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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: June 2012

1 - A Far Promontory



Between 1240 and 1390 the principal realms of mainland Southeast Asia collapsed. The same was true of France and Kiev, whose political and economic travails merged with a general European crisis. After a political revival that started in most cases in the mid-1400s and continued for a century or so, in the late 1500s the chief kingdoms in what are now Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Vietnam, France, and Russia again fell apart, this time more briefly. For a second time political fortunes then stabilized, aided in each case by administrative and military reforms. Yet in the second half of the 18th century a third round of warfare and disorder spread across mainland Southeast Asia and, from its French epicenter, across Europe. And once again, in both regions these disturbances ushered in a phase of renewed consolidation and effective reform.

Other than by sheer coincidence, how can we explain these correlations between regions with no obvious cultural or material links? Why in each realm did successive interregna tend to grow less prolonged and dislocating? Conversely, in these far-flung Eurasian areas – as well as in Japan, China, and European states whose chronologies did not match exactly the cyclic pattern just described – why should movements toward administrative integration have become increasingly successful over the long term? And why did sustained consolidation characterize some sectors of Eurasia, but not others?

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