HIS 234 National University World Civilizations Discussion


What values are embraced in the Ming  moral codes? Can we draw conclusions about Chinese society based on  these precepts? If a certain practice is forbidden in a moral code, does  that mean it is common or rare in society? What other types of  documents might help us answer those questions? Do we see evidence of  these moral codes in the documentary’s account of the Ming Empire and  the Forbidden City? 
Your initial post should be roughly 250 words and you should address the specific materials assigned, citing  your sources appropriately.

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The Human Journey
A Concise Introduction
to World History
Second Edition
Raritan Valley Community College
Lanham • Boulder • New York • London
Executive Editor: Susan McEachern
Editoria! Assistant: Katelyn T urner
Senior Marketing Manager: Kim Lyons
Credits and acknowledgments for material borrowed from other sources, and reproduced with
permission, appear on the appropriate page within the text.
Published by Rowman & Littlefield
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First Edition 2012.
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Names: Reilly, Kevin, 1941Title: The human journey : a concise introduction to world history / Kevin Reilly, Raritan Valley
Community College.
Description: Second edition. I Lanham, MD : Rowman & Littlefield, [2018] I Includes bibliographical
references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2018004488 (print) I LCCN 2018006430 (ebook) I ISBN 9781538105658 (electronic)
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Subjects: LCSH: World history- Textbooks.
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Printed in the United States of America
Empires and Encounters
in the Early Modern Era
Common Patterns across the World
Patterns of Expansion
Premodern Connections
Early Modern Empires
Gunpowder Revolution
Patterns of Internal Change
Population Growth
Market-Based Economies
Religious and Intellectual Ferment
Islamic Expansion: Second Wave
The Ottoman Empire
Ottomans and the Arabs
Ottomans and the Persians
Ottomans and the West
The Mughal Empire
Muslims and Hindus
An Expanding Economy
The Songhay Empire
Religious Vitality and Political Decline
An Islamic World
Decline of Islamic Empires
China Outward Bound
China and the World
The Tribute System
New Forms of Chinese Expansion
A Maritime Empire Refused: The Ming
Dynasty Voyages
A Road Not Taken
Comparing Chinese and European
Power and Religion
Differing Motives
Differing Legacies
China’s Inner Asian Empire
Manchus Move West
Empires of Many Nations
Consequences of Empire
China and Taiwan
The Making of a Russian Empire
Mother Russia
“Soft Gold”: An Empire of Furs
Siberia and Beyond
The Impact of Empire
Russia and Europe
Looking Westward
Peter the Great
The Cost of Reform
Russia and the World
Parallel Worlds
The World of Inner Africa
The Amerindian World
The World of Oceania
Conclusion: Durability of Empire
21 9
1400 It-I Exploration of the
Ming Dynasty voyages,
West African Coast
to America,
Rise of Moscow
as center of
Russian State
Seizure of Constantinople,
da Gama to India,
1-E:::_ Portuguese
trading post empire
in Asia
Spanish conquests of
Aztec and Inca Empires
Conquest of Siberia
Rule of Akbar,
Arrival of Dutch and
English traders,
High point of
Ottoman expansion,
Taj Mahal constructed,
Oing Dynasty
comes to power,
Acquisition of Ukraine,
Rule of Aurangzeb,
Disintegration of tho
Mughal Empire,
Creation of Inner Asian
Empire and settlement
Height of the slave trade
Last Siege of Vienna,
Peter the Great,
A century of conflict
with Safavid Empire,
Japan expels Europeans
First Siege of Vienna,
Arrival of
Jesuit missionaries,
Takeover of Syria
and Egypt, 1517
Establlshment of
Mughal rule in India,
T~e~ty of Carlowitz
giving up some
European territories,
American Revolution, 1776
11-1 I
Settlements in Alaska
Captal n Cook
to Hawaii, 1778

_ –
in North America
Battle of Plassey,
Catherine the Great,
~ British colonies
French Revolution, 1789
Partitions of Poland,
Slow decline of
Ottoman Empire
Beginning of British
military conquest of India
Figure 7.1 Time line of early modern empires.
Empires and Encounters in the Early Modern Era
HE SINGLE most important histori­
much of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. In short,
cal fact memorized by generations of
students not too long ago was “in four­
teen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed
the ocean blue.” Today, the name “Columbus”
may not ring as loudly as it did then. We have
the modern world began before-and outside
learned to substitute words like “encounter”
for “discovery,” and no one imagines anymore
that American Indians were lost (or that they
came from India). But 1492 is still the date to
remember- or 1500 or thereabouts: because it
was in the wake of Columbus and other Euro­
pean voyagers to the Western Hemisphere that
the world became one. In bridging the ocean
Common Patterns
across the World
Europe expanded after 1500 into a world that
was already coming together into a few large
empires. Without them European expansion
would have been meaningless; in fact, it prob­
ably would not have happened.
barriers that had long separated large segments
of humankind, Europe’s “discoveries” had pro­
Patterns of Expansion
found consequences for world history. Some
were bleak: the decimation of American Indians
Premodern Connections. Nor were Euro­
pean countries the first expansive societies.
and the enslavement of millions of Africans in
the Western Hemisphere. And some neutral
Polynesians had been sailing and settling the
wide Pacific for at least 1,000 years. The huge
or positive: the construction of whole new so­
cieties in the Americas, the modern growth in
world population, and, indirectly, the industrial
Roman, Arab, and Mongol empires had earlier
revolution. European oceanic voyages marked
the initiation of a genuinely global network of
communication and exchange and the begin­
ning of the densely connected world that we
commonly define as “modern.” Thus, histo­
rians often refer to the early centuries of this
era, roughly from 1450 to 1750, as the “early
modern” period of world history.
We will pick up the European part of the
story in the next chapter, but first we must set
it in a larger context. To put it simply, that con­
text is that the fragmented world of the Middle
Ages was rapidly becoming unified in oth er re­
gions around 1500, before and after Columbus
and other Europeans set sail across the Atlantic
and the Pacific and joined the two together.
Even before the European maritime voyages
began, Chinese ships had sailed as far as Africa,
and large land empires were established across
brought together very diverse populations.
Merchants and monks had traded across the
Eurasian “silk roads,” the Sahara Desert, and
the Indian Ocean since the time of the Ro­
mans. Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam had
spread far beyond their places of origin. Islam
in particular gave rise to a world civilization
that joined parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe in
a single zone of communication and exchange.
Technologies such as papermaking, gunpow­
der, and the compass; foods such as processed
sugar, bananas, and citrus fruits; and diseases
such as the plague, or Black Death- all these
had diffused widely, generally moving from
the eastern end of the Eurasian nehvork to the
west. So Europeans did not begin the process
of joining the world’s separate peoples and
civilizations. Their maritime voyages and em­
pires marked another stage in a long history
of cross-cultural encounter and deepening
interactions of a shrinking world.
Chapter 7
Early Modern Empires. Furthermore, at the
same time that Europeans ventured overseas,
other empires were also taking shape. Dur­
ing much of the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries, for example, while Europeans were
taking the initiative in the Atlantic, they were
very much on the defensive to the east, where
the powerful Ottoman Empire was vigorously
expanding its territory and spreading Islam. At
the same time, yet another Muslim power, the
Mughal Empire, was bringing most of India
under Islamic rule, while the Songay Empire
briefly unified a large part of West Africa in a
state dominated by Muslim elites. Farther east,
in the fifteenth century, the Chinese sent into
the Indian Ocean fleets of treasure ships that
dwarfed the slightly later European caravels.
By the eighteenth century, China was con­
structing a huge inner Asian empire, doubling
its territory in the process, and had extensively
settled the neighboring island of Taiwan. Rus­
sians, beginning around 1550, were building
the world’s largest empire across Siberia to the
For native peoples and cultures, these em­
pires were like bulldozers. Few had the weap­
ons or disease immunities to resist. Native
Americans were not the only people to be
decimated by European diseases and con­
quest. The native peoples of Siberia suffered
something similar at the hands of invading
Russians, while native Taiwanese were nu­
merically, culturally, and economically over­
whelmed by massive Chinese settlement on
their island. And the Japanese state was ex­
panding into the northern island of Hokkaido,
incorporating the native Ainu people. In the
process, the Ainu, according to a modern
historian, “degenerated from a relatively au­
tonomous people … to a miserably dependent
people plagued by dislocation and epidemic
Gunpowder Revolution. The creation of
these larger states and empires owed some­
thing to the spread of gunpowder technology,
which allowed those who controlled it to bat­
ter down previously impregnable fortifications
and to dominate peoples without gunpowder
weapons. Originating in China, this technol­
ogy was incorporated in the arsenals of China,
Japan, India, the Ottoman Empire, and vari­
ous European states by the sixteenth century.
But this military revolution played out differ­
ently in various parts of the world. In Japan,
for example, gunpowder weapons played an
important role in unifying the country by
around 1600 after centuries of civil war. But
then the new rulers of the country, known as
the Tokugawa shogunate, deliberately turned
away from the new technology, banning hand­
guns. Internal peace and external isolation for
two centuries made the gunpowder weapons
seem unnecessary and even dangerous. It was
within European states, with their intensely
competitive relationships with one another,
where this military revolution developed most
fully. Shipboard cannon gave European fleets
a decisive edge over other navies, and the
practice of dose-order drill-enabling large
numbers of soldiers to move as a single unit­
gave their armies a growing advantages on
land. Here was the beginning of a European
military superiority that became increasingly
pronounced in the eighteenth and nineteenth
Patterns of Internal Chanie
Population Growth. The great agrarian
civilizations of the early modern era were
growing internally as well as expanding into
empires. Population doubled from roughly 450
million in 1500 to 900 million by 1800. But it
was a highly uneven process. The populations
Empires and Encounters in the Early Modern Era
of Europe, India, Japan, and China grew sub­
stantially. China in particular quadrupled its
numbers between 1400 and 1800, from 75
million to around 320 million people, then
about one-third of the world’s population.
One cause of this population growth was due
to the European Atlantic empire: the spread
of American crops such as corn and potatoes
greatly increased the world’s food supply. On
the other hand, indigenous populations in
the Americas dropped catastrophically in the
wake of European conquest and disease, while
those of Africa grew very little as the slave
trade drained millions from the continent.
