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date: 08 August 2020

Qubilai’s Maritime Mongols

Summary and Keywords

The Mongols, creators of the largest continuous land empire in history, who initiated an unprecedented era of international exchange, are mostly known for their land conquests and contacts, but, they also actively participated in maritime and land trade. The key event in this development was a Mongol commercialization ongoing with the Mongol conquest of key coastal areas in China and Iran that brought them face to face with the trading world of the South Seas and Indian Ocean. There was a military aspect of this, starting in Japan, Southeast Asia, and Java, and there was the diplomatic and informal initiatives of Qubilai-qan to expand Mongol influence over the seas as far as the Red Sea and Africa, in ways not achievable with military means alone. A thesis is that the Mongols in China ended by creating, with the help of the Mongols in Iran, a first maritime age, paralleling those established by the Portuguese and others that came later.

Keywords: Mongols, Silk Road, China, Yuan dynasty, Qubilai-qan, Japan, Ryukyus, South Seas, Southeast Asia, Java, Iran, Ilqanate, Marco Polo, maritime age

The Mongols Before the Sea

The early Mongols were a land power and not, by any means, a maritime power. Their empire and successor states, at first at least, had a strictly continental origin and focus, with little contact or interest in the seas and oceans. This orientation changed slowly over time in response to new circumstances and new perceptions, and, for that matter, new contacts.

The Mongol core group, the earliest Mongols, were originally the Onon-Kherlen groups, concentrated in the steppe area bounded by the Onan and Kherlen Rivers. Initial Onon-Kherlen Mongol expansion from this geographical area in the process of a Mongol national unification, and in connection with an expanding network of alliances, some of them accidental, widened the purview of the core Mongols to include other Mongol groups not originally part of the Onon-Kherlen core. This included peripheral groups that were often culturally barely Mongolian, such as Siberian groups, some reindeer herding, others, hunter-gatherers, or not Mongolian at all, including Turkic-speakers such as the Önggüt. The Önggüt were positioned in what has been known as Inner Mongolia since Late Manchu times, but still maintained interests and a forward position in the deep steppe that, among other things, lead to a major dynastic alliance between the house of Cinggis-qan and Önggüt rulers.1

Soon after unification, and the first establishment of “Mongols” as a higher order grouping, as an enhanced expansion took hold, not just other Mongols and Turks became involved but also completely non-steppe groups having little connection with the original Mongolian way of life. From 1211, for example, interior parts of Jin 金‎ (1115–1234) dynasty North China were seized. More often than not, it was not the Mongols doing the seizing. The Mongols preferred to raid, hauling their booty, goods, and people, back to Mongolia. Chinese and other local warlords allied with the Mongols, with their own vested interests in mind, moved into the vacuum as the Mongols returned to Mongolia.2 Such Chinese allies were first in land taking in China, although other groups such as Khitan were also involved, but as time passed and the tribal presence outside of Mongolia expanded, the Mongols too became actively involved in forming their own empire in China.

Elsewhere, in another direction, there was soon a gradual Mongol Unterwanderung of what is now Chinese Turkistan going on too. The sedentary Uighurs, then the largest cultural group in the region, became not only Mongol political allies but later also a major source of cultural influence as well. This included the Mongols borrowing their script, later called Uighur script. It was long used exclusively to write Mongolian (except for the few aPhags-pa script documents and seals). Uighurs also became major go-betweens for such things as food and non-Mongolian medical traditions. This was due in large part to similarities of language and culture between the Mongols and Uighurs, reducing potential distrust.

A massive change in this basic pattern of expansion through Unterwanderung came with the Mongol confrontation with the West Turkistan and Iranian Khwarazm Empire, and, through them, a confrontation with points beyond. After 1218, there was conquest on a broad scale, much more than raiding and carting off booty of every sort, although this continued as well on an even broader scale. As part of the ongoing expansion, to hold as well as seize, true Mongol occupation administrations emerged in the west, including in Iran, eastern Turkistan, and more or less simultaneously in China. The Mongol Empire was becoming territorialized.

In China, occupation organizations emerged focused on the former Jin dynasty subordinate capital of Zhongdu 中都‎, and other key points, as time went on. In 1217 a mix was achieved in China with the concurrent establishment of a tanma, a nomadic garrison force, positioned in Inner Mongolia, to provide a military striking power to counterbalance civil administrations, focused on Zhongdu, and other fixed positions.3 Since the Mongols lacked the cadres to provide all the officers that their administrations required from their own ranks, Zhongdu, for example, became a culturally mixed administration. Turks and others, generally those by then more assimilated and acceptable to their Mongol rulers, provided key elements.4

A significant dimension of the ongoing territorialization, particularly in the West and also in China, was the establishment of contacts not just with geographical territories and people but also with networks of various sorts. These included commercial networks. Some had links not only regionally but also to points far away: Europe, ports on the Black Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean, or, in the case of East Asia, links to coastal islands, including Japan, Southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean. Here the driving force were networks of Muslim merchants, primarily Arabic, of every sort. On the Mediterranean, the major node was the Mamluk Empire (1250–1517), and its neighbors in North Africa. The Mamluk Empire was also linked with Italian trading states, such as Genoa and Venice, and, in interior Africa, with Mali and points beyond. Further south, Arab trade networks had developed between the Middle East and the western side of the Indian Ocean as early as the 8th century.

