a little bit before 1000. But in the year 1000, we can see in these different places of the Vikings, the Polynesians, the Chinese, we can see this the beginnings of really long-distance sea travel.


Wang Huiyao: I think that’s a very interesting comparison because as you know probably the Silk Road had some element of globalization. I mean, at least ocean travel started when people started to move around. And that really brought globalization to real on a stage and accelerated it. So that’s really interesting to know. I’m glad that you have done this study and evidently, you know, expanded the globalization scope to 1000 year earlier. And, you know, we had a lot of elements and process of globalization basically for the last century and we see how globalization really changed the world with all this modern technology and everything.


So in terms of the globalization, how do you think of globalization’s characteristics? I mean, that was really one of the key characteristics – all the religion, all the cultural exchanges. And, the students exchange, and Xuan Zang, went to India and even during the Tang Dynasty, we had the Japanese students come to China. So how do you see the phase of globalization? Did it start even earlier than year 1000?


Valerie Hansen: Yeah, it is funny. I am going to ask you the same question about the phase of globalization. I am thinking about starting now and going back in time. So that the consensus for that among historians is that the current phase of globalization that we’re in starts in the 1970s, in the 1980s. I don’t know if you would agree with that. And the key thing that observers look at is space time compression. And so that you can get on an airplane and be somewhere, you can travel from New York to Beijing in a day, right? So that space and the time have been compressed. You’re taking a journey that if you had traveled by boat could take, you know, six months is suddenly reduced to one day. And so that’s something that I think is the hallmark of the phase of globalization we’re living in now. That’s something that’s new. This kind of airplanes and computers and the fact that you and I are having this conversation in real time, seeing each other. This is new things that did not happen in the past. But so that’s the first phase, I would say. Is that the phase that you see that would you start in the 70s?


Wang Huiyao: Yes, I agree. I think that you’re right.


As we discussed, I think we have seen some, you know, the sparks and maybe some preliminary phenomenon during the public Silk Road. But I think while you talk about year 1000, that’s when really people started to move around and that globalization started to pick up the momentum. But of course, then we have Columbus discovered the Americans, but even we have Zheng He, the Chinese mariner who has led seven times expedition to Southeast Asia or even to as far as Africa. And so that’s where all the things started to move around and to carry all the products, seeds or even diseases starting to move around. But what I would say that globalization has been really accelerated since the industrial revolution, which I think, as you said,  technology even brought globalization to a much faster pace and the speed and where we are got today now, where we are simultaneously connected with modern technology. So that has brought a lot of changes where we are facing, probably de-globalization as well. So that’s a bit of contemporary time. But looking at the history, I think it’s fascinating to try to trace those the origin, where those things may be beneficial to the mankind. That still is our study today, I hope.


Hansen: Well, I hope so, too.


“Song Dynasty China was the most globalized place on Earth at the time.”


Wang Huiyao: Yeah, so maybe we’ll go back to the history then. So, you know, over 1000 years ago, when Quanzhou welcomed all the foreign merchants and travelers, at that time, Confucianism already prevailed in China. What do you think of Confucianism and its impact on the Song dynasty and also from the historical perspective, how did globalization actually have a huge impact on China? As you said in your book at that time, China has already 100 million population and the whole world probably is only about 250 million. So, China already had quite a big portion of the global population, you know, over 35-40%.


Valerie Hansen: Absolutely.


Wang Huiyao: Sometimes people don’t realize that part of history. Maybe you can give the description of your study of the Song Dynasty and what’s the historical impact regarding globalization? And a lot of things you mentioned in your book as well.


Valerie Hansen: One of the things that I say in the book about the Song Dynasty is that the Song-Dynasty China is the most globalized place on Earth at the time. And the reason I say that is that so many people living in China, especially on the coast, that’s still true today, right? That people on the coast of China are much more affected by these international trends than people in the interior. But people and Quanzhou are a very good example of a city – a coastal city that is affected by globalization. As you said, you can see in the museum the evidence of the foreign residents. There were many tombstones of people in Arabic and there were also a lot of Indians in Quanzhou, and you can see that in the some of the stones from preserved pieces of Hindu temples that no longer survive.