Empires and growing populations also
meant vast environmental change as forests,
wetlands, and grasslands gave way to culti­
vated fields. In several places, such as Japan
and the British Isles, shortages of firewood
and its rising price represented a kind of
energy crisis by the eighteenth century. Ja­
pan responded to these pressures by sharply
limiting its population growth during the
eighteenth century, by propagating an ideol­
ogy of restrained consumption, and by a re­
markable program of forest conservation and
the replanting of trees. The British response
to a similar set of environmental pressures
was quite different. Far from seeking to limit
growth, the British increasingly shifted from
scarce wood to plentiful coal as a source of
energy and aggressively sought new resources
in its worldwide trading connections and co­
lonial empire.3
Market-Based Economies. Another wide­
spread pattern in many parts of the early
modern world lay in a substantial increase in
trade, production for the market, and wage
labor, a process known generally as com­
mercialization. China, India, Japan, and Eu­
rope all experienced this kind of economic
change. When China in the 1570s imposed
taxes payable in silver, millions of Chinese
were required to sell either their products or
their labor to get the silver necessary for pay­
ing taxes. This spurt of commercialization
stimulated international trade throughout East
and Southeast Asia. In India, high-quality cot­
ton textiles, produced in rural villages, found
markets all across the Eastern Hemisphere. At
the other end of Eurasia, a more well known
process of commercialization took shape in
the Atlantic Basin and in western European
societies as transatlantic commerce boomed
in the wake of European “discoveries” in the
Americas. Europeans in North America and
Russians in Siberia stripped the forests of fur­
bearing animals in a voracious search for pelts
that brought a good price on world markets.
Although Europeans were becoming more
prominent in global commerce, the center of
gravity for the world economy remained gen­
erally in Asia and especially in China through­
out the early modern era. Eighteenth-century
China achieved the remarkable feat of adding
some 200 million people to its society while
raising its standards ofliving to levels “almost
unmatched elsewhere in the world.”4
European merchants and bankers hitched
a ride on this Eurasian trade network, eventu­
ally gaining greater power in European societ­
ies tl1an did their trading partners in Asia. As a
consequence, European states, iliough smaller
than those of Asia, became more commercial­
ized, their governments more dependent on
the class of money people, and their lives more
determined by markets. Some historians have
labeled these changes, especially as they devel­
oped in the city-states of Italy and in Dutch
Flanders in the fifteenili century, as the begin­
ning of market-based or capitalist societies.
Cities. Urbanization also accompanied the
growth of populations, economies, and com­
merce. Cities, of course, have been central to
Chapter 7
all agrarian civilizations since ancient times.
But the burgeoning of international commerce
in the early modern era stimulated the growth
of the port cities of East and Southeast Asia as
well as in western Europe during the fifteenth
and sixteenth centuries. India, now unified
under the Mughal Empire, generated at least
three cities with populations of half a million
people and a substantial percentage of its total
population in urban areas. Japan was prob­
ably the most urbanized region of the early
modern world with the city of Edo (modern
Tokyo) boasting more than a million residents
in 1720, probably the largest city in the world
and double the size of Paris at the time.
Religious and Intellectual Ferment. These
social and economic changes provoked some
thinkers all across Eurasia to question the
received wisdom of their cultural traditions. 5
Perhaps the most far reaching of these chal­
lenges to the old order occurred in Europe.
There, Renaissance artists and writers broke
with long-established conventions inherited
from the Middle Ages, the sixteenth-century
Protestant Reformation challenged both the
authority and the teachings of the Catholic
Church, and the scientific revolution of the
seventeenth century projected a whole new
approach to knmvledge based on human ra­
tionality rather than religious revelation and
painted a very different picture of the cosmos.
We turn to these developments in the next
But new thinking was not confined to Eu­
rope. The Chinese philosopher Wang Yang­
ming (1472-1529) won numerous Confucians
to a more meditative or Buddhist “neo­
Confucianism” that was similar to Martin Lu­
ther’s challenge to the Catholic Church. Early
modern India also witnessed serious chal­
lenges to established religions. A tradition­
ally educated northern Indian named Nanak
(1469-1504) established a new faith known as
Sikhism that combined elements of Hinduism
and Islam and rejected the religious authority
of the Brahmin caste. Declaring that there is
“no Hindu, no Muslim, only God,” Sikhism
grew rapidly in northern India with a special
appeal in urban areas and to women. In the
late sixteenth century, the Muslim emperor of
Mughal India, Akbar, actively encouraged re­
ligious toleration and sought to develop a new
and more inclusive tradition that he labeled
the “divine faith,” drawing on the truths of
India’s many religions.
Continuities. Thus, we can find early signs
across much of Eurasia of a transformation
that later generations called “modernity”­
deepening connections among human societ­
ies, more powerful states, economic growth,
rising populations, more market exchange,
substantial urban development, and challenges
to established cultural traditions. But nowhere
was there a breakthrough to that most distinc­
tive feature of modern life-industrialization.
Most people continued to work in agricultural
settings, to live in male-dominated rural com­
munities, to produce most of the necessities
of life for themselves, and to think about
the big questions of life in religious terms.
The primary sources of energy remained hu­
man, animal, wind, and water power, and
technological change continued to be slow
and limited. Traditional elites-royal families,
landowning aristocracies, political officials,
military men, and tribal chiefs-dominated
the world’s major societies. Not until the nine­
teenth century did the industrial revolution,
quite unexpectedly, give birth to more fully
modern societies with rapid and sustained
economic growth based on continuing tech­
nological innovation, first in Great Britain
and then in western Europe, eastern North
America, Japan, and Russia.
Empires and Encounters in the Early Modern Era
the West African interior, the East African
coast, and parts of Central and Southeast Asia,
China, and India. Within this vast region, a
distinctly Islamic civilization emerged that
drew on, exchanged, and blended the prod­
ucts, practices, and cultures of Europe, Africa,
the Middle East, and Asia. Pilgrims, scholars,
officials, traders, and holy men from through­
out the region traveled the length and breadth
of this “abode of Islam.” Thus, the religion of
Islam, wrote a leading historian, “came closer
than any had ever come to uniting all mankind
under its ideals.”6
Islamic expansion persisted into the early
modern centuries. What changed around 1500
was the creation of several large and powerful
empires that brought a measure of political
unity and stability to an Islamic world that had
been sharply fragmented for at least 500 years:
the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East, the
Safavid Empire in Persia (present-day Iran),
and the Mughal Empire in India. All of them
were created by Turkish-speaking invaders
from central Asia, all made use of new gun­
powder weapons and built huge armies, and
all boasted rich and culturally sophisticated
Islamic Expansion: Second Wave
court life, flourishing economies, and im­
For almost 1,000 years before Europeans ven­ pressive bureaucracies. Together they brought
tured far into the Atlantic, the Islamic Middle about a “second flowering” of Islamic power
East was the main crossroads linking African, and culture, comparable only to the early cen­
European, and Asian societies. For several cen­ turies of Islamic civilization. 7
turies (roughly 650-950 CE), a Muslim empire
stretched from Spain in the west to the borders
The Ottoman Empire
of India and China in the east. Even after
this empire fragmented into separate political Chief among these expanding states was
units, the religion oflslam and the Arabic lan­ the Ottoman Empire. From the fourteenth
guage provided some coherence for an enor­ through the sixteenth century, the Ottoman
mous and diverse civilization. The language Turks advanced from their base in Anatolia,
and culture of the Arabian Peninsula became or Asia Minor, to incorporate much of south­
dominant in much of North Africa and the eastern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle
Middle East. And Islam took root well beyond East. Lasting into the early twentieth century,
the boundaries of Arab culture, penetrating the Ottoman Empire began as a regime of
These shared processes all across Eurasia
remind us that the European stamp on mo­
dernity was hardly apparent when Colum­
bus set sail in 1492. Nor was it obvious in
1750, when China was still the world’s largest
economy, Japan the most urbanized society,
Russia the largest empire, and Islam the most
widespread religion. This chapter, then, high­
lights the varying historical trajectories of early
modern societies in three major regions of
the Afro-Eurasian world- the Islamic world,
China, and Russia-as the many peoples of
the world came into increasing contact with
one another. The next chapter focuses the
historical spotlight on the eruption of western
Europeans onto the world stage and the begin­
ning of genuine “globalization.” How might
we compare Islamic, Chinese, Russian, and
western European patterns of expansion? How
and why did the relationship among them
change over time? How did European expan­
sion achieve a global reach while the others
remained regional in scope?
Chapter 7
.— ~- – —, ~
□ Ottoman empire

1,000 km

Safavid empire
Mughal empire
Songay empire

Map 7.1 The Islamic world in the early m od ern era featured four major states or
empires : Ottoman, Safavi d, Mughal, and Songay.
conquest that sometimes took the form of
frontier raids and skirmishes by military bands
called ghazis, inspired by the warrior culture
of central Asian nomads. Later, formal impe­
rial campaigns mobilized huge armies whose
disciplined elite military units, the janissaries,
actively adopted the new technology of gun­
powder into their arsenals and were probably
unmatched as a fighting force at the time. Both
forms of Ottoman expansion were justified in
terms of spreading Islam, and together they
produced an empire almost continually at war
between the mid-fifteenth and the early seven­
teenth century.
Ottomans and the Arabs. In the process
of these enormous conquests, the Ottoman
Turks, relative newcomers to Islam, came
to occupy a leading position within the vast
community of Muslim societies. Their victo­
ries against Christian powers and especially
the taking of Constantinople in 1453 gave
them a growing prestige in the Islamic world
that eased the expansion of the empire. Most
notably, the Ottoman Empire incorporated
much of the Arab world, where the faith had
originated, including the Islamic holy places of
Mecca and Medina. In an age when religious
identity was more important than ethnicity,
the Ottoman Empire was widely viewed as the
protector of Muslims-the strong sword of
Islam- rather than as Turks who conquered
Arabs. Muslims in Spain, Egypt, central Asia,
and elsewhere appealed to the Ottoman state
for support- both military and political- in
their various struggles against infidels and one
Ottomans and the Persians. But in one
part of the Islamic world, the Ottoman Em­
pire came into prolonged conflict with fellow
Muslims, for to its eastern border lay the
rising Safavid Empire, governing the ancient
lands of Persia. With traditions of imperial
rule going back 2,000 years, Persia was in
many ways the cultural center of the Islamic
world. Its language, poetry, architecture, and
painting had spread widely within the lands of
Empires and Encounters in the Early Modern Era
,, r ( ,.1 , ~ , •~I
S /,1::11-
,a ;~ ,, rl.-1.'(:1-i ,’ ” ”
~·,r: t f
.;,·~11.1- · …. 1 1
.•J’ut ,•:I
h ~ //Hfl~ ]
,n(T /1/•
Figure 7.2 The janissaries
were the elite military unit
of the Ottoman Empire. The
Granger Collection, New York.