Movement into western and eastern Turkistan also marked a final Mongol takeover of the long-range commerce of the land Silk Roads, another focus of the activities of Muslim merchants from a period well before the Mongols. Under the Mongols, the routes involved were increasingly linked with distant ocean connections allowing true long-distance trade and travel.

For the Mongols, controlled by them or not, trade was not a direct driver at first, but it became so more and more as time went on, and the Mongols became positioned for large-scale endeavors. Trade, in the early steppe, was often little more than a primitive exchange trade, low key, and often highly indirect, although merchant traders certainly appeared in the steppe from time to time and often caused significant exchanges. Only in early imperial times did the Mongols come into contact with the then major trade routes per se, including the multifaceted sets of links known as the Silk Roads. Although it was others mostly carrying the trade rather than the Mongols, a pattern of cooperation with all those involved did emerge. The relationships eventually evolved into the ortaq system of mature empire and afterward, with Mongols playing active roles as did others. In terms of this later widespread system, Mongol aristocrats and others of the inner power structure, or associated with it, allied with merchants, and those associated with merchants to mutual advantage, forming quite large groups in some cases. The ortaq system existed throughout the Mongol world but was particularly important in Mongol China.5

Mongol China, under Qubilai-qan’s Yuan 元‎ dynasty (1260–1294), took over the extensive maritime contacts of its predecessor, the Song 宋‎ (960–1279), for example, and put the ortaq to good use in organizing trade and in developing it further, although the fate of the ortaq changed during the Yuan, privileges of the ortaq were reduced, they became subject to double taxation, and in the late-Yuan also ortaq routes changed due to less involvement of Central Asians in the government.6 The word ortaq is, by the way, one of the many Turkic loan words in Mongolian, pointing to the importance of influences coming from Turkic directions in the evolution of Mongol society, politics, and even commerce. Whatever it was, Turkic peoples did it before the Mongols.7

Conquest and Empire

Conquest and empire, involving large scale invasions, also an extensive creation of imperial ruling structures, harbored its own inertia. It also exhibited its own internal ratio. The initial part of the Mongol era, the age of Mongol unity (1206–1259), produced the greatest continuous land empire in history. Linking their empire, and states and cultures lying outside it, the Mongols promoted a truly international culture, political and otherwise. It also promoted exchanges to sustain it going on via what Eugene N. Anderson (personal communication to authors) has termed “A Great Mongol Information Super Highway,” and also, as time went on, a new level of commerce was promoted as well.

At first this went forward along the main Central Asian land routes, and other routes closely connected with them, together forming the traditional Silk Roads, then on the seas as well, constituting a maritime parallel to the land routes. The Mongols did not create the Silk Roads but gave an entirely new form and intensity to them.

Among those traveling via these routes, back and forth in his case, the return journey by sea, was Marco Polo (1254–1324), just one famous example. His journey, and that of his relatives, was little more than the tip of a vast iceberg of movement and exchange, with the Mongol overlords as brokers in a near commercial frenzy of the global exchange of ideas accompanied by consumerism.8 The world trade of participants in the exchanges involved was broadly encouraged by the Mongol authorities, and those involved could even move along the imperial Mongolian pony express lines, the jam (this word still surviving as a loan from Mongolian in Chinese). During the Mongol period, the postal system reached its greatest extension and was kept in use even after the fall of the Yuan.9

Even during the time of the Qanates (mid-13th to c. mid-14th century), and of decline, the jam stretched far and wide, to the Golden Horde, for example, even after the breakdown of political unity. Since many of the uses that the jam was by then put to involved commerce, commercial unity outlived political unity in this case.

