Abstract

Periodic gatherings of Orientalists are fully meaningful only when they serve as forums for the discussion of important developments in the major fields of their professional concern: Oriental languages, literature and ideas, history and institutions. Having worked for decades in the latter fields with China as a starting point and the comparison of institutions as a central target, I would like to discuss here some of the problems connected with the power structure that Montesquieu, the men of the Enlightenment, and Marx and Engels called “Oriental despotism.”

For a variety of reasons, there has been a growing interest in the institutional conditions of the “Orient.” Hence any significant change in the interpretation of these conditions is bound to affect a growing number of Orientalists—and of social scientists who, although not Orientalists, deal with Oriental institutions.

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