Islam. Beginning in 1500, the Safavid dynasty,
Turkish in origin, now ruled this ancient land.
Its most famous leader, Shah Abbas I (15871629) turned the country into another pros­
perous and confident center of Islamic power.
A new capital of Isfahan became a metropolis
of 500,000 people with elaborate gardens and
homes for the wealthy, public charities for the
poor, dozens of mosques, religious colleges,
public baths, and hundreds of inns for travel­
ing merchants.
The Ottoman- Safavid rivalry was largely
a struggle for influence and territorial control
over the lands that lay between them (modern
Iraq), but it also reflected sharp religious dif­
ferences. The Ottoman Empire adhered to the
Sunni version oflslam, practiced by most Mus­
lims, but the Safavid Empire had embraced the
Shi’ite variant of the faith. This division in the
Islamic world originated in early disputes over
the rightful succession to Muhammad and
came to include disagreements about doctrine,
ritual, and law. Periodic military conflicts
erupted for over a century (1534- 1639) and
led to violent purges of suspected religious
dissidents in both empires. These religious
Chapter 7
conflicts within the Islamic world paralleled
similar struggles within Christian Europe as
Catholic and Protestant rulers battled one an­
other over issues of theology and territory in
the Thirty Years’ War (1618- 1648).
Ottomans and the West. In conquering
much of the Arab world and in extended mili­
tary confrontation with the Safavid Empire,
the Ottoman Empire encountered other Mus­
lim societies. But its expansion into southeast­
ern Europe represented a cultural encounter of
a different kind-the continuation of a long ri­
valry behveen the world ofislam and Christian
European civilization. In 1453, the Ottomans
seized Constantinople, the ancient capital of
the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire,
and by 1529 their armies had advanced to the
gates of Vienna in the heart of central Europe,
led by Suleiman (r. 1520- 1566), the most
famous of all Ottoman rulers. All southeast­
ern Europe now lay under Muslim control,
including Greece, the heartland of classical
Western culture. Furthermore, the Ottoman
Empire controlled the North African coast
and battled Europeans to a naval stalemate in
the Mediterranean Sea. Here was an external
military and cultural threat to Christian Eu­
rope that resembled the much later threat of
communism in the twentieth century. In both
cases, an alien ideology backed by a powerful
state generated great anxiety in the West. One
European ambassador to the Ottoman court
in the mid-sixteenth century summed up the
situation in fearful terms:
an uninterrupted series of victories, readi­
ness to endure hardships, union, order,
discipline, thrift and watchfulness. On
ours are found an empty exchequer, luxu­
rious habits, exhausted resources, broken
spirits, a raw and insubordinate soldiery,
and greedy quarrels; … and worst of all,
the enemy are accustomed to victory, we
to defeat.8
Even in distant England, the writer Rich­
ard Knolles in 1603 referred to “the glorious
empire of the Turks, the present terror of
the world.” The Islamic threat in the east was
one of the factors that impelled Europeans
westward into the Atlantic in their continuing
search for the riches of Asia.
But not all was conflict across the cultural
divide of Christendom and the Islamic world.
Within the Ottoman Empire, Christians and
other religious minorities were largely left
to govern themselves, and little attempt was
made to force Islam on them. Balkan peas­
ants commonly observed that Turkish rule
was less oppressive than that of their earlier
Christian masters. Furthermore, politics and
greed sometimes overcame religious antago­
nism. Christian France frequently allied with
the Ottoman Empire against their common
enemy, the Austrian Habsburg Empire, and
not a few Christian merchants sold weapons to
the Turks, knowing full well that these would
be used against fellow Christians.
The Mughal E mpire
It makes me shudder to think of what
the result of a struggle betveen such dif­
ferent systems must be; one of us must
prevail and the other be destroyed. . . .
On their side is the vast wealth of their
empire, unimpaired resources, experience
and practice in arms, a veteran soldiery,
If the Ottoman Empire brought a part of
Christian Europe under Muslim control, the
Mughal Empire incorporated most of In­
dia’s ancient and complex Hindu civilization
within the Islamic world. Established in 1526
by yet another central Asian Turkish group,
Empires and Encounters in the Early Modern Era
the Mughal Empire continued a 500-year-old
Muslim presence on the South Asian pen­
insula; created a prosperous, powerful, and
sophisticated state; and deepened the long
encounter between Islamic and Hindu civili­
zations. For 150 years (1550-1700), successive
Mughal emperors repeatedly went to war until
they had conquered all but the southern tip of
a normally fragmented subcontinent, ruling
some 100 million people. In doing so, they
laid the foundations for a united India that
was later taken over by the British and after
1947 by the independent states of India and
Muslims and Hindus. The Mughal Empire
represented a remarkable experiment in mul­
ticultural state building. Even more than their
Ottoman counterpart, the Mughal Empire
governed a primarily non-Muslim population
and went to considerable lengths to accom­
modate its Hindu subjects. Its most famous
emperor, Akbar (1556-1605), encouraged in­
termarriage between the Mughal aristocracy
and leading Hindu families, ended discrim­
inatory taxes on non-Muslims, patronized
Hindu temples and festivals, and promoted
Hindus into prominent government positions.
He sought to solidify the empire by creating
a cosmopolitan Indian Islamic culture that
would transcend the many sectarian conflicts
of Indian society rather than promoting an
exclusively Muslim identity. As a part of this
effort, Akbar invited leading intellectuals from
many traditions to court for serious philo­
sophical discussions that he introduced with
this speech:
I perceive that there are varying cus­
toms and beliefs of varying religious
paths. . . . But the followers of each
religion regard … their own religion as
better than those of any other. Not only
so, but they strive to convert the rest to
their own way of belief. If these refuse
to be converted, they not only despise
them, but also regard them as … enemies.
And this caused me to feel many serious
doubts and scruples. Wherefore I desire
that on appointed days the books of all the
religious laws be brought forward, and the
doctors meet and hold discussions, so that
I may hear them, and that each one may
determine which is the truest and mighti­
est religion.9
Thus, Mughal India witnessed no single
or officially prescribed Muslim culture such as
existed in the Safavid Empire. Rather, a wide
variety of Islamic practices competed with
each other, and many of them received sup­
port from the state. Furthermore, elements of
Islamic and Hindu/Buddhist culture blended
in distinctly Indian patterns-in architecture,
painting, poetry, and literature. Such blend­
ing was apparent in popular culture as well.
Adherents of the Hindu devotional tradition
known as bhakti and Islamic mystics known
as sufis practiced similar forms of worship
and blurred the otherwise sharp distinction
between Islam and Hinduism. Hindus and
Muslims sometimes venerated the same saints
and shrines. Some Muslims even found a place
in a Hindu-based caste system.
But this policy of accommodation and
cultural blending incurred the opposition of
some Muslim leaders who felt that Akbar and
his immediate successors had betrayed the
duties of a Muslim ruler and compromised
the unique revelation granted to Muhammad.
That opposition found expression during the
reign of Aurangzeb (1658-1707), who re­
versed the conciliation of Hindus and souo-ht
to govern in a more distinctly Islamic fashion.
Hindu officials were dismissed, some Hindu
23 0
Chapter 7
Figure 7.3 The Muslim Mughal conquerors of
India encountered a very different religion in
Hinduism. This painting from Hindu Rajasthan
in northwest India illustrates a Hindu music
tradition called ragamala. The lyrics describe
(in the middle section) Radha turning away
from her lover, the kneeling god Khrisna,
because she knows he has spent the night
with another woman. The bottom panel shows
the elephant-headed god Ganesh driving a
chariot. Why might some Muslims be opposed
to Mughal toleration of a religion like this? The
Metropolitan Museum of Art/Roger Fund, 1952.
temples destroyed, and discriminatory taxes
reimposed on non-Muslims. These actions
weakened the tradition of religious toleration
that had earlier balanced the multiple commu­
nities of the empire. Internal rebellion flared,
pitting “Hindu” against Muslim, and regional
power centers became more prominent as the
central state lost power. Thus, the Mughal Em­
pire, like the Ottoman, featured a significant
cultural encounter with reverberations that
have lasted into the twenty-first century.
An Expanding Economy. Mughal India’s
experiment in multicultural state building was
underwritten by impressive economic expan­
sion. Its participation in the world of Islam
fostered trade, and Indian merchants, perhaps
35,000 of them, conducted business in the ma­
jor cities and some of the rural areas of Iran,
Afghanistan, central Asia, and Russia. 10 It was
a commercial network fully as sophisticated as
and much more extensive than those that Eu­
ropeans created in Asia. At home, the Mughal
Empire became a highly commercialized soci­
ety, for its demand that peasants pay their land
taxes in imperial coin rather than in produce
required them to sell agricultural products on
the market and to buy salt, iron, and other
commodities. As late as 1750, India accounted
for 25 percent of world manufacturing output,
and its high-quality cotton textile industry
dominated the markets of the world.
The Songay Empire
Yet a further center of Islamic political power
lay in West Africa, where the Songay Empire
took shape in the late 1400s around the bend
of the Niger River and extended deep into the
Sahara Desert. It was the latest and the largest
of a series of West African empires based on
trade in gold and salt across the desert. Like
the Mughals in India, the Songay people were
a minority ethnic group that ruled over a vast
and diverse domain. The rulers and merchant
elites in the cities-especially Timbuktu- were
Muslim, but Islam had penetrated very little
into the rural hinterlands. Therefore, Songay
rulers, like the Mughals, had to constantly
balance their allegiance to Islam with duties to
traditional religious rituals and deities. Unlike
the Mughal and Ottoman empires, Songay had
not yet incorporated gunpowder weapons into
its arsenals but relied on cavalry forces bearing
Empires and Encounters in the Early Modern Era
swords and bows and arrows in which both
horses and riders were protected with a thick
armor of quilted cloth.
The Songay Empire was short lived, col­
lapsing in 1591 when it was confronted with
an invasion from Morocco, and dissolved into
a series of smaller states. But the disappearance
of large-scale political structures did little to
disrupt the long-established relationships that
bound sub-Saharan Africa from the Atlantic
Ocean to the Red Sea to the larger world of
Eurasia. Continuing trans-Saharan trade links
and the slow growth of Islam tied this part of
Africa solidly into the web of Eurasian inter­
actions. A Moroccan traveler, Leo Africanus,
wrote about the Songay city of Timbuktu in
The shops of the artisans, the merchants,
and especially weavers of cotton cloth
are very numerous. Fabrics are also im­
ported from Europe to Timbuktu, borne
by Berber merchants…. The inhabitants
are very rich, especially the strangers who
have settled in the country.. .. There are in
Timbuktu numerous judges, teachers and
priests, all properly appointed by the king.
