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Medieval China and Europe and Spread of Islam Research Paper

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Religious, social, political, and economic characteristics of China between 500 and 1400 C.E.

The period between 500 and 1400 C. E. has become the epoch of numerous inventions and breakthroughs that have changed the lives of the ordinary Chinese people for the better as well as turmoil caused by military conquers. During this time, China has seen many qualitative political, economic, and religious changes.

First of all, I would like to point out that during this period in history the country witnessed the rise and the fall of four dynasties – the Sui Dynasty (589-618 C.E.), the Tang Dynasty (618-907 C.E.), the Song Dynasty (907-1279 C.E), and the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368 C.E.). Each of them has brought shifts to the life of the ordinary Chinese people that affected all spheres of their lives. The Sui Dynasty, for example, renewed the imperial rule in the country and contributed to constructing the Grand Channel connecting Huang He and Chang Jiang rivers1. The Tang Dynasty encouraged the development of the transportation and communication system and the rise of agriculture. The Song Dynasty focused on strengthening the centralization of the government.

This period was fruitful for the Chinese economic life. First of all, the construction of the Grand Channel added to the country’s trade potential as it became easier to deliver goods to different parts of the country. Moreover, there were efforts to build the developed road and postal system and expanding the travellers’ interest in China putting up inns and traveller stops. In addition, the rise of agriculture, numerous innovations in manufacturing, and invention of paper money greatly contributed to the trading potential of the country2. One should also remember about the beneficial geographic position of China located on the Silk Road, one of the most dynamic trade routes, which added to the economic might.

Speaking of the social life, China during this period witnessed the expansion of the cities and the rise of the urbanization processes caused by the agricultural revolution. The Chinese people also enjoyed the outburst in the development of entertainment sphere including theatres, restaurants, music, poetry, and craft shops. The political system of this period saw changes, as first, the Sui dynasty focused on imperialism and later the Song Dynasty strived for building up centralization.

Trade, economy, social and political life were not the only areas of life that witnessed drastic changes. Religion was not an exception. It should be mentioned that since the beginning of the Chinese history, Buddhism that was brought to China by the merchants travelling along the Silk Road was acknowledged together with Daoism and Confucianism. What changed was the number of Buddhist monasteries, so, its influence in the country grew. The reason for its expansion was that, unlike Confucianism that called upon hierarchy and social order, Buddhism claimed that the true state of inner peace could only be reached away from the society. It is what attracted people in this religion.

In the conclusion I would like to say that the inventions and the changes in the economy and society during the period in the Chinese history between 500 and 1400 C. E. laid the foundation of the nowadays might of China. I believe it is true because, first, the population of the country started growing together with the number of cities, and, second, all technological, agricultural, and financial inventions could not but have the outcome other than the rise of the Chinese potential.

How and why did Islam spread so widely in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and parts of southern Europe and Africa?

The spread of Islam was the first and one of the most fascinating cultural contacts of all times. Many people believe that the primary reason for Islamization of the folks settling Middle East, Africa, Asia, and parts of Southern Europe and Africa was the Arab conquest of this region. Even though this belief is true, there were other socio-economic, cultural, and political factors that empowered the wide and quick expansion of Islam.

Since the start of the spread of the Islamic worldview in 700 C. E. to around 1450 C. E. Muslims established their religion in many regions of the world thus making the spread gradual and geographically diverse3. In general, there were three primary ways of the expansion of Islam – military conquest, trade and economic matters, and the evolution of Islam as a religion. The first source of the Islam extension was by the sword. It should be highlighted, however, that the Muslims never initiated wars for the sake of forced conversion to their religion. Instead, they believed that they used military conquest as the tool for proliferation and protecting their religion.

This military way of spreading was closely interconnected with the economic matters and trade. First, of all Middle East has always been influential trade center due to its beneficial geographic location and being the gateway to the Indian Ocean and the seas. The Muslim traders very often offered charity and discounts to those converting to Islam. It may seem awkward, but economy always ruled the world, that is why gaining benefits was an effective instrument for spreading Islam. What is even more significant is that the merchants were also the missionaries who brought the beliefs and ideas of their religion to every new place and territory winning hearts of more and more people delivering them the canons of the attractive and progressive religion. It should be noted that conversion was willing and desirable. Moreover, there were other economic levers such as offering special taxation and social status to the people in the conquered territories who did not confront the occupation4.