To show how this worked in practice, the Golden Horde, even if the most distant and isolated Qanate, was still, like Yuan China, very much caught up in trade, via land and water, by the sea through the Black Sea, and overland from sophisticated new cities specially built for land Silk Roads trade. The cities, which have been excavated, had indoor plumbing and central heating for residences.10

On another side, large-scale invasions of North China and the Islamic world, still the primary focuses of economic and political power in the Mongol era, in spite of the destructive incursions of the Mongols themselves, resulted in expanded connections for the Mongols and within areas connected with them. This included growing contacts with the non-Mongolian trading networks in general, those with strongly maritime and land focuses, and, most important, with links extending far beyond the physical boundaries of Mongol power, for example Italian city-states. Genoa was particularly important in this regard for its role in maintaining long-range connections, including from the Black Sea through Iran increasingly into the Indian Ocean by the late 13th century to early 14th century, and even with China, although that was mostly overland.11

Despite the importance of the economic giant that was China, with its huge maritime sector, the first part of the Mongolian world proper to come into intimate contact with the oceans and seas lying outside, was not China (the Mongols there were far from major ocean connections until much later), but Mongol Iran, after the collapse of the unified empire. Conquered by the armies of Hüle’ü (r. 1256–1265), brother of Möngke (r. 1251–1259) and Qubilai (r. 1260–1294) of China, organized as the Ilqanate (1256–1335), although not directly controlling one of its two main seacoasts, the one on the Persian Gulf, was increasingly involved with the seas and oceans. To be sure, it most often drew upon others (e.g., the Italian city-states) to actually mount the voyages and do the trading. But, be this as it may, the Ilqanate was still sophisticated, and this included focused knowledge about the maritime world, particularly about the Indian Ocean to its south. In many ways it had a jump start on Qubilai in China, but the Ilqanate was still not as strong economically as Mongol China. Fortunately, Qubilai’s China-based effort came to it.12

The Ilqanate had a head start, capitalizing on Arab merchant networks that had developed in connection with Indian Ocean trade since the 8th century, but the continued conquests of empire in China (Qan Möngke even died while campaigning in China) meant, later, as the Mongols there formed their own, postimperial Qanate, an ongoing confrontation with the rich Southern Song China with its huge maritime involvement.13 Song was a dynasty very much turned to the sea. It was mostly cutoff from the major continental land routes and had no real choice. Qubilai, when he launched his final attacks on Song in the 1270s, at first attempted to move more or less entirely by land, since city fortresses were what stood in his way in any case, but it soon became apparent that he needed a navy as well as a massive land army. It was, among others, thanks to the initiative of a Mongol, general Ajul (1227–1287), grandson of the famous leader Sübe’etei, that Qubilai was finally convinced to invest in the creation of a fleet. Ajul even took over the supervision and training of the new maritime troops himself.14

Thus, even before the land campaign was done, Qubilai began to build up a fleet, small at first, but soon the Yuan effort became larger as, following the practice of soon-to-be-defeated Song, Qubilai’s generals began to borrow local ships and local fleets (thanks to the aid of defectors and local elites, most notably, at the very end of the 13th century, Liu Zheng 劉整‎ and Pu Shougeng 蒲壽庚‎), while building their own, more and larger as time went on. The Mongols also borrowed other ships even from outside China, Korean ships and personnel, against Japan, and in China on a smaller scale. In the final campaigns against Song it was this borrowing of resources in particular that was to prove decisive. It was the battle of Xiangyang 襄陽‎ (1267–1273) and the conquest of the Southern Song that constituted the training ground for the Mongols’ shift to the sea and maritime technology.15

Mongols in China Acquire a Direct, Deep-Sea Maritime Connection

The critical advance that changed things came when the Mongols took the great trading emporium of Quanzhou 泉州‎ in early 1277. Pu Shougeng, a man of Middle Eastern extraction, possibly from Muslim Central Asia, possibly also with Muslim Southeast Asian connections, was then controlling Quanzhou for the Song.16 He not only turned over the city to the invaders, killing off a large percentage of Song imperial clansmen residents there in the process, but also gave the Mongols access to his own private troops and ships. The still large Song navy, harboring the two child pretenders to the now vacant Song throne, lacked the supplies and other resources and the will to take up a position on the sea knowing it was unassailable to the Mongols, long not wise in the ways of the maritime world, but who had, by then, learned fast.

The Mongols now had a large fleet of their own, even if much of it was hired, and directly attacked the Song fleet. At the end it was roped into a square water fortress with little mobility, and easily destroyed (Battle of Yaishan 崖山‎, off what is now Macao, 1279).17 With its defeat, Song, except for a few loyalists who fled China for points beyond, was truly at an end. By taking the coast and its ports, including Quanzhou, one of the greatest in the world at the time, a fact witnessed by Marco Polo, the Mongols became the heirs of Song’s maritime connections stretching well beyond the China coast into a vast maritime world that the Mongols barely anticipated.18 They and their many allies soon became major actors within it and even tried to extend what they found, actions of profound implications for the global history that the Mongols had become part of, in entirely new ways.

Propelling this process in particular were not just the Mongols but the mercantile communities themselves, especially its Muslim component headed by powerful figures such as Pu Shougeng, who took over in Quanzhou for Yuan, largely fulfilling the role that he had played under Song.19 In most cases the Yuan thrust into the ocean and seas had to deal with existing geography and contacts first before thrusting into the distance, in many cases creating something new primarily in terms of points further south and west.