He greatly honors learning. Many hand­
written books imported from Barbary
are also sold. There is more profit made
from this commerce than from all other
merchandise. 11
Reliiious Vitality
and Political D ecline
An Islamic World. Despite its division
into various and sometimes hostile states and
empires, the Islamic world remained also one
world, united by the bonds of faith, by com­
mon scriptures, by historical memories, by
the ties of commerce, by pilgrimage to Mecca,
and by the travels of learned and holy men.
Scholars and scribes, prayer mats and pre­
cious books, and officials and jurists made the
journey between the heartland of Islam in the
Middle East and its outlying peripheries in
India, Southeast Asia, southern Europe, and
West Africa.
Conversion. It was certainly not a static
world. Together, the Ottoman, Safavid, Mu­
ghal, and Songay empires demonstrate the
political vitality and expansiveness of the Is­
lamic world even as Europe expanded into the
Atlantic and beyond. The religious vitality of
Islam was apparent in the continued spread
of the faith both within and beyond the major
Muslim empires. The Ottomans brought Islam
to Anatolia (modern Turkey), and a modest
number of European Christians in the empire
converted as well. So did perhaps 20 percent
or so of India’s population. More widespread
Islamization took place in Southeast Asia, es­
pecially what is now Indonesia, and in the Af­
rican savanna lands south of the Sahara. These
conversions were encouraged by expanding
networks of Muslim traders who carried the
faith with them. Islamic mystics or holy men,
known as sufis, often gained reputations for
kindness, divination, protective charms, and
healing and in so doing facilitated conver­
sion. The support of Muslim governments;
the material advantages of a Muslim identity,
including exemption from taxes on nonbeliev­
ers; and the general prestige of the Islamic
world also attracted many into the “abode of
Islam.” But conversion did not always mean a
complete change of religious allegiance; rather,
it often involved the assimilation of bits and
pieces of Islamic belief and practice into exist­
ing religious frameworks.
The incompleteness of the conversion pro­
cess and the blending of Islam with other
religious practices created tensions in many
societies. In the eighteenth and nineteenth
Chapter 7
centuries, these tensions gave rise to move­
ments all across the Islamic world seeking to
purify the practice of the faith and to return
to the original Islam of Muhammad. One of
the most prominent was associated with a
young Muslim theologian, Abd al-Wahhab, in
mid-eighteenth-century Arabia. He called for
a strict adherence to the shari’a, or the Islamic
law code, and denounced the widespread ven­
eration of sufis and of Muhammad’s tomb,
both of which he viewed as potentially leading
to idolatry and thus as threats to the absolute
monotheism of authentic Islam. Although
militarily crushed by Egyptian forces loyal to
the Ottoman Empire, the revivalist impulse
persisted and surfaced repeatedly throughout
the Islamic world during the nineteenth cen­
tury, from Africa to Indonesia, sometimes di­
rected against local deviations from prescribed
Islamic practice and at other times against
growing European intrusion.
Decline of Islamic Empires. The case for re­
ligious reform was strengthened by the internal
decline of the great Muslim empires during the
eighteenth century. During that century, the
Ottoman Empire substantially weakened and
lost territory in wars with the Austrian and
Russian empires, the Safavid Empire collapsed
altogether, and the Mughal Empire fragmented
and was increasingly taken over by the British.
Muslims who understood history as the trium­
phal march of Allah’s faithful were dismayed
by these setbacks, and som e blamed them on
a gradual process of decay and departure from
the pure faith that had crept in as Islam adapted
to various Asian and African cultures.
Modern historians offer other explana­
tions. Some emphasize the declining quality
of imperial leadership and internal conflicts
that became more acute as opportunities
for further expansion diminished. Muslim
empires were also weakened by the growth
of European oceanic trade routes that in­
creasingly bypassed older land-based routes
through the Middle East and deprived Islamic
states of much -needed revenue. Others stress
the cultural conservatism of Islamic societies.
Accustomed to a near millennium of success
and prominence in the Afro-Eurasian world,
many elite Muslims remained uninterested
in scientific and technological developments
then taking place in an infidel Europe. In 1580,
for example, conservative Muslims forced the
Ottoman sultan to dismantle an astronomical
observatory that was as sophisticated as any in
Europe at the time. In 1742, they protested a
recently established printing press as impious
and successfully demanded its closure. An Ot­
toman official, Kateb Chelebi, responded with
a warning against blind ignorance:
For the man who is in charge of affairs of
state, the science of geography is one of the
matters of which knowledge is necessary.
If he is not familiar with what the entire
earth’s sphere is like, he should at least
know the map of the Ottoman domains
and that of the states adjoining it, so that
when there is a campaign and military
forces have to be sent, he can proceed
on the basis of knowledge. . . . Sufficient
and compelling proof of the necessity
for [learning] this science is the fact that
the unbelievers [Christian Europeans], by
their application to and their esteem for
those branches of learning, have discov­
ered the New World and have overrun the
ports of India and the East Indies. 12
For much of the early modern era, how­
ever, the Islamic world was a dynamic place
with powerful and expanding empires bring­
ing large areas of Christian, Hindu, and Afri­
can civilizations under Islamic control. These
empires prospered with their m erchants active
Empires and Encounters in the Early Modern Era
participants in world trade. Sophisticated cul­
tures produced such magnificent works as
the Taj Mahal in India and the Blue Mosque
in Istanbul. And the religion of Islam contin­
ued to grow throughout the Afro-Eurasian
world. Clearly, Europeans had no monopoly
on political or cultural expansion in the early
modern world.
China Outward Bound
While expanding Muslim empires dominated
the Middle East and South Asia in the early
modern world, China was the engine of ex­
pansion in East Asia. Early modern China was
heir to a long and distinctive civilization, a so­
phisticated elite culture informed by the writ­
ings of Confucius, an ethnically homogeneous
population compared to India and Europe,
and long periods of political unity under a suc­
cession of powerful dynasties. Headed by an
autocratic emperor, these dynasties governed
through a prestigious bureaucracy recruited
from a landowning elite by competitive writ­
ten examinations.
Early modern China, governed by the
Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dy­
nasties, was an impressive place. Its state, ac­
cording to one recent historian, was “arguably
the strongest, most centralized, most stable
of the early modern empires.”B It presided
over an economy that was able to support a
fourfold increase in its population from 75
million in 1400 to 320 million in 1800 while
generating standards of living, life expectan­
cies, and nutritional levels that were among
the highest in the world at the time. Achieving
Oing Dynasty China, 1690
China’s Inner Asian Empire,
Ming Dynasty voyages,
1,000 mi

Map 7.2 China’s dynamism in the early modern era was reflected in its brief
maritime voyages, its empire-building activities in inner Asia, and its settlement
Chapter 7
this remarkable record involved tripling the
area of land under cultivation, developing
more productive techniques of farming, and
assimilating American crops, such as corn
and the sweet potato. The growing population
also pushed forward the long-term process of
internal colonization in which Chinese settlers
occupied sparsely populated and often hilly
lands south of the Yangtze River. This in turn
provoked frequent hostility from non-Chinese
groups in the south, such as the Miao, Yao,
and Yi peoples, who were increasingly assimi­
lated into Chinese culture.
China and the World
While often depicted as a separate and even
isolated civilization, China had long inter­
acted with a wider world. During its early
Han dynasty (202 BCE-220 CE), China was
the eastern terminus of the trans-Eurasian
Silk Road trading network. Buddhism initially
penetrated China during these centuries and
became a major cultural force in the country.
Furthermore, the enormous presence and at­
tractiveness of Chinese culture ensured that
elements of that civilization-Confucianism,
Buddhism, artistic and architectural styles, ad­
ministrative systems, and elite culture- spread
to adjacent regions such as Japan, Korea, and
Vietnam. Chinese armies invaded Korea and
Vietnam and fought repeatedly with the no­
madic peoples to the north and west who had
long represented the chief threat to China’s
security. The Mongols under Genghis Khan
were the most successful of these northwest­
ern nomads, conquering Peiking (Beijing) in
1215. Mongols ruled all of China for almost
a century (1279- 1368). Chinese merchants
established themselves in many of the ports
of East and Southeast Asia. Chinese influence
(and sometimes political control) penetrated
westward into central Asia and north of the
Great Wall into the lands of various nomadic
peoples. And Chinese products, such as silk
and ceramics, and technologies, such as pa­
permaking, printing, and gunpowder, spread
widely beyond China itself.
The Tribute System. Thus, an interacting
world in eastern Asia, centered on China, par­
alleled an interacting Islamic world centered
on the Middle East. What normally held it to­
gether, however, was not a common religious
tradition but the so-called tribute system, in
which the non-Chinese participants ritually
acknowledged the superiority of China and
their own dependent status by sending tribute
to the emperor and “kowtowing” before him.
In return, they received lavish gifts and much­
desired trading opportunities within China. It
was clear to everyone that this was no equal
New Forms of Chinese Expansion. Much of
this persisted into the early modern era, but
Chinese patterns of expansion also took new
shape in three new ways. First, in the early
fifteenth century, China undertook a series
of massive though short-lived maritime voy­
ages into the South China Sea and the Indian
Ocean. Second, in the late seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, China vastly extended
its territorial reach to the north and west,
bringing a variety of peoples under Chinese
colonial rule and roughly doubling the size
of the Chinese state in the process. Finally,
China incorporated the large offshore island
of Taiwan, settling it with many thousands of
Chinese immigrants. All this marks China as
a major center of expansion in the early mod­
ern era and invites comparisons with similar
processes in the Islamic and European worlds.
Empires and Encounters in the Early Modern Era
A Maritime Empire Refused:
The Ming Dynasty Voyages
In the fall of 1405, a fleet of some 317 vessels
departed Nanjing, then the capital of Ming
dynasty China, bound for Calicut on the west
coast of India. The largest, called “treasure
ships,” measured some 400 feet in length and
160 feet wide and carried 24 cannon and a va­
riety of gunpowder weapons. The crew of this
enormous fleet numbered over 27,000, about
half of them seamen and soldiers but includ­
ing also military commanders, ambassadors
and administrators of various ranks, medical
officers and pharmacologists, translators, as­
trologers, ritual experts, and skilled workmen.