The reason China was so important was that it was already a manufacturing center. When we say manufacturing center, nowadays, I think people immediately think of a factory powered by electricity. Well in the Song, there’s no electricity. I mean there’s electricity in sky, but mankind had not figured out how to harness electricity. But there were huge workshops and kilns making ceramics. I mentioned the ceramics from the shipwrecks because they are the thing that survive archaeologically. But we know that the Song Dynasty also exported metals, not only metal objects like pots, and knives and weapons, but also bars of iron, lead, and tin. So that China had these massive exports that they carried on Chinese ships. The Chinese had the compass. They had discovered the compass so the ships could navigate even if it’s cloudy or at night. Well, they didn’t sail at night. But even if it’s cloudy, they could use the compass to navigate. So, China has these massive exports. I think what people less often think about is the Chinese importing – how many things that they were bringing in. As I talked about in the book, in Quanzhou, lots of people were craving, in Chinese the word is Xiang (香) . Xiang is a very broad term in Chinese. Because it means fragrant woods, like sandalwood, and aloeswood. All these woods that in the modern world we don’t think about very much, unless you happen to have a fragrant box made of sandalwood that you keep some jewelry in. But there’s people in the Song were bringing in these fragrant woods, they were bringing in foods, tastes and spices. All these natural products were from Southeast Asia, and also the Arabian Peninsula. So, there was this huge demand within China for these foreign goods and that’s what was fueling the trade.


Now you asked me about the Confucians. The Confucians didn’t say that much about this trade. There’s an American historian named Charles Hartman, who has just brought out a new book about the Song history. One of his arguments is that there were two groups within the Chinese government. There’s a famous group we know about because they became Confucian thinkers. There were a less famous group of technocrats. A lot of the technocrats were linked to Wang Anshi, that kind of person. I mean Wang Anshi also had things to say, he was a philosopher. But the technocrats were looking at governance and just figuring out what is the best way to tax the trade. So, one of the things that’s very interesting in the Song is that there were innovations in how to tax trade. Everyone knows about the tribute system. We’ve all studied that. It existed in the Tang. It existed in the Song. But it kind of fell by the side that the government was spending much more of its energy on taxing ships that arrived in Chinese ports and collecting 3 kinds of taxes. Besides, there were only certain ports that had the bureaucracy to do this kind of taxation. I talked about Quanzhou and how they handled this before they were recognized as a city that can do this kind of taxation. And there are parallels in later Chinese history of certain ports were designated as free trade zones. But historically this was not a free trade zone. There were certain ports, the ship pulled into the port, the government officials got on the boat, and then they took just a fixed percentage of the ships’ cargo. And it changed during the Song Dynasty, they looked at what was left, and said: “Oh, these are the goods we have a government monopoly on.” Those were very sophisticated ideas about which goods should be sold by a monopoly and they confiscated a share of those. And then there was another category of goods that’s called course goods and the officials said: “Oh, these we care less about. So, we’re going to collect tax on, we’re going to take some of these. But you, the ship owner, can sell these in the port.” When you look at Song-Dynasty documents. You can see that officials were trying to decide how much taxation they can do. If they tax too much, merchants won’t come again. If they tax too little, then the government doesn’t have the revenues it needs. So that’s very sophisticated. I don’t know of anything like that happened in other parts of the world in the year 1000.


There were more natural limits on globalization around the year 1000 than today


Wang Huiyao: Yeah, it’s great. It’s fascinating to hear you talk about the vivid life of the Song Dynasty. When you said it’s the most globalized place in the world at that time, it’s really fascinating to review. Actually, my father came from Hangzhou. I see how the region now in China, even today, has revived very strongly, with a lot of great traditions. Of course, Quanzhou, as you’ve mentioned, had already become one of the biggest ports in China, probably in the world, too. So, is there any lesson we can learn from the Song Dynasty as they got so globalized? As you said tax system was so advanced, and they kept it balanced. It was not only driving the merchants out, but also keeping them motivated to do more businesses with foreign trade. Also, Song had signed Chanyuan Treaty with Liao and managed to secure a very long period of time of security and peace. I had a dialogue with Graham Allison. He was also fascinated about this special treaty and thought that was one of the exceptions that we can get out of the Thucydides Trap. So, comparing that with now, what lesson can we learn from the Song Dynasty? Because China now is facing a lot of competition. As we talked about the ports, China has seven out of the ten largest ports in the world now. China’s trade is also doing well. China is probably still trying to restore its rightful place, to restore the Song Dynasty’s glory that it used to have, like population wise, trade wise and globalization density. But China now is facing a lot of challenges. What do you think of those, and lessons we can learn, or what we can draw from history? How can we continue the process of globalization? Comparing globalization now and then, what are the similarities and what are the new challenges?


