When Asia Was the World

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Overview

While European intellectual, cultural, and commercial life stagnated during the early medieval period, Asia flourished as the wellspring of science, philosophy, and religion. Linked together by a web of religious, commercial, and intellectual connections, the different regions of Asia’s vast civilization, from Arabia to China, hummed with commerce, international diplomacy, and the brisk exchange of ideas. Stewart Gordon has fashioned a fascinating and unique look at Asia from A.D. 700 to 1500, a time when Asia was the world, by describing the personal journeys of Asia’s many travelers-the merchants who traded spices along the Silk Road, the apothecaries who exchanged medicine and knowledge from China to the Middle East, and the philosophers and holy men who crossed continents to explore and exchange ideas, books, science, and culture.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Documents written by men who lived, worked and traveled to Asia between 500 and 1500 CE portray thriving trading centers from Arabia to China. Gordon (Center for South Asian Studies/Univ. of Michigan) synthesizes elaborate detail from these eight memoirs to convey their historical pertinence to the lay reader. Each of the travelers came into contact with diverse people and made startling cultural discoveries. The Chinese Buddhist monk Xuanzang roamed from the Yellow River to Tashkent and eventually into India, writing about his marvelous adventures during the years 618-632 as he connected with religious groups practicing Taoism and Zoroastrianism. Ibn Fadlan was sent from Baghdad to the Bulgar kingdom near the Volga River in 921; his text enables the author to explain the early dissemination of Islam. Through the autobiography of Neoplatonic philosopher Ibn Sina, we glimpse the intellectual network teeming in Baghdad during the period 1020-1036, when the Abbasid dynasty fostered a range of inventions (the zero, algorithm, astrolabe), translations from Greek and Latin, philosophical inquiry and the use of paper. The travels of Jewish spice trader Abraham bin Yiju between Mangalore, India and Cairo from 1120 to 1160 reveal the period's trust-based business model and the extensive range of trade routes. Imperial Muslim diplomat Ibn Battuta's 14th-century memoir demonstrates that rich questing travelers were the vital mechanism keeping cities like Delhi, Damascus and Mecca in touch. Chinese Muslim Ma Huan's account of expeditions he joined in 1413 and 1421 provides a rare portrait of the Ming imperial fleets. Babur, head of a Mongol army of the steppe, records the movement of maraudinghorse-driven tribes from 1494 to 1526. Portuguese apothecary Tome Pires headed the first diplomatic mission to China in 1517, precipitating the clash between white and Asian civilization. All of the narratives reveal the highly connected interplay of commodities and ideas that enriched Asia. Pared-down, brief vignettes provide an intimate complement to David Levering Lewis's God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215 (2008).
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780306815560
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 12/3/2007
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Stewart Gordon is Senior Research Scholar at the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan, and author of three books on Asia. He lives in Ann Arbor.

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Table of Contents


Introduction     vii
Monasteries and Monarchs: Xuanzang, 618-632 CE     1
Caliph and Caravan: Ibn Fadlan, 921-922 CE     21
Philosopher and Physician: Ibn Sina, 1002-1021 CE     39
Ingots and Artifacts: The Intan Shipwreck, circa 1000 CE     57
Pepper and Partnerships: Abraham bin Yiju, 1120-1160 CE     75
Nobles and Notables: Ibn Battuta, 1325-1356 CE     97
Treasure and Treaty: Ma Huan, 1413-1431 CE     117
Blood and Salt: Babur, 1494-1526 CE     137
Medicines and Misunderstandings: Tome Pires, 1511-1521 CE     157
The Asian World: 500-1500 CE     177
Notes     193
Suggested Reading     215
Index     223
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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2012

    AP World History Review, "When Asia Was the World" is a fantastic collection of historical merchants and scholar¿s writings of Asia telling about the trade and social lives during the years 600 B.C. through 1500 A.D. in the Asian world.

    AP World History Review, "When Asia Was the World" is a great historical non-fiction book that tells about the history of Asia's trade and people from the early 7th century all the way to the late 16th century.
    In this book Stewart Gordon, the author, tells the history of Asia through the eyes of traders that lived in this time. He explains what the time period was like with the use of the merchant’s self-documentaries and their books. Gordon explains the changes that occurred within society such as the change of leading merchants, the laws and customs that existed on the trade routes, and social lives throughout Asia.
    Stewart Gordon throughout this novel does a good job at getting the information he wants people to understand from the time period across. I found that the book was very insightful and helped me understand what was going on in Asia during this time period. This book taught me about the life of the merchants, customs that were practiced, and how Asia was truly linked together for so long.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2013

    AP World History Review, " When Asia Was the World" is

    AP World History Review, " When Asia Was the World" is book about traveling merchants, scholars, warriors and monks that create the " Riches of the East". 
    The author, Stewart Gordon, provides information on how merchants, scholars, warriors and monks help create Asia as the center of attention during the European Middle ages. He brings the world of exchanges and travel by telling us the stories of explorers and travelers. Gordon writes this book to show people the popular history from 618 CE to 1500 CE , he wants this book to reach out to people so they can learn about Asia's importance during the time. I found this book very interesting because it helps me understand what was happening in Asia during the time period. This book divides the time period in sections so, it can help you understand better. I would recommend to others because this book talks about the roles of the people and the influence of the roles in Asia.
    In conclusion, the author wrote this book because he is a research scholar for South Asian studies. He has also traveled to Asia and lived the life in Asia. Some of the figures he talks about in the book is Ibn Sina, Ma Huan and Ibn Batutta. Ibn Sina is a philosopher and a physician. Ma Huan is a treasure and a low-level official. Lastly, Ibn Batutta is a famous traveler that travels across Asia. 

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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