This was the first of seven such expeditions be­
tween 1405 and 1433 that visited major ports
in Southeast Asia, southern India, the Arabian
Peninsula, and the East African coast, project­
ing Chinese power and influence throughout
the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean
basin. And then, quite abruptly, the voyages
stopped. The building of large ships ended,
and the Chinese fleet declined sharply. In
1525, an imperial edict ordered the destruc­
tion of all oceangoing ships. Even the official
records of the earlier maritime voyages disap­
peared. “In less than a hundred years,” wrote a
recent historian of these voyages, “the greatest
navy the world had ever known had ordered
itself into extinction.” 14
A Road Not Taken. The Ming dynasty voy­
ages pose one of the most intriguing “what-if’
questions of modern world history. Clearly,
fifteenth-century China had the capacity to
create an enormous maritime empire in the
Indian Ocean and beyond and to dominate its
rich commercial potential. What would have
happened if this formidable Chinese navy
had encountered the far smaller Portuguese
expeditions that entered the Indian Ocean in
the early sixteenth century? Had the Chinese
rounded the southern tip of Africa, entered
Figure 7.4 Comparison of one of Zheng He’s Treasure Ships with Columbus’s Santa Maria.
Columbus’s ship was 85 feet; Zheng He’s was 400 feet. Illustration by Jan Adkins, 1993.
Chapter 7
the Atlantic Ocean, and made contact with
the Americas, a China-centered economy or
empire of global dimensions was surely pos­
sible, and an entirely different direction to
modern world history would have been likely.
This kind of speculation invites a comparison
between Chinese maritime expansion and the
early phases of European, mostly Portuguese
and Spanish, oceanic “discoveries.” These Eu­
ropean voyagers had crept down the West Af­
rican coast in the fifteenth century, traversed
the Atlantic with Columbus in 1492, entered
the Indian Ocean with V asco da Gama in
1497, and penetrated the Pacific with Magellan
in 1520. How did these voyages differ from the
Chinese maritime expeditions?
ComparinJt Chinese
and European Voyages
The most obvious differences were of size and
scale. Columbus’s first transatlantic voyage
contained but three ships, each no more than
100 feet in length, less than a quarter the size
of Chinese treasure ships, and a total crew of
90 men. The largest fleet which the Portu­
guese ever assembled in Asia contained just 43
ships. Clearly, the Chinese possessed a degree
of wealth, manpower, and material resources
that far surpassed that of the Europeans. 15 But
the Chinese were entering known and charted
waters in which long-distance commercial
shipping had been long practiced, while the
Europeans, particularly in the Atlantic basin,
had little idea where they were going and no
predecessors to guide them.
Power and Religion. A further difference
lay in the conduct of the expeditions. The
Portuguese in the Indian Ocean frequently
resorted to violence, attempted to monopolize
trade, and established armed fortifications
where they could, and the Spanish in the
New World soon turned to outright conquest,
carving out a huge empire in the Caribbean,
Mexico, and the Andean highlands. Inspired
by the spirit of the crusades, Europeans sought
to implant their own religion wherever pos­
sible. The Chinese, by contrast, seldom used
force; they did not construct forts, conquer
territory, or establish colonies. Perhaps their
huge numbers, obvious military potential, and
enormous wealth provided an incentive for
cooperation that the weaker and poorer Euro­
peans lacked. The Chinese sought rather to in­
corporate maritime Asia and Africa within the
tribute system, and this required an acknowl­
edgment of Chinese authority and superiority
in return for commercial access to China. The
fourth voyage, for example, brought back the
envoys of 30 separate states or cities to pay
homage to the Chinese emperor. Nor did the
Chinese voyages have a religious mission. The
admiral of these voyages, Zheng He, was a
Muslim, and on one of his visits to Ceylon, he
erected a tablet honoring alike the Buddha, a
Hindu deity, and Allah. It would be difficult to
imagine a Spanish or Portuguese monarch of
the same era entrusting his ships to a Muslim
sea captain or any European ruler practicing
such religious toleration.
Differing Motives. The impulse behind
these voyages differed as well. In Europe, a
highly competitive state system sustained ex­
ploration and oceanic voyaging over several
centuries, and various groups had an interest
in overseas expansion. Revenue-hungry mon­
archs anxious to best their rivals, competing
merchants desperate to find a direct route to
Asian riches, rival religious orders eager to
convert the “heathen” and confront Islam ic
power, and impoverished nobles seeking a
quick route to status and position-all of these
contributed to the outward impulse of a Eu­
ropean civilization vaguely aware of its own
Empires and Encounters in the Early Modern Era
marginality in the world. In China, by con­
trast, the Ming dynasty voyages were the proj­
ect of a single unusually visionary emperor,
eager to cement his legitimacy and China’s
international prestige after a bitter civil war.
His primary supporters were a small cadre of
eunuchs, such as Zheng He, with official posi­
tions at the court. Most Chinese merchants
already had access to whatever foreign goods
they needed through long-established ties to
Southeast Asia and from foreign traders more
than willing to come to China. And the pow­
erful scholar-gentry class, which staffed the
official bureaucracy, generally opposed the
voyages, believing them a wasteful and unnec­
essary diversion of resources from more press­
ing tasks. In their view, China was the Middle
Kingdom, the self-sufficient center of the
world with little need for foreign curiosities.
After the death of the emperor Yangle, who
had initiated these voyages, these more tra­
ditional voices prevailed. A single centralized
authority made it possible to order an end to
official maritime voyaging, while in the West
the endless rivalries of competing states drove
European expansion to the ends of the earth.
Thus, the Chinese state turned its back to the
sea, focusing on the more customary threat of
nomadic incursions north of the Great Wall.
Differing Legacies. Despite their unprece­
dented size and power, Chinese voyages made
little lasting impression on the societies they
visited. And back at home, the memory of
his achievements was deliberately suppressed,
and even the records of his journeys were de­
stroyed. This was very different from Europe’s
celebration of men like Columbus and Magel­
lan, who achieved the status of folk heroes.
But the cessation of Zheng He’s voyages did
not mean the end of a Chinese commercial
presence in Southeast Asia, for private Chi­
nese traders and craftsmen in the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries, especially from the
southern province of Fujian, often settled in
East and Southeast Asia. Sizable Chinese com­
munities emerged in Japan, the Philippines,
Taiwan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, the
Malay Peninsula, and throughout the Indone­
sian archipelago, where they proved useful to
local authorities and to intruding Europeans
in brokering commerce with China. While
Europeans were developing a huge maritime
market in the Atlantic basin, the Chinese had
created one in East and Southeast Asia.
But China’s maritime world altogether
lacked the protection and support of the Chi­
nese state. When the Spanish in the Phil­
ippines massacred some 20,000 Chinese in
1603, the Chinese government did nothing to
assist or avenge them. Thus, Chinese official
maritime voyages, private settlement abroad,
and an impressive entrepreneurial presence
throughout Southeast Asia did not lead to an
expanding Chinese empire. In this respect,
China differed sharply from European gov­
ernments, which licensed and supported their
overseas merchants and settlers as a founda­
tion for a growing imperial presence in the
Americas and in Asia.
China’s Inner A sian Empire
Manchus Move West. If China declined to
create a maritime empire in Southeast Asia
and beyond, it actively pursued a land-based
empire in inner Asia, to the north and west
of heartland China- from where the Mongols
had come to conquer in the thirteenth century.
During the late seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries, China’s Manchu or Qing dynasty
rulers brought Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet
under direct Chinese control. These were
huge dry areas, sparsely populated by largely
nomadic peoples practicing Islam, Buddhism,
Chapter 7
or ancient animistic religions. While they had
long interacted with China through com­
merce, warfare, and tribute missions, they
had normally remained outside formal con­
trol of the Chinese state. But the new Qing
dynasty (1644-1911), itself of non-Chinese
origins from the northeast in Manchuria, felt
threatened by a potential alliance of Mongol
tribes and Tibet and by growing Russian en­
croachment along the Amur River valley. This
sense of threat motivated a prolonged series
of military and diplomatic efforts, lasting well
over a century, that brought these areas under
sustained and direct Chinese rule for the first
time. In the process, China became more than
ever an empire, ruling over a variety of non­
Chinese people.
Empires of Many Nations. This new Chi­
nese Empire broadly resembled the European
empires under construction in the Americas
and elsewhere at roughly the same time. Like
their European counterparts, the Qing dynasty
took advantage of divisions among subject
peoples, allying with some of them and gov­
erning indirectly through a variety of native
elites, local nobilities, and religious leaders.
Furthermore, the central Chinese government
administered these new territories separately
clothing, and encouraging both immigration
and intermarriage. 16
But the early modern Chinese Empire also
differed from its European counterparts in
important ways. Most obviously, it was a land­
based empire, like the Ottoman Empire, gov­
from the rest of the country through a new
bureaucratic office called the Lifan Yuan, simi­
lar to the Colonial Office, which later ran
the British Empire. Chinese authorities also
limited immigration into these areas. Such ef­
forts to keep the new territories separate from
China proper contrast with policies toward
non-Chinese peoples to the south, where the
climate and geography made a Chinese style
of agriculture possible. There, assimilation
was the goal with Chinese officials operating
through the normal provincial administra­
tion, establishing schools to promote Chinese
culture, forbidding men to wear traditional
concubine, permitted her to maintain strict re­
ligious and dietary practices, and inscribed her
tomb with passages from the Quran in Arabic.
No European ruler would have practiced such
erning adjacent territories rather than those
separated by vast oceans. This gave the Chi­
nese central state somewhat greater control
over its newly subjected regions than Europe­
ans who often had to wait months or years to
communicate with the colonies, at least before
the advent of the steamship and telegraph.
Furthermore, the Qing dynasty governed areas
with which China had some cultural similari­
ties and historical relationships, whereas the
Europeans felt little in common with their
American, African, or Asian possessions and
had almost no prior direct contact with them.
This may have contributed something to the
sharper sense of difference betveen colonizers
and the colonized that characterized European
relationships with subject peoples. Qing rulers,
unlike Europeans in America, generally toler­
ated local cultures, trusting that the evident su­
periority of Chinese civilization would win the
allegiance oflocal people. One emperor, Qian­
long, even took a Xinjiang Muslim woman as a
Consequences of Empire. Qing dynasty
empire building had lasting consequences.