Valerie Hansen: They are interesting questions. You know my book is called the beginning of globalization. I’m not claiming that in the year 1000, globalization was fully developed. In terms of how many people in the world knew about the whole globe, there were probably just a handful of geographers writing in Arabic who had a mental vision of the whole globe and knew which parts of the globe had people on them. They didn’t know about the Americas, but they knew how big the globe was and they knew how many of those places people were living in. I think a big difference between globalization in the year 1000 up to 1500 and today, is that in the period I’m writing about, there were natural limits on globalization. So, I told you about the shipwreck that from the year 930 that has 600,000 ceramics on it. But the reason we know about that is it sank. That ship sank in the Java Sea. So, historically it was possible for an exporting country to export a certain amount of goods, but never enough to overwhelm the local production. So, archaeologists have found Chinese ceramics all along the coast, Southeast Asia, India, the Middle East, and East Africa. You talked about Zhenghe’s route. Absolutely, the Chinese were active and much earlier than Zhenghe on this route all the way from, Guangzhou, Quanzhou to Mombasa, to East Africa. So, we can find Chinese goods, and we know the Chinese goods were being sold all along that route. But we also know that local manufacturers were continuing to produce. And we know that archaeologically because we can see copies of Chinese vessels. There’s a picture in my book of a Chinese vessel that was found in a city in Iran called Shush or historically Susa. And we have a local copy, which was actually very inferior. The Chinese vessel is quite beautiful and has a clean, white glaze. The local vessel has a kind of a bad glaze with cracks in it. So, we know that local manufacturing continued. I think that is one of the big changes from today. Because of large cargo airplanes, one country can produce so much that it can take over the whole market of another country. I think that’s one of the things that we have to think about going forward with globalizationAnd I think that the pandemic has showed us that being entirely dependent on another country for any product is probably not a good long- term strategy.


Wang Huiyao: I agree absolutely. I think probably a lesson we can learn is that during the Song Dynasty which was flourishing was that they also secured a relatively a long period of peace with the Chanyuan Treaty. So, for any globalization to really have a great development, have a prosperity, peace is important. So, we need to really secure the peace rather than getting into a lot of conflicts. Another lesson we can learn is that the trade and merchanting really can bond people and link people together. The business interests can be a common denominator to really get people together. Of course, we can also learn some ideas of religion and culture to make people understand each other better.


There are still so many things we could learn from history. Reading your book, we find there are so many interesting lessons. Coming back to history, since you are a well-known historian at the Yale, what do you think about this Confucianism? This may be a broader subject, but I still want to come back. Confucianism has actually greatly influenced the regionWe are now talking about cultural globalization. You can see the Tang Dynasty, the Japanese had a lot of students in Chang’an and we can also see the neighboring countries like Vietnam and all those other countries. So what do you think about regionalization in Asia in which Confucianism can play some role? Of course, Buddhism influenced China as well. We have Xuan Zang who went to India to learn it. But what about Confucianism? Because today I think that the Confucius still has a big influence, at least in China, and the Greater China, and probably Asia as well. So, what’s your assessment on that? You are a historian on East Asian culture as well.


Valerie Hansen: I think one of the things that’s very interesting about the year 1000 is you can see certain regions were taking place. Actually you can see that earlier in the case when you talk about East Asia. I would say that was a very good example of China’s soft power. People in what’s now modern Korea, modern Japan, and modern Vietnam, all adopted the Chinese writing system and there’s a book market. I think one of the things that’s very interesting is that in the year 1000, books were destroyed when Kaifeng Falls to the Jurchens. The Imperial Library was damaged, a lot of books were lost but they can be recovered. Because there are copies available on the Korean Peninsula, and in Japan. So there are very clear links among East Asian countries using Chinese characters. It means that texts can move and don’t have to be translated in a period when translation was so expensive and to be able to leave texts in their original languages was very valuable. One of the things I think is interesting about regions is that they could change. So, we can look and say: “Oh, there’s regions of East Asia, China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, and they have similarities.” But if you go back to the year 1000, one of the things that’s interesting about the Song was that it was a very economically prosperous dynasty, but it was also a geographically small dynasty. The Song was seized the 16 prefectures to the Liao, but when the Jin Dynasty invaded, all of northern China came under foreign rules. So, there was a region where the territory under the Liao and the Jin had much more contact with Japan and Korea than it did with the Song territory. There was an idea that the whole region was going to come to an end in 1052. That idea did not circulate in Song, but it does circulate among the Liao and in Japan, and in Korea. So I think one of the things that we can see is that a country may belong to more than one region. When we draw a region, we tend to think that these countries belong to this region and those countries belong to that region. But when we look at how people in the past lived. At one moment they may see themselves as part of one region, in another movement, they may see themselves as part of another region. So, to me, that’s one of the things that’s very interesting.


Wang Huiyao: Yeah, it’s very interesting to hear that in year 1000, East Asia probably was taking some kind of shape as you rightly said. Chinese language has been used in Japan and Korea or even Vietnam. I read your book. There is even a data center in Korea of old books like a modern Asian data center collecting all the books in public Chinese characters. It’s interesting to see that the Chinese language did have a regional impact. Also, Confucianism probably played quite a big role there. So, I think that probably you can see that the influence is still there. East Asian culture respect the seniority. They pay a lot of attention on education, they work pretty hard. Particularly for China, it’s very peaceful, very neutral. Even during Zhenghe’s 7 times expeditions, they never conquered or colonized any place. That’s interesting to see. The culture was evolving.


