Between 1903 and 1950, aviation technology spread around the world and became a key concern of governments and a cultural marker of modernity. After 1903, Asia had to be explored again. Almost as soon as heavier-than-air flight became possible, French and British fliers began pioneering new routes to Asian cities and developing new maps and new airports along the way. With these new forms of knowledge, the colonial powers quickly moved to tie together their empires. New mapping techniques allowed for new forms of control, including what the British called “air policing,” the idea that judicious use of aircraft, and in some cases bombs and poison gas, could cheaply pacify far-flung colonial populations.
Aviation was one field, however, where the Europeans did not have a long lead on Asians. Just as Europeans were using aviation to express their dominance, Asians were using it to express their modernity. Feng Ru was making and flying his own planes in San Francisco by 1912, and Siam had an Air Force by 1913. Asian social and political elite, who had once traveled by rail and steamship, now preferred to fly instead. “Air-mindedness” became a marker of global citizenship.
Japan was the first Asian country to have an aviation industry. They proved their technological prowess to the rest of the world when they entered World War II. Their pilots bombed cities and fleets across Asia between 1937 and 1941. The experience of being bombed as well as the drills and community organizations that grew out of experience ushered in a societal awareness of the military power of airplanes. The war culminated with two atomic air raids and was followed by a scramble, to occupy and connect the newly liberated and independent parts of Asia. Post World War II led to an intensified effort to tie Asia together with faster transportation.
Navigation played a major role in the integration of East Asian polities and economies prior to and during the arrival of European traders in the 16th and 17th centuries. That arrival stimulated an increase in the volume of intra-regional trade in East Asia as Chinese merchants organized exports on a large scale to meet European demand, yet the history of the production of nautical charts in China has been little studied, due in no small part to the poor survival of sea charts and other documentation. The most important new addition to maritime charting in the past decade is the rediscovery of the Selden Map in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. This map of navigation routes throughout East Asia is unprecedented, and may be seen as marking the beginning of the transformation of Chinese cartography under the influence of European mapping techniques.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History. Please check back later for the full article.
From the time the first hominids migrated north from Africa, shared exposure to infectious disease across the wide geographic and climatic expanse of Eurasia has likely been common. Vivax malaria, for example, was probably brought to Asia during the first in-migrations of Homo sapiens. But whereas vast distances and low population density likely shielded Eurasian populations from frequent epidemic outbreaks up through the Neolithic period, by the beginning of the modern era Eurasia would begin to see a new phenomenon: pandemics. The Bronze Age likely saw the evolutionary origin of what would become the world’s leading infectious killers—tuberculosis, plague, and smallpox—and then the emergence of modern forms of severely disabling disease, such as leprosy. The medieval period created increasing linkages in that microbial web, and by ca. 1500, Eurasia (and much of Africa) would now be united in an interconnected disease environment. Throughout this period, climate played a role in human health, not simply in the obvious ways of determining the success of year-to-year harvests, but in more fundamental ways, as periods of warming or severe and sudden cooling shifted the interactions between humans and all the flora and fauna that made up their environment.