The Immediate Maritime World Before the Mongols

The maritime world in contact with the former Song southeast coastal areas, and to a lesser extent with North China, which was less well organized for maritime trade, but still had its connections, was comprised of three distinct layers. Each very much differed in degree of accessibility to maritime penetration and to trade activities. First were the various points in northeast East Asia with ocean connections. These were primarily islands but also included mainland Korea and its ports, which had excellent maritime connections with the island world immediately beyond its coasts, and even beyond that, in a Korea-based distance trade extending to the Middle East. Korea and the offshore islands, including Japan, dominated the area commercially and politically. Korea, already under Mongol control before the fall of Song, was attached to the Asian mainland, but this in no way diminished the importance of its offshore connections with many points, to the east, southeast and south, and beyond.20

A second layer was formed by the extended mainland points in Southeast Asia not directly part of China. Champa, in what is now Central Vietnam, was of particular importance and at the center of things.

Finally, there was the greater maritime world of the Indian Ocean proper and the seas and inlets leading up to it. Here further links reached to the Mediterranean through the Red Sea and to Africa when ships kept going south. Through Iran, as noted, there were also key Black Sea connections, particularly important for the traders of the Italian republics, which dominated in Iran.21

Seas off East Asia

The importance of Korea in all this is manifest, a fact that was obvious to the Mongols, and was one reason it was later elected by Qubilai to be used as a base for planned expansion, namely to attack Japan, and its major international port of Hakata 博多‎ in western Kyushu.22 This port also had active links to points south, as is emerging from Japanese marine archaeology. It has focused in the past primarily on the remains of the Mongol invasion fleets (of 1274 and 1281), but there has been discovered a great deal besides Mongol shipwrecks.23

A direct part of the Hakata system, although links were often tenuous, and located just south of Kyushu, were the Ryukyu Islands, culturally mixed, not so Japanese then, and totally independent at the time of Qubilai, with their own trade and political systems.24 The Ryukyus maintained their own maritime links with the outside world, reaching as far as Thailand by the 14th and 15th centuries, and probably before, when the Ryukyu kingdoms, and there was more than one, briefly became important maritime powers.25 In that capacity the Ryukyus were the second area mentioned by 14th-century traveler and maritime geographer Wang Dayuan 汪大淵‎ (1311–1350) in the surviving version of his survey of the maritime trading world in his time, the Daoyi zhilue 島夷誌略‎, “Short Record of the Island Barbarians.”26 This was not fortuitous. He saw the Ryukyus as a jumping off place to further connections all over the region, and he must have had his reasons for so indicating.

Seas off Southeast Asia

Qubilai’s invasions of Japan, in 1274 and 1281, were failures, but thrusts into the seas and lands off China continued, including explorations of remote areas such as then little-known Taiwan, the Philippines, and Borneo, even, if in a highly cursory manner, including a not very serious expedition to the Ryukyus.27 In that case it was hard to find a Ryukyuan power focused enough to fight and occupy, disunited as the islands were in the 13th and 14th centuries. Elsewhere, and using his new resources, gained from the conquest of the rich Chinese south, Qubilai did more than mount invasions on a limited and narrow front, as he did in the case of Japan, and perhaps would like to have done in the Ryukyus.

Qubilai attacked Vietnam by land in 1285 and by sea in 1288. These attacks followed up land campaigns mounted from Yunnan 雲南‎ during Mongol imperial times but focused the second time around on the then major international port of Vân Đồn, located in the north, rather than on simply outflanking the now captured Song Empire, the earlier goal of Mongol incursions. Qubilai’s generals and admirals also attacked Champa, centered near modern Danang and said to be the key to Indian Ocean trade, by sea in 1283. The commercial target in this case was control of Champa itself, its wealth and rich trade, and position as a point of access to a greater world beyond through the trading networks based on and in Champa itself.28

Later, in 1293, came the most impressive campaign of them all, as Java was invaded, the farthest reach of direct Mongolian military intervention, and a preliminary key to the larger Indian Ocean trade environment, like Champa.29 Marco Polo, for example, links Kerala in India with Java.30 Later the Genoese kept advanced positions there reflecting their own interests in the Indian Ocean trading region, even after the end of Mongol power in Iran, and East Asia and points in between.31

