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Asian countries were often associated with supremacy over the maritime world. China had extended its powers in this framework during the Mongol Yuan period already (Sen and Mair 72). However, the country was conquered by Qubilai Khan in the 13th century, and he received control over the lucrative maritime trade. Qubilai realized the necessity to accept Chinese political ideologies to maintain control. In addition to that, he allowed the traditional social structure and culture that were affected by Mongol customs over time. Cooperating with the help of Chinese advisers and ministers, Khan encouraged people from other countries to work in his court.
Trying to ensure his leadership, Qubilai declared himself the Great Khan of the Mongols. This action triggered a civil war and made Asia his main contender. Emphasizing his power, Qubilai also attacked neighboring kingdoms, including Japan (Sen and Mair 73). At this point, the Mongol Empire stretched across Eurasia. Mongols sought to go beyond conquering territory to institute a global order of free trade, universal communication, and international law.
Trade Across Asia
As the Mongols started controlling the main trade routes of Asia, this industry improved its performance significantly. Numerous traders were gathered in caravans and went to other countries (Japan and Korea, for instance) to sell their products. From the early days of Genghis Khan, the Mongols sought to destroy the feudal system and aristocratic rule. A fair system was developed which rewarded loyalty and merit.
The empire was able to establish trade connections amongst the disjointed towns along the Silk Route by organizing a free-trade zone. (Weatherford 15). This process has maintained both ways, through the import and export of products. Even though the impact of Mongol rule on trade was somewhat conservative and harsh, it was accepted by most regions. Most saw it as a consistent and reliable set of standards, which is vital for the normal operation of a trading system. Mongols also adopted various new approaches to commercial trade practiced on a large scale. For example, there were attempts to control and redirect traffic of trade routes to increase the effectiveness and reach of products from one region to another.
China’s maritime connections also improved significantly when the country was under Mongol’s control. The Silk Road developed and finally reached the Arab world, the representatives of which carried most of the trade (Davis 40). They settled in the Muslim community of China and established several trade bureaus in the main ports, which provided them with an opportunity to control trade before it reached the coast.
To improve this situation and increase control, several highly mobile groups were created. They moved across the seas near China and participated in the “irregular” trade that was not affected by any government and did not presuppose the necessity to pay any taxes. These individuals were known as pirates who came from current Japan, Korea, and China (at that time, however, their nationality was not discussed). They were mainly characterized by intrepidness, seafarer skills, and refusal to obey to any government and regulation (Weatherford 224). With time, they also became involved with smuggling and human trafficking.
Migration and Culture
China was an expansion to the large Mongol Empire that connected to Europe through Asia. As a result, there was significant migration across borders. Muslims and Hindus left their traditional homes to spread across Eurasia. The Mongol leadership trusted them more than Asians, allowing them to assist them in government and administrative positions. The newcomers had a tremendous influence on the empire and its population (Sen and Mair 74). The majority of migrants were educated men, such as mathematicians and architects, who helped build the Great Capital.
Even though pirates as the representatives of “irregular trade” were moving across the seas, they did not migrate anywhere, because they remained near the coasts of Asia. Other people occupied in this sphere also were not willing to change their location (Davis 61). Of course, they traveled to other countries to sell their goods and earn money, but they considered their business to be a source of income that can be spent at home.
In this way, even when traders left China for a long period, they were not thinking of the opportunity to stay in any foreign country. Nevertheless, being obliged to stay abroad for a month or even years, these people had no other option but to have a kind of trading house that can be used as a residential space. As a rule, it gathered several people, which allowed them to save money. However, regardless of their initial thoughts and wishes, some individuals lived in these houses permanently. These traders influenced those cultures where they lived because they brought their religious beliefs, languages, and customs (Davis 25). With time, generations of these traders assimilated to non-Chinese cultures as well.
With the development of trade, a lot of new products reached China and started to be actively used by its population in everyday life. The Mongols needed particular goods for themselves. That is why they also created workshops that were controlled by the government to satisfy their needs and sell the same products to others. The Mongols also affected the Asian diet. In the framework of husbandry, they brought sheep and lamb to China, making them an integral part of their national cuisine.
Also, the Mongols taught Chinese people to use other products that can be obtained from these animals (Weatherford 145). For example, they provided them with wool that was used to make various homestead items such as blankets and carpets. The Mongols brought artisans to China so that its population also became able to produce these goods. Carpets, for instance, turned into a vital element of Chinese culture. Wool felt was also used for shoes to make them more appropriate for winter weather.
The Mongol Empire included regions that had relatively little contact amongst each other. As Mongols established administrative rule and developed trade routes, the cultures came into contact. Migration led to a widespread cultural exchange of architectural styles and religion, eventually forming new hybrid cultures such as the Indo-Chinese. Mongols often encouraged cultural growth and supported the development of weak links through knowledge sharing from other parts of the empire (Weatherford 225).
Countries that interact (even through conquest) affect each other significantly, regardless of their initial superiority. In this way, Chinese people assimilated to the Mongols and the Mongols assimilated to Chinese people (Davis 61). Some of them lost their initial violence and accepted Chinese culture. For example, Mongol leaders took Chinese names. Their reign titles were also Asian. They implemented the Chinese bureaucratic system and started treating this country as their native one.
As a result, when the Yuan dynasty ended and the Mongols received an opportunity to return home, but a lot of them got used to China and its culture that is why they preferred to stay. The Mongols sought to establish a unified system of governance which led them to consolidate conquered territories into a regional state. This occurred as the Mongols conquered Slavic territories, eventually uniting more than a dozen local principalities. The warring factions of Korea were united into one state. Meanwhile, whole new countries formed such as modern-day Thailand and Vietnam (Weatherford 218).
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Kublai Khan instituted universal social standards across the empire. Single paper currency was introduced. Primary education became mandatory to increase literacy. The calendar was modified for accuracy. Merchants and explorers were encouraged to expand the commercial and diplomatic opportunities for the Empire. Each assimilated region of the world brought its unique cultural and technological advancements that were rapidly adopted across the whole empire. Muslim and Arab territories which were the pinnacle of civilization development introduced sophisticated technology and methods of commerce, education, and art after assimilation. The Mongols were able to succeed in the realms of science and philosophy just as well as military art (Weatherford 17).
Thus, it can be concluded that the interactions between the Mongol Empire and Asia developed greatly due to the conquest of China. The Mongol Empire stretched across Eurasia and was able to unite numerous cultures and countries via trade. The process of unification led to population migrating and spreading cultural, philosophical, and scientific ideas throughout. Also, Mongol leadership encouraged socio-economic development in the territories under its control which introduced a variety of universal methods of governance. Overall, the impact of the Mongols on Asia is tremendous as they were able to establish a complex circulatory network that united every corner of the empire. As a result, the legacy of the Mongol rule can be seen in Asian culture and geopolitics to this very day.
Davis, Richard. Global India circa 1000: South Asia in Early World History. Association for Asian Studies Incorporated, 2009.
Sen, Tansen, and Victor Mair. Traditional China in Asian and World History. The Association for Asian Studies, 2012.
Weatherford, Jack. Genghis Khan and the Making of Modern World. Three Rivers Press, 2005.