In Lost Modernities Alexander Woodside offers a probing revisionist overview of the bureaucratic politics of preindustrial China, Vietnam, and Korea. He focuses on the political and administrative theory of the three mandarinates and their long experimentation with governments recruited in part through meritocratic civil service examinations remarkable for their transparent procedures.
The quest for merit-based bureaucracy stemmed from the idea that good politics could be established through the "development of people"--the training of people to be politically useful. Centuries before civil service examinations emerged in the Western world, these three Asian countries were basing bureaucratic advancement on examinations in addition to patronage. But the evolution of the mandarinates cannot be accommodated by our usual timetables of what is "modern." The history of China, Vietnam, and Korea suggests that the rationalization processes we think of as modern may occur independently of one another and separate from such landmarks as the growth of capitalism or the industrial revolution.
A sophisticated examination of Asian political traditions, both their achievements and the associated risks, this book removes modernity from a standard Eurocentric understanding and offers a unique new perspective on the transnational nature of Asian history and on global historical time.
In a fresh and provocative book, Alexander Woodside challenges us to rethink the meaning of modernity. Using three countries that share a Confucian heritage and have often been considered to lag behind the West in developing modern socio-political systems, he illuminates how East Asian thinkers grappled with many issues that later became salient in Western political thought. Lost Modernities places East Asia squarely within current discussions of global history, and will generate lively debate.
With pungent wit and panoramic scope, Woodside punctures Western pretensions by showing that East Asian societies anticipated contemporary controversies over bureaucracy, meritocracy, and social welfare. By demolishing myths of modernity, Asian and Western, he brilliantly illuminates comparative global history and social science. Few books on Asia today are as provocative, informative, and valuable as this one.
A tour de force about government in East and Southeast Asia before capitalism and industrialization. With wry wit and considerable erudition, Woodside leads us through the global and regional issues germane to a truly comparative history of the civil service. This remarkable foray through precocious political modernities in preindustrial China, Korea, and Vietnam will provoke Asianists and Europeanists alike.
Works by Alexander Woodside are not merely to be read. They are to be studied. I have yet to read a book, essay, or review by him that did not deserve a second reading....Lost Modernities is no exception. This is history and historiography at its very best, leavened by humor and stunning breadth.
This compact study is original and provocative. Its comparative approach is an inspiration to all who work on Asian states past and present. It confronts alternative modernities in new and sophisticated ways. And, not least, it is a contribution to the history of governance, notably on the need for, and the limits of, meritocratic principles in public management.
- 160 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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