Yet maritime routes were not only used for matters of military expeditions: the period of Qubilai also records a series of diplomatic missions affecting various regions in South and Southeast Asia. These diplomatic missions were an alternative to failed military attempts to control the area. Most notable were the ones conducted by the Uighur member of the imperial bodyguard Yϊγmϊš‎ and Yang Tingbi 楊庭璧‎ (India), also Sö’edü and Ariq Qaya, all at the end of the 13th century.32 Qubilai tried to expand the range of his contacts even to Cambodia and North Thailand, as Zhou Daguan 周達觀‎ records in his Zhenla fengtuji 真臘風土記‎, “Record of Conditions in Zhenla” (Cambodia), and the Yuanshi 元史‎ “History of the Yuan dynasty” records attempts to reach the Philippines, another important node of the maritime Silk Roads, as archaeological findings suggest. Despite such efforts, the focus of attention for the Qubilai thrust was still meant to be the Indian Ocean region, where Chinese and Arab merchants encountered one another during their long-distance exchanges. Possibly, even the land campaigns in Burma were intended to find an alternative way to reach the Indian Ocean network.33

The Indian Ocean and the Paths Leading Up To It: History

Indian Ocean commerce already had a long history before the appearance of the Mongols, or for that matter before the appearance of increasingly long-range Chinese traders. Trade down the Red Sea and along the coasts of Arabia and the Persian Gulf, and even coasting to India itself was ancient, and the volume only limited by ship design and, for a long time, failure to take the monsoon winds, making direct voyages possible and efficient, into consideration.

A first golden age of the trade was the Roman period (early empire) when the monsoon winds blowing to India and back were first put into large-scale use to support quicker and more efficient voyaging, although direct trade with India was still not as important as it later became. As Mclaughlin makes clear, Rome did a pretty good job of bankrupting itself in pursuit of eastern, particularly Arabic and Indian, commodities of every sort.34

The Arabs (and Persians) took up where the Romans left off, actually long in competition with them and with the Byzantines, and continued large-scale sailings directly to India and to other points, including Africa and China.35 From Tang times on, Chinese ships joined other ships of various nationalities, although it is not always clear that those sailing in Chinese ships were necessarily Chinese. Only in Song times can this really be assumed, although not universally. This was the situation as the Mongols appeared as the manager of a new multinational effort.

The Java attack was a serious effort, but a failure, not entirely due to the mismanagements of the Mongols, rather due to almost impossible local politics that the Mongol invaders got sucked into. In any case, by the time of the Java attack, the Mongols had begun to move away from such coup-de-main assaults that required enormous resources marshalled over great distances. In the end, since the potential of a military intrusion always remained, the Java attack became only one side of Mongol activities in the greater maritime zone affecting China, even though the military efforts have drawn most of the attention of scholars in the past. China-centric, they have seen the military movements primarily only in terms of their immediate relationships to China and not in terms of a still more distant, but still meaningful, maritime world beyond, one completely penetrated by long-distance trading networks that the Mongols sought to control and exploit but which always remained just beyond their ability to impose direct control. Cooperation and finesse were necessary. Thus the Mongols had to manage trading networks as well as tributaries.

In any case, the trading networks, not just the potential tributaries, tributaries such as the Uighurs or Korea, often connected to the trading networks, were important entities, to be sure. Partly this fact was indicative of internal Mongol politics. Foreigners, when in range, could be threatened, but more difficult without major destabilization was putting too much pressure on those powerful and influential locally, the struggle against Muslim (and not Buddhist) prince Ananda (late 13th century and early 14th century) in China, which went on into the next reign, for one example. These were the very parties who often participated in the cooperative ortaq associations by preference. The Qan’s government and ministers could influence, but brute control was not possible. In any case, in the ortaq, the powerful, mostly princes, and experienced merchants, and those associated with them, and officials, linked themselves to great mutual advantage.

Be that as it may, the focus had changed and, in the end, simultaneously with its military actions, increasingly disfavored, Qubilai’s government unleased an unprecedented diplomatic effort, sending its representatives to India in particular (even including among its envoys an Uighur member of the imperial bodyguard).36 Also going out as an envoy was Yang Tingbi, a military and political figure actively involved in the conquest of South China and it the expansion of Chinese influence into Southeast Asia and toward India.37 Not all the contacts involved were by sea since the Mongols had their advanced positions in Tibet and Burma.

In the context of a larger effort, the Malabar Coast was of particular interest to the Mongols, as was strategic Ceylon, positioned as it was in the middle of the northern Indian Ocean. The Yuanshi, taking a broad view, has this to say:

Of the various foreign countries beyond the seas, only Malabar and Ceylon are sufficient to subordinate various countries, and Ceylon is the back defense of Malabar. From Quanzhou to its borders is around 10,000 li里‎ . . . If the water route receives a changing wind, one can get there in around 15 days. Compared to the other countries it is much larger. Shizu 世祖‎ [Qubilai], during the Zhiyuan [1264–1294] Era, sent Sö’edü, minister on the left of the mobile Central Secretariat, and others, bearing seal letters, ten copies, to summon and order various countries. Not long afterwards, Champa and Malabar took up the statements and accorded to their [proper] positions as foreign countries. The others, Ceylon and other countries, did not submit. The mobile secretariat discussed sending 15 envoys to go and admonish them. The emperor said: “This is not something that Sö’edü and the others can assume responsibility for. Without my decree, they cannot on their own send envoys.”38

