Enemies of Civilization

Attitudes toward Foreigners in Ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China

By Mu-chou Poo

Subjects: History, Asian Studies, Anthropology, Middle East Studies
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9780791463642, 229 pages, February 2005
Hardcover : 9780791463635, 229 pages, February 2005

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations


List of Abbreviations

Chronological Table

1. Introduction


The Question about The Others
Ethnic Theories and Ancient History
Choice of Subjects
About the Comparative Study of History
Structure, Scope, and Sources


2. In Search of Cultural Identity


Looking for Foreigners


3. Representations


Designations of Self and Others
Textual and Graphic Evidence


4. Relations and Attitudes


Friends and Allies
From Apprehension to Appreciation


5. Foreigners Within


Social Positions
Foreign Goods and Languages


6. The Transformation of the Barbarians


To Assimilate or Not to Assimilate
Between Ideology and Reality


7. Conclusion


The Illusive Others
Official Ideology and Private Sentiments
The Comparative Gaze
The Problem of Great Civilizations





Looks at how foreigners were regarded in three ancient civilizations, finding that cultural, not biophysical, differences were key in distinguishing "us" from "them. "


Enemies of Civilization is a work of comparative history and cultural consciousness that discusses how "others" were perceived in three ancient civilizations: Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China. Each civilization was the dominant culture in its part of the world, and each developed a mind-set that regarded itself as culturally superior to its neighbors. Mu-chou Poo compares these societies' attitudes toward other cultures and finds differences and similarities that reveal the self-perceptions of each society.

Notably, this work shows that in contrast to modern racism based on biophysical features, such prejudice did not exist in these ancient societies. It was culture rather than biophysical nature that was the most important criterion for distinguishing us from them. By examining how societies conceive their prejudices, this book breaks new ground in the study of ancient history and opens new ways to look at human society, both ancient and modern.

Mu-chou Poo is Professor and Research Fellow in the Institute of History and Philology at Academia Sinica in Taiwan. He is the author of several books, including In Search of Personal Welfare: A View of Ancient Chinese Religion, also published by SUNY Press.