Valerie Hansen: If you allow me, I will disagree with you about Zhenghe that most of the time was peaceful, but there were times when the Chinese intervened in the succession disputes in countries. Nowadays in China, Zhenghe is often described as a very peaceful explorer. But when you look at sources from the time, it was usually peaceful trade. It was a huge shock to many places. They had so many people arrived on the ships. Zhenghe’s fleet, at its fullest had 28,000 people, was arriving in a place that may not have enough food for that many people. We have historic evidence that there was a King who was loyal and had sent tribute mission to China. He died, a son took over, and Chinese didn’t approve of that son and then they intervened. So, I would say mostly peaceful for Zhenghe.


Wang Huiyao: But at least they hadn’t really conquered any place and stayed there forever. That was even 100 years before Columbus. So, at least it was largely peaceful. What I’m thinking is that this culture that China is having is basically quite peaceful


How can we really continue globalization? Probably we can talk a bit about contemporary globalization. So, what do you think about globalization now, as you are already a historian on globalization? We have already had a thousand years of globalization. What’s your prediction of the future look of the globalization and what are the challenges and opportunities? What are some events we should look for, like regarding technology, people, migration or any other trade or digital economy? I know you are not an economist, but even from a historical point of view, maybe we can look at the past, we can also look at the future to some extent.


Valerie Hansen: Well, I’m convinced that globalization began in the year 1000 on a worldwide basis, that it’s here to stay.


I believe that globalization began in the year 1000, which is a part of the human condition. The motivation of globalization is that people want new things. Sometimes it’s new ideas, but often it’s particular commodities. In my book, when the Vikings arrived in Canada, they met the local people—the First Nations, the indigenous peoples of Canada. The two groups look at each other. This phenomenon happens in lots of different places. They look at each other and think that what are those people have that we don’t have? They look at the Vikings and say, you have this red cloth. We don’t have that red cloth, which is something we want. The Vikings look at them, and they say, Oh, you have these fabulous furs from animals that we’ve never seen; we want those. Then, they begin to trade, which makes me think that human impulse underlies globalization. A thousand years ago and today too. The same thing that people go into a store and see something they’ve never seen before and think I have to have that. In the year 1000, the fragrant wood from Southeast Asia is so excellent. I’m going to build a whole room out of this would it’s that important to me, so that’s something we can see.


That motivation for globalization starts very early, and it’s on an individual basis, which is that people desire these new things. But we can also see very early on that some people were affected adversely by this trade. When I was researching the book, I was very interested in anti-globalization riots, where we had in Cairo in 996 in Constantinople in early 1180s. These reactions against foreign merchants, where you have local people saying, oh, these people are just so much richer than our local merchants. They live in more perfect houses, they’ve taken our women as their wives. And so you know, I think from the very beginning with globalization, we can see people benefiting from globalization, but we can also see people who are actively harmed by it and who object to it and want to control it.


I think in the future of globalization, the question is how we can control these forces. I read your interview with Tom Friedman as he was on this show. I mean, if you just let globalization go, it just keeps growing. Then now, in the modern world, we look at it, and we think, oh maybe we should take advantage of globalization, but make sure that people who have lost their jobs because of globalization have some protection. I think the issue for us going forward is figuring out ways for governments to cooperate to lessen the negative impact of globalization. You and Tom Friedman talked about the United Nations is not that strong a body for this. I don’t know because I’m a historian and not good at looking at the future. You’re better at that than I am. But you know, do you see any avenues forward you know in the future for greater cooperation among different governments or in different places?


Globalization should promote openness, inclusiveness and equality


Wang Huiyao: Yeah, I think you raised an interesting question. Also, you have given an excellent analysis because I believe early globalization reflects on people trading for different goods benefits and supplements with each other, which is the original motivation of the trade and exchange of good quality products. That’s a driver for a long time, of course. But as you said, once the global vision has generated a lot of wealth, there are also many widening gaps. Particularly today, we see the gap between rich and poor is getting wider and wider, even during the pandemic, it is getting wider. When I talked to Martin Wolf, he said the globalization is global, but then democracy is local. Therefore, the public cannot control trade, global mass movement, talent as well as capital and all those things. So Tom is right, you know, probably we need global governance, but we do not have this kind of government yet. Therefore, I think we have to strengthen multilateralism rather than seeking unilateralism and fighting against each other.