As evident from this passage, Mongol envoys went not just to India, and the India connection was obviously a key part of the effort by Sö’edü, who died in his invasion, and others, to at least pacify, if not control Champa, and, in any case, go around it and prevent unwanted competition from a powerful trading community. The same intention may have been behind the Java expedition as well. Also focuses of the Mongol diplomatic offensive were more land-locked areas such as Burma and Thailand, the latter just being occupied by the immigrants who had given Thailand its name. Besides Thailand, Mongol representatives, were, in fact, all over peninsula Southeast Asia. There was even an expedition to Cambodia.

India, proper, although very important, was, in most respects merely a source of raw materials, and a way station, or series of way stations, extending, physically and via its trade and influence, on the one side, through Iran and the Black Sea to the great Italian republics, and, on the other, along the coast of the Arabian states to the Red Sea, and to Egypt beyond. From there, trade and interest turned south to farther Africa, international concern reaching as far as Medieval Mali and its fabled riches. A map from the time (it is a Korean map probably based on a 14th-century Yuan original, which, in turn, has Arabic connections) suggests that still more reconnaissance was involved. Chinese (and presumably Arabic) mapmakers at least imagined that one could sail around Africa to get to Europe, waiting on the other side.39

At the same time that a diplomatic offense was being waged in East Asia’s maritime west, as part of a technological revolution, ships, particularly Chinese ships, were getting bigger and sturdier, meaning that high-volume, long-distance trade was becoming more and more possible.40 With improved knowledge and technology, there was also more direct voyaging across the Indian Ocean. Voyages were no longer mere coasting ones, or voyages mounted in stages, although sometimes such voyages in stages were convenient for commercial purposes.

In this regard, of particular importance for Mongol China, were Qubilai’s connections with the Ilqanate of Iran. The Ilqanate was not only the first group of Mongols to connect with the maritime world of the south but was Qubilai’s ally of choice in the struggle to resist Central Asian interlopers such as Qaidu (1230–1301) and his empire. Qaidu waged long and bloody land wars with Qubilai and with his immediate successors. In part because of a disturbed Central Asia, the sea routes leading west had not only become more viable but also of increasing importance for Qubilai. He needed to dominate them not just to maintain contacts with Iran, a focus like China and its associated maritime world for the commercial activities of the Italian republics, as well as a well-established Arabic sea trade in the Indian Ocean, to maintain his position in the postimperial Mongol world as a whole. There Qubilai sought recognition as Great Khan. This term, used by Marco Polo, referred to overlordship in what had once been the unified Mongol Empire.

Polo was actively involved in such developments, not only collecting information but also traveling the routes involved in the maritime West. He had come to China overland, but a now older Marco Polo went back by sea, accompanying a Mongol princess intended for the ruler of Iran on his way. His voyage was the tip of a growing flood of voyages, too many to track, inaugurating a whole new channel on the “Mongol Information Super Highway,” as the voyages spread knowledge and material goods.

Encouraging such traffic, from points such as Quanzhou 泉州‎, the Zayton, Arabic “olive” by folk etymology celebrating local, olive-like Canarium fruits, of the Western accounts, were, as noted, the ortaq associations based there with distant connections across the Indian Ocean, and even beyond.41 Qubilai’s China, and during subsequent reigns, also, seconding the largely private ortaq, also organized a well-developed network of official organizations directly or indirectly managing trade, even trying to monopolize it, this in addition to purely naval authorities in charge of the, by the late 13th century, very large fleet.42

And as for what was traded, we have now not only the documentary reports, which must often be contextualized but also actual findings in the form of objects recovered from ships long sunk beneath the waves, thanks to the current upsurge in marine archaeology. Other kinds of archaeology have contributed as well, for example, in the recovery of Blue and White pottery shards from Arabia, in close connection with the sea trade.43 Some of the things carried, not all found by archaeologists, are surprising. They included horses, large things to ship and delicate, but which without question moved east, from Arabia delivered to recipients located as far away as China.44 Among the cargos known from documentary and from archaeological sources was a lively trade in medicines and medicinals. Such products are of particular interest since medicines and medicinals are usually precisely localizable, so we do not have to guess in assigning trade connections. Frankincense, while widely produced in Arabia, was not found everywhere, and Socotra aloe we assume came from Socotra, where aloe plants grew and prospered well.45

Qubilai and the Maritime World, the New Power Politics and Diplomacy

Finally, to conclude, a research question: In all of this, how can we summarize and analyze Qubilai’s interests and those of his successors and how were they expressed? In particular, how did the commercialization of the Mongols first develop, how did it emerge as a predominate interest, and how did it evolve and move along new channels as time went on, leading to the emergence of a whole new world, and set of relationships in the Indian Ocean. And, most importantly, how did this commercialization affect maritime trade? These are questions that we can only begin to answer given the present stage of research.

