Reviews

Cover of Book Ancient India and Ancient China, Trade and Religious Exchanges AD1-600, by Xinru Liu, Oxford India Paperbacks, 1994. pp.231

The book can be ordered directly from the Oxford University Press bookstore. The number for direct sales in the UK is 01536 741 727. The book can also be ordered through Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.

This book is principally concerned with Trade and Buddhism. It provides a summary of the trade between China and India in the Kushan, Gupta, Han and Wei periods. It also provides a summary of the development of Buddhism; changes in the Kushan period, developments in the Gupta, introduction to China under the Han, and further developments under the Wei. In addition to being a summary of the facts of change this book makes an argument for Xinru Liu's theory that Buddhism encouraged and facilitated trade. She goes on to argue that in turn traders took Buddhism to China and established it there. She also suggests that this demonstrates a market economy in the region.

The principle division is in three parts. The first is a section on trade, the second is a summary of Buddhism in India, the third is a summary of Chinese Buddhism. Each of the parts is then broken down into small sections which contain an argument and conclusion. Each part finishes with a general conclusion and a lengthy conclusion finishes the book. This arrangement is very useful for later reference but it makes the arguments hard to follow in the initial reading. In fact, the arguments of the book do tend to become subsumed in the general wealth of detail. The book is not easy to read and this is unfortunate as it contains much useful information.

She argues that the trade was one almost entirely in luxury goods, used for conspicuous consumption, to improve or maintain the positions of elite's. She suggests that the consumption was by the Emperor and aristocrats of China and in India she suggests that the goods were used in religious festivals and by monasteries. This division seems to be unfair. It seems more likely that the difference is the result of sources; Histories and government records in China, excavations at temples and reports of pilgrims. Her other conclusion that Buddhism's concept of the seven treasures encouraged trade is hard to fully accept. There can be no doubt that the seven treasures and the luxury items traded are the same but it seems more likely that Buddhist groups adopted items of luxury as their seven treasures. Increases in trade are more likely to be the result of a period of prosperity and political stability.

Her final argument that the trade represents an 'imperfect market' is most interesting. She suggests that all forms of trade existed, giving of gifts, simple exchange. She makes a convincing argument that the government supported trade and that merchants operated on a profit basis. Ancient Indian history and Kushan history makes a very direct contrast here with the history of the Classical world of Rome and Greece. While Roman and Greek historians have lived for twenty years in the shadow of Moses Finley, Kushan historians retain a very different view of ancient economics. Finley suggested ancient governments had no economic policy or motives. Xinru Liu argues that the Chinese and Indian governments actively supported trade. However, she fails to adduce any evidence that the Chinese or India governments thought in an economic way. Even if merchants were operating in a market system there remains no evidence that they received official government sponsorship. Finley overturned a legacy of economics produced by Rostoftzeff. This book, like other on Kushan economics, lists four works by Rostoftzeff in the bibliography but not one by Finley or one of his followers. Until Kushan scholars begin to question some of Rostoftzeff's legacy their study of economics will remain lacking.

This book is hard to read and not suitable for those with only a passing interest. If you intend to study Kushan economics or Buddhism this book is essential. Xinru Liu does a superb job of collecting relevant sources and includes a number of useful lists of references. In summary, to be avoided by the general reader, essential for students.


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Robert Bracey.