cover image 1368: China and the Making of the Modern World

1368: China and the Making of the Modern World

Ali Humayun Akhtar. Stanford Univ., $28 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5036-2747-5

Bates College historian Akhtar (Philosophers, Sufis, and Caliphs) examines in this granular history the period between the rise of China’s Great Ming dynasty in 1368 and the end of the Qing dynasty in 1912. Focusing on China’s global influence, Akhtar documents explorer Zheng He’s state-sponsored travels (and trade) through Southeast Asia and as far away as the Arabian Peninsula, and analyzes the Ming dynasty’s patron-client relationship with Thailand and strong cultural influence on Korea and Japan. Elsewhere, Akhtar explains how blue-and-white porcelain designs that originated in China were heavily imitated in Iran and eventually became critical to the 17th-century Dutch economy, and notes the appearance of silk clothing with dragon motifs in 15th-century Persian-language texts and the ubiquity of tea consumption across the British empire. He also details how Portuguese Jesuits learned Chinese to spread Christianity, but also transmitted Chinese innovations in mathematics and mapmaking back to Europe, and outlines how Western economies eventually surpassed China in technological innovation, leading to reforms within China and contributing to the fall of the Edo shogunate in Japan. Akhtar packs a lot of valuable information into the dense narrative, though his pinpointing of 1368 as the beginning of the “modern world” shortchanges other geopolitical developments. Still, this is an enlightening look into a vital historical era that has been understudied in the West. (June)