Together with Russian im perial expansion
across Siberia, it finally put an end to the in­
dependent power of central Asian nomadic
peoples who had for 2,000 years both con­
nected and threatened the agrarian civiliza­
tions of outer Eurasia. Without easy access
to gunpowder weapons, these peoples were
Empires and Encounters in the Early Modern Era
incorporated within one or another of the Dutch control as Europeans sought offshore
great early modern empires. An ancient way bases from which to take part in lucrative
of life was passing into history. Furthermore, Asian trade. In order to make the island self­
the simultaneous growth of the Chinese and sufficient in rice, Dutch authorities invited
Russian empires meant the division of central Chinese immigrants to settle there, a process
Asia between them and the beginning of a that only intensified after China expelled the
long and often contentious relationship that Dutch in 1661 and took control of the is­
even the common experience of twentieth­ land. During the eighteenth century, Ch inese
century communism did not overcome. And migration to Taiwan boomed, particularly
by transforming China into a multinational from the densely populated regions of coastal
empire, although one with an overwhelm ingly South China, and the native Taiwanese soon
Chinese population, the Qing dynasty set in found themselves greatly outnumbered by
motion tensions that would plague China in the recent immigrants.
the twentieth century and beyond. As the po­
Unlike native peoples in Siberia or the
tent force of modern nationalism penetrated Americas, indigenous Taiwanese did not suffer
China in the late nineteenth century, it un­ from imported diseases; their earlier connec­
dermined the legitimacy of the non-Chinese tions with the mainland provided them with
Qing dynasty itself and set the stage for the immunities to standard Chinese maladies.
Chinese revolution of 1911, which both over­ And the Chinese state generally required their
threw that dynasty and ended China’s dynastic settlers to respect the land rights of the na­
history altogether. But it also worked on the tive peoples. But the overwhelming numbers
consciousness of those non-Chinese peoples of Chinese settlers gradually undermined the
newly incorporated into the Chinese Empire. economic basis of Taiwanese life. The trade
It is surely no accident that efforts to achieve in deerskins on which many had depended
autonomy or independence from China in the largely collapsed by the mid-eighteenth cen­
early n,venty-first century derive from those tury as overhunting and the loss of habitat to
areas incorporated into the empire during agriculture greatly reduced the deer herds. By
Qing times-Tibet and Xinjiang in particular. the early nineteenth century, many Taiwanese
were well on their way to becoming Chinese
as they took on the Chinese language, names,
China and ‘Taiwan
modes of dress, medicine, and religious prac­
A third focus of Chinese expansion in early tice. It was a process more similar to China’s
modern times took shape on the island of internal colonization than to the creation of its
Taiwan, about 100 miles off the coast of inner Asian empire or its short-lived maritime
southern China. 17 Th e native peoples of Tai­ expeditions in the Indian Ocean.
wan, ethnically and linguistically quite dis­
Collectively, these three forms of Chinese
tinct from those of China, had long lived expansion, together with its highly productive
independently in agricultural villages while economy, powerful state, growing population,
exportin g deerskins to their giant neighbor and sophisticated culture, remind us that early
and providing occasional refuge for Chinese modern China was a dynamic and expand­
and Japanese pirates. In the early seven­ ing society. It was very much in motion on
teenth century, the island came briefly under its own trajectory when it encountered an
Chapter 7
outward-bound Europe in the sixteenth cen­
tury and beyond.
The Making of a Russian Empire
Paralleling both Islamic and Chinese expan­
sion in the early modern era and intersecting
with them was a rapidly growing Russian
Empire. It was an unlikely story. In the mid­
fifteenth century, a small, quarrelsome Rus­
sian state, centered on the city of Moscow
and embracing the Eastern Orthodox variant
of Christianity, had emerged on the remote,
cold, and heavily forested eastern periphery of
Europe after 200 years of Mongol domination
and exploitation. That state and the society
it embraced evolved in quite distinctive ways
during the early modern centuries.
Mother Russia
In western Europe, rulers generally respected
the property rights of their subjects while ne­
gotiating with them over political power. But
Russian tsars, following the Mongol model,
claimed total authority over both the territory
and the people of their country. While these
claims were never fully realized, the Russian
state came to exercise greater authority over
individuals and society than was the case in
western Europe. A long and bloody struggle
removed the nobility as an obstacle to royal
authority and required them to render service
to the tsar in return for their estates and the
right to exploit their peasants. Urban mer­
chants, few in nun1ber and far removed from
the main routes of international commerce,
had learned that “the path to wealth lay not
in fighting the authorities but in collaborating
with them.”18 And while the Catholic Church
in western Europe resisted state authority,
Russia’s Orthodox Church was closely identi­
fied with and controlled by the government.
As the nobility, the bourgeoisie, and the
Orthodox Church came under the control of
an increasingly powerful state, so too were
the ancient privileges of the peasantry under­
mined. From early times, Russian peasants
had been tenants, free to move from one land­
lord to another. But when, in the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries large numbers of them
took advantage of this right to move into the
recently conquered and fertile “black soil” re­
gion south of Moscow, the state acted to enserf
them and to forbid their leaving the estates of
their landlords. There serfs had a measure of
autonomy over their own internal affairs but
were subject to harsh and frequent discipline
by their owners, usually severe floggings with
a birch rod. Serfdom was created in Russia just
as it was declining in western Europe.
But the most striking feature of early mod­
ern Russia was its relentless expansion. Despite
its unpromising location on the interior mar­
gins of major European and Asian societies,
Russia became the world’s largest territorial
empire, stretching from Poland to the Pacific
and from the Arctic Ocean to the northern
borders of the Ottoman and Chinese empires
to encompass roughly one-sixth of the world’s
land area. Russian empire building paralleled
the overseas expansion of Portugal, Spain, and
England on Europe’s western periphery but
proved more enduring than any of them.
“Soft G old”: A n Empire of Furs
The greatest part of Russia’s emerging empire
lay to the east of the Ural Mountains in that
vast territory of frozen swampland, endless
forests, and spacious grasslands known as
Empires and Encounters in the Early Modern Era
Sen of
SIBE~ ‘ . . ~ ALASKA
…,._, _,~ J,IORTH
__ ~
Map 7.3
, 0
< CHINA,, 600 mi-·,._' , 600 km c::=- D D CJ Russia in 1598 Acquisitions through Peter the Great, 1725 Acquisitions through Catherine the Great and Paul I, 1801 During the early modern era, Russia's empire became the largest in the Siberia. Sparsely inhabited by various hunt­ ing, fishing, and pastoral peoples, most of them without state structures or gunpowder weapons, Siberia hosted societies organized in kinship groups or clans, frequently on the move and worshipping a pantheon of nature gods. The way to Siberia opened up only after Moscow brought other Russian principalities under its control and especially after defeating the Muslim state of Kazan, a fragment of the earlier Mongol Empire. Then, in the 1580s, Si­ beria stretched before them some 3,000 miles, largely unknown, populated by only about 200,000 people, and possessed, many believed, of great wealth. In less than a century, Russians penetrated to the Pacific Ocean across some of the world's most difficult terrain; subdued dozens of Siberian peoples; erected a line of fortifications, trading posts, and towns; and claimed all of northern Asia for their tsar. In its continental dimensions, Russian expan­ sion resembled that of the United States as it moved westward toward the Pacific, though it occurred much more rapidly. The early nineteenth-century French writer Alexis de Tocqueville noticed the similarity when he observed that these two countries seemed "marked out by the will of heaven to sway the destinies of half the globe." 19 Siberia and Beyond. The Russian Empire was a military and bureaucratic project of the Russian state, but it was undertaken by a variety of private interests. A wealthy mer­ chant family, the Stroganovs, led the way into 242 Chapter 7 Kazan and Siberia. Their shock troops were hired Cossacks made up of former peasants, criminals, and vagabonds who had escaped the bonds of serfdom. They were fiercely inde­ pendent, egalitarian, and ready to turn bandit or sell their formidable military skills to the highest bidder. Like the small groups of con­ quistadores who pioneered Spanish conquests in the Americas, Cossack troops ·with firearms overwhelmed, often brutally, the far more nu­ merous Siberians armed only with bows and arrows. Trappers and hunters followed in the wake of conquest, as did a growing number of Russian peasants who could escape the bonds of serfdom by migrating to Siberia. Priests and missionaries of the Russian Orthodox Church likewise accompanied the advance of empire. Siberia became as well a place to dump Rus­ sia's undesirables-convicted criminals, politi­ cal prisoners, and religious dissidents. Thus, the Russian population of Siberia grew rapidly over the centuries: in 1700, they numbered about 300,000; by 1800, 900,000; and by 1900, more than 5 million. In 1911, the indigenous people of Siberia, overwhelmed by the new­ comers, represented little more than 10 per­ cent of its total population.20 long supply lines, American and British op­ position, and more attractive opportunities in China and central Asia. The end of the Ameri­ can venture came in 1867 when Russia finally Nor was Siberia the end of Russian ambi­ punishment if they failed to do so. Russians also brought n ew diseases that substantially re­ duced their numbers, new goods that rendered them dependent on Russians, and alcohol and tions to the east. Tsar Peter I (known to history as Peter the Great) set in motion plans for extending Russian power and colonization to another continent across the Bering Sea to the northwestern corner of the Americas. Begin­ ning in the mid-eighteenth century, Russian e>..rplorers and merchants established a Russian
presence in Alaska, pushed down the west
coast of Canada to northern California, and
penetrated the Pacific Ocean as far as Ha­
waii, where they briefly established a fort and
dreamed of a Russian West Indies. But a per­
manent Russian presence in the New World
proved untenable, the victim of enormously
sold Alaska to the United States.
The Impact ofEmpire. Siberia, however, re­
mained a permanent and fully integrated part
of Russia and exercised a profound impact on
the emerging Russian state. It was a source of
great wealth, initially in the form of animal
furs-sables, black foxes, sea otters, and oth­
ers. Europe’s growing wealth in early modern
times, derived in part from the profits of its
own empires, created a huge market for these
furs and rendered them extremely valuable.
China too became a market for Russian furs.
The quest for furs-often called “soft gold”­
pulled the Russians across Siberia and onto
the North American continent in a fashion
similar to the French fur-trading empire in
Canada. Russian hunters and trappers rapa­
ciously reaped this natural harvest to the point
of exhaustion and then moved on to fresh ter­
ritory. The native peoples of Siberia suffered
tremendously from this Russian “fur fever” as
they were forced to hand over large quantities
of pelts as tribute and had to endure bitter
tobacco, to which many became addicted. As
in the Americas, the cost of incorporation
into the network of agrarian empires was high
What was a grievous loss to native Sibe­
rians was a great gain for the Russian state,
which by 1700 acquired about 10 percent of
its revenue from ta.'{es on the fur trade. In
addition to fur, western Siberia provided high­
quality iron ore for its industries and armies
and turned Russia by the mid-eighteenth
Empires and Encounters in the Early Modern Era
Figure 7.5 This woodcut shows hunting sable, a kind of weasel, for its valuable fu r in Siberi a.