One thing we do know, in the end the Mongols naturally took to the seas as an extension of their way of life, commercialism, or not, and used the seas to meet political goals, including the goal of universality. Under Qubilai’s rule universality was clearly a major thrust, a variation of Mongol claims to all under Heaven, given to them by an all-embracing Tengeri, blended with Chinese views of how the universe should work under a sage king.46 But, in any case, how specifically, did universality play out, and what precisely were the diplomatic practices that we know to have been involved. Here we can at least suggest ideas, but substantially more research is needed to provide definitive answers.

Methods and Targets

More obvious than ultimate intellectual motivations are the methods utilized to achieve goals, whether the goals reflected an overriding commercialism or pretensions of universality. Methods to achieve imperial goals included the buildup and support of commercial cities, not just those of China, and promotion of an existing structure of trade that could be turned easily to imperial advantage. To this we must add a large Yuan fleet, and other military extensions, of a variety of sorts. New deals were made to extend the existing commercial structure, primarily using the ortaq system. New diversity was sought in Zayton and other commercial centers. Émigré populations were in fact welcomed to Yuan China and their residence there was encouraged and underwritten.47 And to encourage the émigré communities, existing foreign networks were expanded and developed.48 Also considerations were worries about the migration of Song loyalists and even during Yuan, Chinese communities establishing ethnic and merchant colonies, apparently in Java, perhaps in connection with the Mongol invasion of Java, for example.49

Immediate targets of the efforts involved were at first were immediate and local, and manageable, but, as time went on, distant areas were focused on as well. The basic system did not change with distance, just the way that it was applied.

In the East Asian Seas

At first foreign trade, particularly distant foreign trade, used others, but as time went on the ranks of the others were not only expanded, but Chinese and other entirely local merchants were encouraged to reach out too. We see this process in connection with the Ryukyu Islands in particular where not only local Chinese, and others based in the Ryukyus reached out to China, but Ryukyuans themselves increasingly went trading to China and elsewhere. These Islands can be used as an example of what was possible. The important thing is that more and more Chinese participated in Yuan long-distance trade, alongside its large foreign or émigré components based in China.

In the Indian Ocean and Seas Beyond

To conclude this overview, the world of the Indian Ocean was too distant from China to be conquered effectively, and not only did Qubilai and his successors have to use diplomatic means to assure the submission of as many states as possible, particularly in India, but pure commercial penetration became important as a way of holding new connections together. What became possible we see in sources such as the Daoyi zhilue of Wang Dayuan, an exhaustive survey of Yuan trading partners, from a generation after Qubilai. The range of trading points discussed was amazing and shows, by the 14th century, that the maritime Mongols and their allies had achieved almost unlimited range by the standards of the time. The African interests shown by Wang Dayuan in his work seem quite remarkable, but interest in the riches of Medieval Mali was also shown in other geographical documents of the era.50

Less directly connected to the sea thanks to intervening states in the south, the Ilqan capital of Tabriz and its merchants and others, nonetheless, like China, still maintained extensive trading connections particularly with the Black Sea, and through the Black Sea to Europe and, as time went on, through the south into the Indian Ocean.51 There the Italian republics developed new trading interests. What precise influence on such developments the maritime Mongols of the China side had remains to be elucidated, but this influence was probably substantial.52

A First Mongol Maritime Age?

The Mongol maritime era that resulted from Mongol interests and interventions, may very much be considered a first maritime age, a precursor to the brief, but golden age of the Zhenghe 鄭和‎ (1371–1433 or 1435?) voyages, and the later, more extended era of Portuguese and other European exploration. This was formerly considered the first true maritime age, just as the Portuguese are considered to have developed the first truly global maritime empire.53 That general view may now have to be changed. Indian Ocean developments were more complex than has been realized and certainly included maritime Mongols and their less direct version of a sea empire.

Primary Sources

The range of primary source material relating to the topic is vast, too vast to more than briefly and selectively survey here. There is also the problem of language. Immediately relevant source material, for example, occurs in colloquial and classical Chinese, including classical Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese, in Mongolian, Uighur, Arabic, Persian, Syriac, Old French, Italian, Latin, Greek, Armenian and Georgian, Turkish, Russian, in various Indonesian and in other Southeast Asian languages, in Burmese, Cham, Tibetan and various Indian language, in Ethiopian languages, just to start. And then there is the matter of editions. Translations are preferred here where they exist.

