Back in the mists of time when I was doing what would now be called Year 11 but was then called Leaving and involved the second of three sets of end-of-year public exams (no pressure, then), I took a subject called 'Asian History' whose syllabus was, as I remember it, organised around two threes: Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam; and India, China and Japan.
To this day the single thing I remember most clearly about that year of study is the cautionary tale of 1857's Sepoy Rebellion. Even at that time and at that age it was clear to us that the cultural insensitivity of the British Empire in expecting its Hindu and Moslem soldiers to use a new kind of cartridges that had to have their ends bitten off and had been greased with animal fat, both pork and beef -- the unclean pig, the sacred cow -- was a perfectly good reason to rise up and slay one's colonisers, and as might have been expected of a bunch of bolshie Australian schoolgirls, we were amused that it had surprised the British.
For reasons not far to seek, I spend quite a lot of time these days thinking about some of these things. But since then, what we call and think of as 'Asia' is barely recognisable in that subject, and the 'Asian history' that has happened since -- at least in terms of its relevance to Australia -- has largely happened elsewhere. So thinking about China and India as such, systematically, and for any length of time, is something I probably haven't done for more years than I care to contemplate.
But I expect a lot more of that long-forgotten chunk of my education to come flooding back on Thursday evening at the Festival of Ideas' opening session, 'The Elephant and the Dragon', where the discussion will focus on the economic futures of those two countries. Here are the official program notes:
Thursday 5th July, 8 pm: Elder Hall, University of Adelaide
The Elephant and the Dragon
Chair: Peter Mares
India and China are major cultures, which Europeans (and particularly Australians) have had an insulting habit of ‘discovering’ routinely for decades, indeed centuries. What does the discovery mean this time? And on what sort of schedule does the West have to get used to the idea that it will cease to be the dominant global force in economic and cultural terms? Will we live long enough to be grateful for an Indian or Chinese ‘discovery’ of Australia or Europe, perhaps?
‘Everyone’ has been saying for years that these waking giants are the future for the world economy, but what will this mean in practice? Will it be globalization as usual with different addresses for central office? Or will there be more profound realignments of human cultures? White Australia has a 229-year history of paranoia about the threat of Asian domination. What, instead, are the regional opportunities of grasping the coming future? And what are the vectors (migration, trade, sport, education, etc) along which this transformation might best be sought?
It would also be good to have your views on how two such populous giants can move rapidly towards first-world levels of consumption without destroying the host-organism, the earth. Other panels in the Festival will address the science of global warming and other apocalyptic prospects. It’s the economics and cultural politics of controlling the environmental risk in China and the Sub-Continent that you could inform us about.
Go here to make bookings for this and the other three evening sessions, and to find out more about the festival.