The Granger Collection, New York.
century into a major exporter of that metal.
Siberian copper, gold, and silver likewise en­
riched the empire. In short, the resources of
Siberia played a major role in transforming
Russia into one of the great powers of Europe
during the eighteenth century. Its oil, gas, tim­
ber, and mineral resources did the same for the
Soviet Union in the twentieth.
Siberia also turned Russia into an Asian
power as it came to dominate the northern
region of that continent. Its subsequent expan­
sion into central Asia during the nineteenth
century only enhanced its Asian presence. In
the process, Russia came into contact- both
military and commercial-with China, with
ancient Muslim societies of central Asia, and
with the Ottoman Empire. As it incorporated
large numbers of Muslims, Buddhists, and
other non-Christian people into its empire,
Russia also developed something of an identity
problem, felt most acutely by its intellectu­
als in the nineteenth century and after. With
an empire that stretched from Poland to the
Pacific, was Russia really a European society
shaped by its Christian heritage and develop­
ing along western lines, or was it an Asian
power shaped by its Siberian empire and its
Mongol heritage with a different, distinctly
Russian pattern of development? The famous
Russian writer Dostoyevsky had one answer to
the question: “In Europe,” he wrote, “we were
hangers-on and slaves, whereas in Asia we
shall go as masters. “21
R ussia and Europe
Dostoyevsky’s statement highlights the differ­
ence between Russian empire building in Asia
and its less extensive but equally important
expansion to the west in Europe. Russians
Chapter 7
generally approached Asia with a sense of
superiority and confidence, believing that they
were bringing Christianity to the heathen, ag­
riculture to backward peoples, and European
culture to barbarians. But in relationship to
Europe, Russian elites were aware of their
marginal status and often felt insecure and
inferior. Far removed from major trade routes
and only recently emerged from two centuries
of Mongol domination, early modern Russia
was weaker than many European states and
clearly less developed both economically and
politically. That weakness had been demon­
strated on the field of battle with Russian de­
feats at the hands of both Poland and Sweden,
then major regional powers. Thus, unlike its
expansion in Siberia, where Russia faced no
major competitors, its movement to the west
occurred in the context of great power rivalries
and military threat.
Looking Westward. Between the seven­
teenth and early nineteenth centuries, Russia
absorbed Ukraine, much of Poland, the Baltic
coast, and Finland. It also pushed southward
into the Caucasus to offer protection to the
Christian societies of Georgia and Armenia,
then under Muslim control. Some of these
regions, such as Ukraine, were extensively in­
tegrated into the Russian Empire both admin­
istratively and culturally, while others, such
as Poland with its large Jewish community
and Finland, retained more of their separate
Russia’s engagement with the West also
stimulated a major effort to overcome its
weakness by imitating certain aspects of Eu­
ropean life. Thus, Russia was among the first
of the world’s major societies to perceive
itself as backward in comparison to the West.
How to catch up with Europe, enhance Rus­
sian power, and yet protect the position of
its ruling elite- these issues posed the central
dilemma of modern Russian history. How
much of Western culture should be absorbed,
and what aspects of Russian culture should be
discarded? In the nineteenth century and later,
similar questions assumed great prominence
in the affairs of China, the Ottoman Empire,
Japan, and many other societies on the receiv­
ing end of European aggression.
Peter the Great. The first major effort
to cope with the dilemma is associated with
Tsar Peter the Great, who reigned from 1689
to 1725. An extended trip to western Europe
early in his reign convinced Peter of the back­
wardness and barbarity of almost everything
Russian and of its need for European institu­
tions, experts, and practices. A huge energetic
man, Peter determined to haul Russia into the
modern world by creating a state based on the
European model, one that could mobilize the
country’s energies and resources.
Even a short list of Peter’s reforms conveys
something of their enormous scope. Much
of this effort was aimed at increasing Rus­
sia’s military strength. He created a huge
professional standing army for the first time,
complete with uniforms, modem muskets and
artillery, and imported European officers. A
new and more efficient administrative system,
based on written documents, required more
serious educational preparation. Thus, Peter
established a variety of new, largely technical
schools and tried to require at least five years
of education for the sons of nobles. A decree
of 1714 forbade noblemen to marry until they
could demonstrate competence in arithmetic
and geometry. To staff the new bureaucracy
and the army, Peter bound every nobleman to
life service to the state and actively recruited
commoners as well. State power and compul­
sion were also applied to the economy. Aware
of the backwardness of Russia’s merchants
and entrepreneurs, Peter established 200 or
Empires and Encounters in the Early Modern Era
more manufacturing enterprises, particularly Shcherbatov, pointed to what he saw as the
in metallurgy, mining, and textiles, with the many negative outcomes of Peter’s policies:
government providing overall direction, some
We have hastened to corrupt our morals.
of the capital, and serflabor.
… [F]aith and God’s laws have been ex­
In cultural matters, Peter and his suc­
tinguished from our hearts…. Children
cessors, especially Catherine the Great (r.
have no respect for parents and are not
1762-1796), tried vigorously to foster Western
to flout their will openly. . ..
manners, dress, and social customs. A decree
There is no genuine love between hus­
of 1701 required upper-class men to wear
bands and wives, who are often coolly
French or Saxon clothing on the top and Ger­
indifferent to each other’s adulteries….
man clothing below the waist. Women were to
[E]ach lives for himself… . [W]omen,
wear Western dresses and underwear. Finally,
previously unaware of their own beauty,
he built a wholly new capital, St. Petersburg, in
began to realize its power; they began to
the far north of the country on the Gulf of Fin­
try to enhance it with suitable clothes,
land. European in its architecture, the city was
and used far more luxury in their adorn­
to serve as Peter’s “window on the West,” the
ments than their ancestors.22
place where Europe’s culture would penetrate
the darkness of Russian backwardness.
Despite the sometimes violent opposition,
The Cost of Reform. During Peter’s reign, Peter imposed his reforms ruthlessly. Forc­
Russia became one of the major military pow­ ing members of the nobility to shave their
ers of Europe, though it remained economi­ beards became a hated symbol of this effort
cally and socially far behind Western Europe. at westernization. Punishments for resistance
But the price of this transformation was high. to Peter’s regime included dismemberment,
Growing government revenues placed an beheading, mutilation, flogging, banishment,
enormous burden on an already impoverished and hard labor. Whereas Europe’s economic
peasantry. Later tsars required the landlords development was largely a matter of private
to collect the taxes, thus increasing their con­ initiative percolating up from below, in Rus­
trol over the serfs, who were little more than sia only the state had the capacity and the
slaves. By promoting Western education and motivation to undertake the apparently neces­
culture so vigorously, Peter fostered an elite sary but painful work of social and economic
class largely cut off from its own people. The transformation. This pattern of state-directed
educated nobility spoke French, were familiar modernization continued under later tsars and
with European literature and philosophy, and under communist officials in the twentieth
often held Russian culture in contempt. Under century.
But Peter’s efforts at “westernization” were
the influence of Western liberal ideas, some
of this group came also to oppose the regime highly selective. He had little interest in pro­
itself, giving rise to a revolutionary movement moting free or wage labor on a large scale,
that ultimately brought the tsarist system to preferring to tighten the obligations of serfs
an end.
to their masters. A harsh Russian serfdom in
Others opposed Peter’s reforms from fact lasted until 1861. Representative govern­
a conservative point of view. One critic, ment also held little appeal for tsars commit­
an eighteenth-century aristocrat Mikhail ted to autocracy. And there was little effort to
Chapter 7
encourage a large private merchant class or to
foster westernization beyond a small elite.
Russia and the vVorld
had a unique duration. While Europe’s Ameri­
can empires dissolved in the late eighteenth
and early nineteenth centuries and its sub­
sequent Afro-Asian empires collapsed after
World War II, the Russian Empire, under
Soviet communist auspices since the revolu­
tion of 1917, continued intact until 1991, and
the greater part of it (namely, Siberia) remains
still under Russian control.
The Russian Empire encountered many of the
other centers of early modern expansion. It
sparred repeatedly with the Ottoman Empire
over territorial claims in the Balkans and the
Caucasus and incorporated many Muslims
within the Russian domain. It ran up against
Chinese expansion in the Amur River valley
Parallel Worlds
and retreated in the face of Chinese power
while trading its furs and skins for Chinese By the beginning of the early modern era,
cotton cloth, silk, tea, and rhubarb root during around 1450, four quite separate “worlds,” or
the eighteenth century. It was deflected from a big interacting regions, had taken shape on
New World presence by European and Ameri­ the planet. By far, the largest was the world
can power and was stimulated to great internal of Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa. With
change by the threat of that growing power.
perhaps 75 to 80 percent of the earth’s popula­
While Russia’s empire shared much with tion, various Afro-Eurasian societies had long
these other imperial societies, it was also dis­ interacted with one another and in doing so
tinctive. Unlike European empires in which h ad generated the largest and most expansive
the mother country and colonies were quite civilizations, the most productive agricultures,
separate, in Russia that distinction hardly the most highly developed technologies, and
existed as newly conquered areas generally all the world’s literary traditions. Islamic, Chi­
became integrated politically and, at least for nese, and Russian expansion in the early mod­
the elites, culturally as well into the larger ern era took place within this Afro-Eurasian
Russian state. Nonetheless, by the end of the world and continued its long-established con­
nineteenth century, relentless Russian expan­ nections while deepening the web of relation­
sion had made Russians a minority in their ships that bound its peoples together. But
own empire. That empire also had a distinct beyond this vast region lay three other smaller
psychology. The enormous scope of the em­ “worlds” that had developed independently
pire testified to its aggressive features, and before their brutal incorporation into the “one
its subject peoples, such as native Siberians, world” born of Europe’s global expansion.
had painful evidence of Russian brutality.