Except for the military, social and economic factors and the robust missionary activities of the merchants, it was the nature of the Islamic religion itself that seemed attractive to people all over the world. First of all, Islam offers a defined set of rules of what can be done and what is strictly prohibited. Many people found it comforting, as many religions are sometimes too intricate. Second, the trust in Allah and his will was soothing during the times of hardship, as it brought the people the sense of life and the answer to all their questions. Finally, the religion guarantees that the rich help the poor by giving them the part of their accommodated wealth that made it attractive for those in need and the poorest.

So, the spread of Islam, to my mind, was not an accidental occurrence. I believe that it became a result of a thorough plan and active missionary policy because the Muslims preferred giving people what they really needed in turn of converting to their religion to the bloody and cruel way for making their religion popular and widespread.

Religious, social, political, and economic characteristics of Eastern and Western Europe between 500 and 1400 C.E.

The period in the world history between 500 and 1400 C. E. is known as the Classical Era. However, Western Europe does not fall under this rule, as the same period here was known as the Middle Ages that began after the fall of the Roman West under the pressure of Germanic tribes5.

European economy of that time centered on trade. What is peculiar about Europe of that epoch is that it is seeded with trading centers, that is why its economy has always been mighty. Trading routes both water and land that crossed the European continent connected Western and Eastern Europe and the rest of the world and made the merchants prosper and the trade potential grow. In addition to it, trade was characterized by fairs, special trading spots where the merchants stopped for trading when they moved along the trade routes6. What is specific about these fairs is that the authorities of the cities where they were located charged taxes, thus helping their hometowns. Another positive impact of the fairs and trade is that eventually they led to the rise of cities, as it was more beneficial to build up cities than move from one fair to another.

The shifts in the economy, the robust development of trade and growth of cities have also changed the life of the ordinary people for the better. Leading the settled way of life, the citizens formed the communes and charters that were aimed at establishing local governments7. That is why the nobles who held power saw the rise of the cities and communes them as the threat. What is also significant about this period is the beginning of professional training, the evolution of medicine and healthcare, and the strong belief in the need to develop talents and improve the quality of life ignoring the interest of nobles. The most important change in the political system is the desire to overthrow the power of the priests and noblemen and establish strong central power apparatus that led to the descendence of kingdoms and kings as the only source of power.

As of the religious characteristics of Europe of that time, the primary religion was Christianity – Catholic in the Western parts of the continent and Orthodox in the Eastern. Both churches have similar features because they are based on the canons of the single religion – Christianity. These features are the strict hierarchy, building up monasteries communicating under the established hierarchy, helping those in need, etc. The primary difference between the two is that the Orthodox Church is headed by Patriarch while Catholic is ruled by the Pope.

So, what can be said about Europe in the period between 500 and 1400 C. E. is that the evolution is fantastic because prior 1300 C. E. it was mainly settled by peasants and travelling merchants ruled by noblemen and priests who had no specific desire to improve their lives. However, in just a couple decades they managed to witness drastic changes deriving from the rise of the cities, forming trade unions and craft associations (guilds), commercial and agricultural revolution, and realization that the power should be centered in the hands of one king.

Bibliography

Humans Are Free. 2016. Web.

Adler, Philip J. and Pouwels, Randall L. World Civilizations. Boston: Cengage Learning, 2010.

“Did War Spread Islam?” Opposing Views. 2016. Web.

Greenblatt, Miriam and Lemmo, Peter S. Human Heritage: A World History. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2000.

Sterns, Peter N. Cultures in Motion: Mapping Key Contacts and Their Imprints in World History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

The British Museum. “China and the World Comparative Timeline.” 2016. Web.

Footnotes

1. The British Museum, “China and the World Comparative Timeline,” 2016. Web.

2. “22 Chinese Inventions that Changed the World,” Humans Are Free, 2016. Web.

3. Peter N. Sterns, Cultures in Motion: Mapping Key Contacts and Their Imprints in World History. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 46-47.

4. “Did War Spread Islam?” Opposing Views, 2016. Web.

5. Philip J. Adler and Randall L. Pouwels, World Civilizations. (Boston: Cengage Learning, 2010), 185.

6. Miriam Greenblatt and Peter S. Lemmo, Human Heritage: A World History. (New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2000), 402-403.

7. Ibid., 405.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Medieval China and Europe and Spread of Islam." May 11, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/medieval-china-and-europe-and-spread-of-islam/.

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