Winds from the East: Ancient Asian views on international trade

Kim Tùng Đào*, Peter van Bergeijk

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Working paperAcademic

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The history of economic thought has discussed issues related to trade and religion predominantly from a Western perspective. In order to fill this gap in the literature, we investigate the historical roots of Asian views on trade and globalization. We discuss the positions of traders, merchants, and their commercial activities across the five major philosophies of life (religions and schools of thought) in ancient Asia. The paper follows history’s timeline starting with the ideas about trade in the Vedic religion (ancient Brahmanism and Hinduism), Buddhism, Confucianism, Chinese Legalism, and Islam. We find significant dissimilarities in the appreciation and perception of international economic activities both across ancient Asian philosophies of life as well as with Western economic thought. While Islam and Buddhism were trade-friendly, Confucianism looked down on commerce, Hinduism tried to exploit traders as low esteem servants, and Legalism saw international trade essentially as a threat. These ideas embedded in ancient religions and philosophies of life have shaped societies and attitudes towards trade and globalization and we review their impacts in today’s world. We conclude that the history of ancient Asian thinking on trade and traders is important for understanding international economic relationships in a world of growing multi-dimensional integration.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationDen Haag
PublisherInternational Institute of Social Studies (ISS)
Number of pages26
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022

Publication series

SeriesISS working papers. General series

Bibliographical note

An earlier version was presented at the 48th Annual Conference of the History of Economics Society (online, December 09-12, 2021) and has been accepted for presentation at the European Trade Study Group’s annual meeting in Groningen (September 2022).

JEL: B11, N15, N45


  • ISS Working Paper-General Series


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