It’s one review of this fascinating history of globalization. I think ancient globalization was at the infant at the start, so it was manageable and did not have a huge impact. But once globalization has already gone into such a full swing and affects everyone’s life, then probably how to have inclusive and equal globalization is perhaps what all the governments should consider. We need to strengthen the UN system and multilateral system. We may also have to invent some new governance for the multilateral system. For example, how we can have fair tax and make it not only for the home country but also the host country. How can we knock down nationalism -because the internet is beyond borders and if we have too much nationalism and populism, that is going to setback globalization? So it’s a catch 22 then we have to solve that. I think the discussion we have today is significant because we will look at the success of globalization, its origin, and how it went so far. However, we also need to solve the challenges and meet all those new tasks of globalization.


Your book The Silk Road: A New History is a famous book now. Based on your book, the development of the Silk Road was due to economic conditions instead of infrastructure because no infrastructure could support such a long distance of landmasses and then speed up globalization. But now we have the infrastructure, you know. China is also developing quickly in the last four decades and started its global initiative—Belt and Road Initiative. For the last seventy-five years, we have trade and economic booms we have an infrastructure revolution for the next 75 years after Second World War. Therefore, nowadays, we have modern infrastructure Silk Road, and we should consider how can we make the Belt and Road work. The Belt and Road has a lot of inspiration taken from the historical Silk Road, and there are many other routes, like Spice Road. Let’s combine them and make a more multilateral global trend for the future.


Valerie Hansen: As a Silk Road historian, it’s important to remember that the Chinese also have a military presence in Central Asia when we talk about the period of the Silk Road. Silk is moving so much in Central Asia because of the currency of the Tang Dynasty. There’s a chronic shortage of coins, so the Tang had three kinds of currencies, which were grains in fixed measures as there were not enough coins, and silks. The whole money supply of the Tang is about 10% coins and then silk. The silk doesn’t seem like a perfect currency today, but it was pretty good at that time because it held its value and, in some cases, lighter than the coins. In terms of the Silk Road, constraint was overland travel and carrying things over land. I think you’re right that modern infrastructure is different. Past transportation was not comparable with current high-speed trains and high-quality highways. But I think when we think about the Silk Road that there are periods when the Chinese have a strong military presence in Central Asia. Then after 755, after the Alishan Rebellion, there are periods where the Chinese were much less present in Central Asia and those periods. Maybe these periods tell us the most about the possibilities for multilateralism, where we can see political units of roughly the same size cooperating. For example, the rulers of Dunhuang and the rulers of Khotan had a lot of exchanges. Neither of them is a giant state as the way that the Tang dynasty was. There aren’t many examples in the past about big states. When we talk about the Treaty of Chanyuan, successfully cooperating with smaller states is very important because the Chinese made some concessions to the Liao. The peace lasts for 100 years, but the Song was not fighting with the Liao. They are fighting with the Tanguts of the Xia. There was constant war, so the Song did not achieve their goal of perfect peace. Therefore, I would say that things are complicated. Things are complex now, things were complex in the past.


Wang Huiyao: Yeah, now we had the Marine globalization, which you rightly described on The Year 1000But now probably we will have land and continental globalization because infrastructure makes it possible now. For example, last year, the intercontinental train between China and Europe has increased 50 % with a cohort of the trains back and forth. So that’s incredible.


I’m thinking maybe we’re having a new and stronger demand for the exchanges of the good and trade, which is the stabilizer for peace and security. Thus, I hope that we can build up this infrastructure. China has been building its infrastructure for the last four decades. The entire length of high-speed railways in China is equal to next ten countries combined. You can go anywhere in China in a few hours now, so that has greatly helped China, not to mention China has 1 billion smartphone users and lifted 800 million people out of poverty. Based on these data, infrastructure is probably a big driving force for the next phase of globalization coupled with technology. Therefore, we hope that we can work on it together. China also has an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which is the most multilateral and acceptable global bank China initiated in which many countries are in it, except the US. Still, India is the largest recipient, so this is a great global public goods model, and I hope it can play more role in the Belt and Road Initiative for Asia and its connectivity. 


Again I want to raise another question: you are a well-known historian, and the Song was the most globalized in the world. I’ve seen some figures showing that in its peak time, as China’s commodity, economy, culture, education, science advanced, China counted about 22% of the global GDP and you are right that it’s 30-40% of the worldwide population. So, as you know, since we’re talking about 1000 years of globalization and Song dynasty was a great place to be representative. Maybe you could give us a still some description on this subject.