Yet many Russians perceived themselves as
The vVorld of Inner Africa
victims of other peoples’ aggression, remem­
bering the devastating Mongol invasion, the Much of the northern third of the African con­
threat of nomadic raids from the steppe, and tinent participated in the religious and com­
the growing danger from powerful European mercial networks of Afro-Eurasia. So too did
countries. Russians were warriors, but they much of eastern Africa, home to the ancient
often felt like victims. Finally, Russia’s empire Christian kingdom of Ethiopia and, farther
Empires and Encounters in the Early Modern Era
south, to the Islamic Swahili civilization along
the coast of East Africa, where dozens of com­
mercially oriented city-states had for centuries
shared actively in the world of Indian Ocean
trade. However, the rest of the continent- in­
ner Africa-was only marginally connected to
this larger system.
By 1450, most of inner Africa was orga­
nized in small-scale, iron-using agricultural
or pastoral societies. In many places, these
societies had evolved into states or kingdoms.
One cluster of complex states had emerged
in the area surrounding Lake Victoria by the
sixteenth century. The largest of them was
Bunyoro, the king of which controlled large
herds of cattle that he redistributed to his fol­
lowers. In the grasslands south of the Congo
River basin, a series ofloosely connected states
emerged about the sarne time and created a
zone of interaction from the Atlantic Ocean
to the Indian Ocean across southern Africa.
In southeastern Africa, the kingdom of Zim­
babwe generated a substantial urban center
of 15,000 to 18,000 people at its height in
the fourteenth century, erected intricate huge
stone enclosures, and channeled its ivory and
gold to Swahili traders on the coast. Here the
world of inner Africa and the larger world of
Indian Ocean commerce had a modest meet­
ing. Yet another cluster of states, towns, and
cities emerged in what is now Nigeria, includ­
ing the kingdoms of Igala, Nupe, and Benin
and the city-states of the Yoruba people. Trade
in kola nuts, food products, horses, copper,
and manufactured goods linked these areas to
one another and to the larger savanna king­
doms farther north.
Elsewhere, African peoples structured
their societies on the basis of kinship or lin­
eage principles without state organizations.
These societies too had long absorbed people,
borrowed ideas and techniques, shared artistic
styles, and exchanged goods with neighbor­
ing peoples. When the pastoral Masaai came
into contact with the agricultural Kikuyu in
the highlands of central Kenya around 1750,
they engaged in frequent military conflict that
the Masaai most often won. As a result, the
Kikuyu adopted from the Masaai age-based
military regiments and related customs, such
as the use of ostrich-feather headdresses for
warriors and the drinking of cow’s milk before
Some institutions or practices spread quite
widely. Bananas, first domesticated in South­
east Asia, found their way to Africa, where
they spread widely in the eastern region of the
continent. The position of a medicine man
specializing in war magic was found in the
northern savanna, the forest areas of equato­
rial Africa, and also in the southern savanna
among peoples who are otherwise culturally
very different. “They all apparently wanted
more effective war magic,” writes historian Jan
Vansina, “and so borrowed their neighbors’
way of getting it.”23 Inner Africa, an interacting
world of its own before 1450, would soon be
rudely integrated into the larger world system
via the Atlantic slave trade, a subject explored
in greater detail in the next chapter.
The Amerindian World
Yet another self-contained “world” was that
of the Americas, or the Wes tern Hemisphere,
home to perhaps 40 to 100 million people.
Here two major centers of dense population,
sophisticated cultural and artistic traditions,
and urban-based civilizations had emerged
over the centuries. The Aztec Empire, founded
in the mid 1300s by the Mexica people, drew
on long-established civilizations in Mesoarner­
ica. Its capital city of Tenochtitlan with a pop­
ulation of perhaps 250,000 awed the Spanish
Chapter 7
Figu re 7.6 Located high in the Andes Mountains, the Inca city of Machu Picchu was constructed
in the fifteenth century.
invaders with its elaborate markets, its high­
quality crafts, its sophisticated agriculture, and
its specialized group of long-distance trad­
ers called pochteca. One European observer
wrote, “Some of our soldiers who had been in
many parts of the world, in Constantinople,
in Rome, and all over Italy, said that they had
never seen a market so well laid out, so large,
so orderly, and so full of people.”24 But Mexica
society also appalled them with its perva­
sive human sacrifices, drawn largely from the
ranks of conquered peoples. This sharp divi­
sion behveen the dominant Mexica and their
many subject and tribute-paying peoples was
among the factors that facilitated Spanish con­
quest in the early sixteenth century.
The Inca Empire, established only in 1440,
covered a far larger territory than its Aztec
counterpart. With an impressive network of
roads, amazing cities high in the mountains,
and a state-controlled economy, the Inca Em­
pire stretched some 2,500 miles along the
western coast of South America, incorporating
dozens of conquered peoples and creating a
huge zone of interaction and cultural blend­
ing. The latest in a long series of Andean civi­
lizations, the Inca state, while no less a product
of conquest than the Aztec Empire, attempted
actively to integrate its enormous realm. Un­
like the Aztec Empire, the Inca authorities
encouraged the spread of their Quechua lan­
guage; a remarkable communication system,
using a series of knotted strings called quipus,
enabled the central government to keep track
of the population and of the tribute and labor
owed by subject peoples; Quechua speakers
were settled in various parts of the empire; and
a system of runners and way stations made
possible rapid communication throughout the
Empires and Encounters in the Early Modern Era
But these two centers of urban-based civi­
lization were probably unaware of one another
and had no direct contacts. Writing, devel­
oped earlier among the Maya of Mesoamerica,
never spread to the Andes, and the domestica­
tion of the llama, guinea pig, and potato in the
Andean highlands did not penetrate farther
north. Mexican maize, or corn, did spread
slowly through much of North America, and
there is evidence for considerable trade among
the various peoples of the Mississippi valley
and the eastern woodlands in what is now the
United States. The arrival of Mexican corn ap­
parently stimulated the development of small
cities centered on huge pyramid-like earthen
mounds, similar to those of Mesoamerica. The
largest of these cities, Cahokia near present­
day St. Louis, probably had a population of
20,000 to 25,000 people at its height in the
twelfth century, roughly similar to that of Lon­
don at the time.
Nonetheless, the network of relationships
among the various societies of the Americas
was much more limited than among those in
the Afro-Eurasian world. This in turn limited
the agricultural, technological, and political
development in the Americas in compari­
son with the more frequent and stimulat­
ing encounters of Afro-Eurasian societies.
Thus, many peoples of the Americas prac­
ticed a relatively simple form of agriculture,
hunting-gathering styles of life also persisted
in places such as California, Afro-Eurasian
forms of metallurgy were unknown, and
the absence of pack animals (apart from the
llama in the Andes) put the burden of trade
on human shoulders. Despite evidence sug­
gesting sporadic contacts across the Atlantic
or Pacific Oceans, no sustained interaction
beyond the hemisphere broke the isolation
of the Americas until the fateful arrival of
Columbus in 1492.
The T¼rld of Oceania
Finally, the “world” of Oceania, including
Australia and the islands of the central and
western Pacific, represented another major
region that had few sustained connections
to either the American or the Afro-Eurasian
world. But within Oceania, the many sepa­
rate hunting-gathering societies of the huge
Australian landmass encountered one another
and exchanged foods, oyster shell jewelry,
tools, skins, and furs. And the island peoples
of Polynesia, who had earlier navigated the
vast Pacific to populate these lands, developed
sophisticated agricultural societies and highly
stratified states and chiefdoms. In some places,
such as Tonga, Fiji, and Samoa, people on
nearby islands kept in regular touch with one
another through trade and intermarriage. The
history of Oceanic peoples also took a sharp
turn when Europeans intruded violently into
their domain in the eighteenth century.
Conclusion: Durability of Empire
Empires dominated the early modern world,
as they did much of the ancient world. Their
strengths are obvious: large, well-organized
military forces; transportation and communi­
cation networks that reinforced unity and con­
trol; and some degree of cultural conformity.
Variations abounded. We have noticed that
some allowed a greater diversity of religion,
some were more mercantile, and others were
more military. But they all proved adept at
controlling large populations over long peri­
ods of time. Why, then, have they all disap­
peared? Did empires suffer from a particular
fault that made them ultimately untenable?
Two weaknesses are easy to diagnose. One
is the problem of legitimacy, and the other is
Chapter 7
succession or transition. They are related, of
course. An empire’s legitimacy was based on
its exercise of unchallenged power. That con­
centration of power in the hands of a single
ruler was not easily transferable on the em­
peror’s death. Mongol and Turkic rulers had
a tradition of allowing claimants to fight each
other for rule, thus ensuring that the strongest
would govern and that possible challengers
would be neutralized. But this system resulted
in heavy militarization and in a civil war with
each passing ruler. In the Mughal Empire, it
became almost common for a son to challenge
his brother or father for succession.
The modern world has replaced empires
with nation-states. The ideology of national­
ism provides a firmer legitimacy than the
exercise of brute force, especially when joined
to a representative or democratic political
process. The roots of the modern national
and democratic revolutions grew in different
terrain than that of the great empires. Nation­
alism and representative democracy took root
in small states and city-states on the border
of great empires. Such states were often con­
trolled by merchants rather than landed aris­
tocracies or military leaders. Scattered along
oceans and seas, they breathed salt rather than
dust. The maritime trading centers of Italy and
the North Atlantic were particularly important
in this process. It was not the great Habsburg
Empire, which combined Spain and Germany,
but the tiny cities of the Netherlands, England,
and Italy- more prosperous than powerful­
that were to nurture the successful politics of
the modern world.
Suggested Readings
Bushkovitch, Paul. Peter the Great. Lanham, MD:
Rowman & Littlefield, 2001. An up-to-date
and readable biography of Russia’s modern­
izing tsar.
Goffman, Daniel. The Ottoman Empire and Early
Modern Europe. New York: Cambridge Uni­
versity Press, 2002. An account of the Ottoman
Empire that attacks Western perceptions of it
as exotic and wholly different.
Levathes, Louise. When China Ruled the Seas.
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994. A fas­
cinating and detailed account of China’s mari­
time voyages during the Ming dynasty.
Richards, John F. The Mughal Empire. Cam­
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. A
brief account of the rise and decline of the
Mughal Empire with a vivid account of Akbar’s
– – . The Unending Frontier: An Environmental
History of the Early Modern World. Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2003. Examines
on a global basis how expanding societies af­
fected the environment.
Tracy, James D., ed. The Rise of Merchant Em­
pires: Long-Distance Trade in the Early Mod­
ern World, 1350-1750. New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1990. An examination of
global commerce stressing the equivalence of
Western and Asian contributions.
Wills, John E., Jr. 1688: A Global History. New
York: Norton, 2001. A fascinating tour of the
world i…

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250 words

World Civilizations

Chinese society

Forbidden City

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