The West and the Changing World Balance
By 1400 there was a shifting balance between world civilizations.
role of the Islamic world, with the fall of the Abbasids and other Mongol disruptions, was in decline.
Ming dynasty of China attempted for a time to expand into the vacuum.
The most dynamic contender was
The West was not a major power, but important changes were occurring within its
Italy, Spain, and Portugal took new leadership roles.
The civilizations outside the
international network, the Americas and Polynesia, also experienced important changes.
The Decline of the Old Order.
In the Middle East and North Africa the once powerful civilizations of
Byzantium and the Abbasids had crumbled. The Byzantine Empire was pressed by Ottoman Turks;
Constantinople fell in 1453.
The Abbasids had been destroyed by the Mongols in 1258.
Social and Cultural Decline in the Middle East.
By around 1300 Islamic religious leaders had won
paramountcy over poets, philosophers, and scientists.
A rationalist philosopher like Ibn-Rushd (Averröes)
in Spain was more influential in Europe than among Muslims.
Islamic scholarship focused upon religion
and legal traditions, although Sufis continued to emphasize mystical contacts with god.
in economic and social life as landlords seized power over the peasantry.
From 1100 they became serfs on
As a result agricultural productivity fell.
Tax revenues decreased and Middle Eastern
merchants lost ground to European competitors.
The Islamic decline was gradual and incomplete.
merchants remained active in the Indian Ocean, and the Ottoman Turks were beginning to build one of the
world's most powerful empires.
A Power Vacuum in International Leadership.
The rise of the Ottomans did not restore Islam's
The Turkish rulers
focused on conquest and administration and awarded less
attention to commerce.
The result was a power vacuum beyond Ottoman borders.
dominions in Asia provided a temporary international alternative, but their decline opened opportunities
for China and Western Europe.
Chinese Thrust and Withdrawal.
The Ming dynasty (1368-1644) replaced the Yuan and pushed to
regain former Chinese borders.
It established influence in Mongolia, Korea, Vietnam, and Tibet.
new policy, the Ming mounted state-sponsored trading expeditions to India, the Middle East, and eastern
The fleets, led by Chinese Muslim admiral Cheng Ho and others, were technological world
Ming rulers halted the expeditions in 1433 because of their high costs and opposition from
Chinese merchants remained active in southeast Asian waters, establishing
permanent settlements in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, but China had lost a chance to become
a dominant world trading power.
The Chinese, from their viewpoint, had ended an unusual experiment,
returning to their accustomed inward-looking policies.
Since internal economic development flourished,