Valerie Hansen: About the globalization of the Song, I think we haven’t talked about it yet. But to me, one of the hallmarks of globalization is that people produce something they can’t control and don’t even see the market where their goods go. So that I think that’s why people have this feeling today of things being out of control.  They make something, and they don’t know where it’s going or who is buying it. In the Song, we can see massive production on the coast of ceramics. We have Chinese mining and Chinese textiles. These things are all leaving China and traveling to Southeast Asia or India, Middle East Africa. People in China don’t know that much about where those things are going. The same thing is true of some people who traded with others whose natural products were coming from Southeast Asia. We have descriptions of the forest-dwelling peoples who lived basically hunting and gathering are suddenly having to produce in the sense of having to hunt and gather for a foreign market, for example, Kingfisher, birds with blue feathers. This is an import that the Chinese value enormously. But imagine somebody living in a forest in Indonesia, collecting and hunting these birds, and then bringing them to some broker. This feather trade is vital in the year 1000, so I think that maybe we are in a modern world, we can see things, we can know more because the free movement of information makes us learn more about distant markets. But the impact of distant markets makes people sell a huge amount of some good in one year, and then in the following year, the market collapses, and you don’t know why. Then all the markets are collapsed, and all of those people have lost their jobs. I think that it is worth thinking about how we can harness information to mitigate this damage of globalization in the future.


Openness spurred prosperity during the Song and Tang dynasties


Wang Huiyao: Yeah, I think that one of the characters of Song and Tang is that the Chinese were quite open. You know, we had Buddhism come to China. Christianity and Islamism also came to China. All these foreign religions and cultures contributed to the opening of dynasties, and then China becomes so developed. Based on the historical experience, China should continue to be open and inclusive. China needs to welcome different cultures and maybe try to learn from each other. The Song and Tang dynasty history can coexist peaceful with the other parts of the world. Confucianism also took a stronghold during the Song Dynasty, where I think the government was practicing quite a bit to make it more widely accepted in China. So, all those elements probably played some roles in promoting globalization during the Song Dynasty.


Valerie Hansen: Yes, I think that’s true. I find the exchange of information there, especially in this early period—the free exchange of information—quite inspiring. There’s a person I talk about in the book named Al-Beruni, and he is in India. He’s an advisor to a ruler. He is in India, and he’s based in Afghanistan. Some envoys came from the Liao to visit his ruler. He has a chance to talk to them and to learn about North China. He learns a lot about South China too. He writes about China in Arabic, and he writes about the encounter between his ruler and the envoy from the Liao dynasty. Unfortunately, Liao sent an envoy in 1026 or 1027, and they want to initiate diplomatic relations with him, but the ruler says no. I think we should not take any lessons from that because that’s an example of closed-mindedness. But his advisor Al-Beruni talks to the envoys from the Liao dynasty and uses their chance to learn more about China. Thus, I agree with you, and I think the future way is to try to learn from each other. One country has to learn from other countries and from people in those other countries about how those societies function.


Wang Huiyao: OK, great, so we have actually talked for over an hour now and we’re having a good time, but finally, as we have collected some questions, which is a routine of our series of dialogues. So, we have some questions from Chinese media and then scholars as well. One of the scholars from Peking University said that the Vikings voyage to North America should be compared with other important events in history, such as human-beings’ migration from Africa to other continents or Arabs’ expansion to North Asia and South Europe in the 7-8th century.


Valerie Hansen: I mean, it’s funny of course, there’s land migration in different periods. I mean, you know, there are people who think globalization began earlier than 1000 AD. There’s a group of scholars who argue it began in 3000 BC, because you can see Lapis Lazuli from Pakistan in Mesopotamia, so they point to these connections of this movement of trade goods earlier. I was going to say the first people who get to Australia got there in 40,000 years before the present. So there’s always migration, right, that over land migration. And some of that has to do with the changing land masses like people coming into the Americas. Maybe 15,000 years ago across what’s now Alaska and the Bering Straits. There’s an ocean that is separating Alaska from Russia now. Historically, there was a land bridge. So, you know, in response to that question, Yes, there’s migration, but the scale of migration increases a lot in the year 1000. There’s a slave trade from Africa, from actually Northern Europe, from Central Asia into the Islamic world. And it predates the year 1000, but it accelerates in the year 1000. So, when you look around the world, you can see there are precursors to the things I’m talking about. But there is a real change in the year 1000.


Wang Huiyao: Yeah, great, so that explained your case well I think that year 1000 is probably the time that all those 3 continents saw a large scale of globalization movement and then in China, the Song Dynasty, really peaked at that time. Globalization really got up to the speed and probably there could had been migration here and there that started even earlier than that but it accelerated at the beginning of the year 1000.


I have another question from China Daily: how could the world overcome the difficulties facing globalization and how can we achieve more balanced global development in a world of post pandemic? So this is a really contemporary question for you.


We actually now have over 700,000 viewers online right now. My staff just showed me – the topic is really interesting.


