EAST ASIA AT THE CENTER: Four Thousand Years of Engagement with the World, by Warren I. Cohen. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000, 516 pp.

You don’t have to believe in the Asian Century or any other form of that nonsense to admit that Western understanding of Asia is woefully inadequate. The intellectual imperialism of the 20th century is as pernicious as the economic and political imperialism that preceded it. The conventional wisdom has Europe discovering Asia — the Far East, as a decidedly Eurocentric map would frame the world. That conveniently overlooks the centuries of contact initiated by Asian traders who worked their way west in search of new markets and products. It ignores millennia of civilizations that rose and fell, the culture, traditions and glories they created and destroyed.

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