Valerie Hansen: Oh, I’m very glad to hear this, but I’m also feeling a lot of pressure I have to confess that I don’t have an answer to “going forward”. I mean, I guess the best answer I can give is to say that those of us like you and I who have benefited from globalization and I said, You know, we’re the products of globalization. I think we have to think more about people who are not benefiting from globalization. For example, in America and I don’t know the number – you’re very good on your numbers – I forgot the number of people who don’t have a passport and have never left the country. Maybe for China – how many people have never left China. In some ways, I feel like we’re living in two worlds. There’s a group of people who can travel, and pre-pandemic, travel freely and study in different countries and have the wealth to do that, and then there’s another world of people who are really struggling to survive and I think as we go forward, we’ve got to be thinking about balancing the needs of those two groups.


Wang Huiyao: Yeah, I agree with you, I think you’re right, I mean, I don’t remember how many Chinese have a passport, maybe I remember seeing the number 2-300 millions. But I know there’s a number – Chinese outbound tourists had reached 150 million before the pandemic. That’s quite a lot of people. You know probably compare with the US, and there’s 200 million people in China who study English. I mean at least 218 million, as according to the latest population survey college graduates or students in the college know some international language. So it shows that China now it’s getting  more people to look to the world now.


But I agree with you, that the challenges we are having with the future of globalization is really about how to shrink this gap. I had another conversation with Sir Angus Deaton, Professor from Princeton University, a Nobel laureate, basically he tells me that the life expectancy, according to their study, in the United States has actually been dropping in the last 2 or 3 years and there’s more people who feel they are not really benefiting from globalization. But then you know, the wealth of the 1% of the wealthiest people is equal to almost 40 to 50% of the general mass population in the US now. And that’s where the challenge is and then China really shouldn’t be the scapegoat for that. So I hope that if we all concentrate on our own domestic issues, such as on solving infrastructure issue, lifting people from poverty and taking care of our people, then maybe we will have a bit better dialogue among ourselves rather than blaming each other.


I have another question for you is from China Radio International – if you are supposed to tell young people of this era about the 3 major events, except for the 2 World Wars that changed the world during the past 100 years, what what would be the choice? I don’t know if you want to say pandemic or is there any other thing? Three things you want to list, I mean, I would say pandemic probably.


Valerie Hansen: Well right now, it feels like the pandemic, right? But you know there were some pandemics in the past that the effects lasted for hundreds of years, the Black Death in Europe in 1348, you know, people think a third of Europe’s population died and there is an argument that the Industrial Revolution happened in Europe because the Europe’s population is small and they need labor-saving devices. So right now, I speak as a medievalist, I work on the world a thousand years ago, the events from the past but It’s funny I remember having a conversation about this with my father, who died about 10 years ago on the things that affected people things like the invention of electricity, the coming of electricity to people’s houses, maybe that’s a little bit before 1920s. I’m supposed to think about things since 1921, something you and I have lived through is seeing the ubiquity of telephones, right? I mean, this is a free call we’re having, right? When I was a student once a month, I would go to a pay phone and call my father, and it was very expensive. I think the invention of the computer has to be something that’s affected many, many people. I was going to say some things about food supply, about the Green Revolution, I don’t know that we have a specific date. But Yuan Longpin has just died, that’s something that had a huge impact. In some ways, I think those things had greater impact than the World Wars.


Revisit history to find new solutions to today’s issues


Wang Huiyao: Yeah, you talked about those great inventions and also the contributions of those great experts like Mr. Yuan Longping just passed away. But absolutely, we had the agricultural revolution, I mean I’m sure that has contributed significantly to lifting 800 million people out of poverty and even worldwide


So the second question from them is, what key principles and spirits of East Asian and traditional Confucius culture should be better promoted and recognized to play a better role in contemporary times? So basically a bit similar to our discussion. They really felt your expertise on the Chinese culture and East Asian culture.


Valerie Hansen: Well, you know, I’m a college professor, so it won’t surprise you to hear that I think education is important. I think actually in America people have a pretty good sense of the East Asian respect for education. We can see that with Chinese immigrants coming to America that they’re often emphasized education, their children do well in school. I mean, you may know about this in New York, there’s a test to get into the public high schools, the state-funded high schools and classically the largest ethnic group of people who doing well on that test are Chinese people. So, that, I think, is something people know in the world about Asia. I think people in America and Europe still, and I think this is entirely understandable, have a euro-centric view of the past in the same way I think people in China have a Sino-centric view of the past. I’m part of a project now that’s interested in the history of printing. And if you ask the average American when printing began, I’m not sure they’re going to name Gutenberg, but I think they’ll say “Oh, it’s a movable type, it’s the Renaissance” and you know that’s factually not true. There is printing in China starting, when I was going to say the date – it’s around 700 because the earliest printed materials we have are characters from Wu Zetian’s rule of the Tang Dynasty. That so you know, we have some individual sheets of paper that were printed and there’s a debate about whether printing starts in China or Japan or Korea. But that’s 700 years earlier than Gutenberg and that’s something I think that people in the rest of the world don’t really realize so that’s something I’m working on now with a very large group of people, a very fun group of people. Some of the earliest surviving examples of movable type books are from Korea. So those are, I was going to say a classic modern phenomenon, the book is from the 1370s, the earliest book printed with movable type was made in Korea and it’s in a French library, it’s in the Bibliotheque Nationale. So you know I think getting that news out is something that would maybe help people to understand about the history of East Asia. And as you said the book markets were in the pre-modern world are really a kind of, you had a good word for that – a data center for people at that time. Book markets are important in Europe, too. But things are the book markets started earlier in Asia than they do in Europe. I think that’s something most people don’t know.


Wang Huiyao: Yeah, very fascinating to hear you talk about that. I absolutely agree with you. The former ambassador of US in China, Terry Branstad told me that Chinese attach a greater importance of education, family values, but also hard working as well, so that he attributed the success of China to those 3 factors.


And I think that you are having this new project of where all those typing come from and the history of that would be really a great one. And I think your book has outlined many concrete examples of events to back up the theory. So that has been greatly interesting for me. So I think it’s almost time and we had a very fascinating discussion tonight and for you, morning in Yale. I think we have reviewed the history of globalization, where you propose that the very obvious stage that globalization had started was the year 1000 and that’s another 500 years before Columbus discovered American continent, but also the Song dynasty was one of the most globalized places in the world at that time and China had the largest population, over 100 million, at the year 1000. So all of those are really fascinating discussions I really found them interesting. I think you know, we need to review that history, we need to summarize what has been done well and you know a lot of human nature, spirit culture, ingredients are still the same, but the format, technology and transformation have been changing again and again and now we’re facing a lot of challenges like deglobalization, populism, nationalism. We are in a globalized world which cannot  keep it together now. We have to really revisit history’s wisdom and then also find a new solution, particularly solve these inequality issues and let’s have openness. Continuing to open is really important. So I think it’s a really great discussion we had and I really appreciate your time, I would like to you to say a few words to conclude as a final remark as well.


Valerie Hansen: Oh, that’s very generous of you like I didn’t expect you to say that. As you were talking, I was thinking that in the beginning of globalization, I think the forces of globalization were much weaker than they are now. The people who were directly affected by foreign trade is smaller than now. Historically, there was a huge slave trade. I read about that in the book, it doesn’t really affect China, that’s an interesting question about why there doesn’t seem to be so many slaves in China as there are in the Islamic world. But I was going to say, the forces of globalization were weaker, but we can already see that it’s adversely affecting some people so much that they kill the foreign merchants, who are living in Cairo and in Constantinople. There’s Huangchao Rebellion, you know where there’s that massacre of the Arab merchants who are living in Guangzhou. The death toll is debated, we have 2 Arabic sources. One says 80 thousand. I just read an article that said, which was interesting, that all of these numbers you should just divide by 10. I have never read this so maybe 8,000 people died or 12,000 people died, it’s still a lot of people who died in these riots. I think I guess in my view, and I may romanticize the past a little bit, that the forces of globalization were weaker in the beginning around the year 1000 and that the checks that existed in the year 1000. Like the risks of shipping and the high number of shipwrecks. The costs of overland trade, which meant that there just wasn’t that much trade going over land, because it cost so much to ship things, and you know camel caravans could get lost and people could die if they were robbed. All of those checks were stronger in the past than they are now. I think as we go forward, we have to think about what kinds of checks that we may need to institute to try to balance the impact of globalization. The pandemic in a way is a check on the process of globalization. We’ve had over a year to think very hard about this world we live in and how we’re going to go forward in the future. And I think you’re going to have to find a futurologist not a historian to tell you about that.


Wang Huiyao: I think that globalization is very resilient, and of course, full of vitality and its own momentum. Of course, there will be setbacks and zig zags, but the trend will continue. I mean, it’s not linear, but it will certainly be a future trend. I think. As you already said in a globalizing world, initially there were not many people benefitting from that, but now as you know, just imagine 200 Chinese people learning English and 150 million Chinese people touring around the world. Globalization is here to stay and with China become the largest trading country with many countries, I think that more inclusive globalization will continue and then that is really multilateralism and peaceful coexistence. And we have to learn to live with each other peacefully. I mean that’s probably the lesson we learn from globalization.


So once again, thank you very much and I hope when you come to China, we will see you again and also invite you to visit CCG. Tonight, we had about 800,000 people watching from different portals and social media platforms. Thank you very much, Professor Hansen, it was nice talking to you.


Valerie Hansen: Thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking the time to have such a dialogue. It was really a pleasure, Professor Wang.


Note: The above text is the output of transcribing from an audio recording. It is posted as a reference for the discussion. 


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