Al-‘Umar¢¢, Ibn Fa† l Allāh. Das mongolische Weltreich: al-‘Umar¢¢’s Darstellung der mongolischen Reiches in seinem Werk Masālik al-ab-ab©āmr wa l’ mamālik al-am©ār mit Paraphrase und Komentar. Edited and translated by Klaus Lech. Wiesbaden, Germany: Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, 1968.Find this resource:

Battuta, Ibn. The Travels of Ibn Battuta. Translated by Hamilton Gibb. 3 vols. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1958–1971.Find this resource:

Battuta, Ibn. The Travels of Ibn Battuta: A. D. 1325–1354. Translated and edited by Hamilton Alexander Rosskeen Gibb and Charles Fraser Beckingham, Vol. 4. Hakluyt Society, Second Series, 178. New York: Routledge, 1994.Find this resource:

Buell, Paul D., and Eugene N. Anderson. A Soup for the Qan: Chinese Dietary Medicine of the Mongol Era as Seen in Hu Sihui’s Yinshan Zhengyao. Introduction, translation, text, notes, appendix by Charles Perry. 2nd rev. ed. Sir Henry Wellcome Asian Series 9. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2010.Find this resource:

Buell, Paul D., and Eugene N. Anderson. Arabic Medicine in China: Tradition, Innovation and Change, Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, forthcoming.Find this resource:

Polo, Marco. The Description of the World. Translated and edited by Sharon Kinoshita. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2016.Find this resource:

Song Lian 宋濂‎. Yuanshi (元史‎). Beijing 北京‎: Zhonghua shuju 中華書局‎, 1976.Find this resource:

Ṭabīb, Rashīd al-Dīn, and Wheeler McIntosh Thackston. Rashiduddin Fazluallah’s Jami’u’t tawarikh [Compendium of Chronicles]. Translated by Wheeler McIntosh Thackston. 3 vols. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization, 1998.Find this resource:

Wang Dayuan 汪大淵‎. Daoyi zhilüe xiaoshi (島夷誌略校釋‎). Beijing 北京‎: Zhonghua shuju 中華書局‎, 1981.Find this resource:

Zhou Daguan 周達觀‎. Zhenla fengtuji 真臘風土記‎.Find this resource:

Further Reading

Abu-Lughod, Janet L. Before European Hegemony: The World System ad 1250–1350. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.Find this resource:

Akamine, Mamoru. The Ryukyu Kingdom, Cornerstone of East Asia. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2017.Find this resource:

Albert, Salvador Bernabéu, and Carlos Martinez Shaw, eds. Un Océano de seda y plata: El universe económico del Galeón de Manila. Sevilla, Spain: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Scientíficas, 2013.Find this resource:

Allsen, Thomas T. The Steppe and the Sea, Pearls in the Mongol Empire. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019.Find this resource:

Allsen, Thomas T. “Mongolian Princes and their Merchant Partners, 1200–1260,” Asia Major 2–2 (1989): 83–126.Find this resource:

Anderson, Eugene N. The East Asian World-System, Climate and Dynastic Change. Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2019.Find this resource:

Bade, David. Of Palm Wine, Women and War, the Mongolian Naval Expedition to Java in the 13th Century. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2013.Find this resource:

Beaujard, Philippe. “The Indian Ocean in Eurasian and African World Systems before the Sixteenth Century.” Journal of World History 16 (2005): 411–465.Find this resource:

Bin Yang. Between Winds and Clouds: The Making of Yunnan (Second Century bce to Twentieth Century ce). New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.Find this resource:

Buell, Paul D. (forthcoming). Doing It on Horseback: How the Imperial Mongols Remade China and the World in their Own Image.Find this resource:

Buell, Paul D. “Maritime Silk Route: The Mongols and the Indian Ocean.” In The Mongol World. Edited by Timothy May and Michael Hope. Abingdon-on-Thames, UK: Routledge, forthcoming.Find this resource:

Buell, Paul D. “Eurasia, Medicine and Trade: Arabic Medicine in East Asia, How It Came There, and How It Was Supported, Including Possible Indian Ocean Connections for the Supply of Medicinals.” In Early Global Interconnectivity across the Indian Ocean World. Vol. 2, Exchanges of Ideas, Religions, and Technologies. Edited by Angela Schottenhammer, 261–293. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.Find this resource:

Buell, Paul D. “The Early Indian Ocean Trade in Medicinals: Some Indications from Chinese Sources.” In Tribute, Trade and Smuggling. Edited by Angela Schottenhammer, pp. 133–140. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2014.Find this resource:

Buell, Paul D. “Qubilai and the Indian Ocean: A New Era?” In Handbook of World-Systems Analysis. Edited by Salvatore Babones and Christopher Chase-Dunn, 42–43. London: Routledge, 2012.Find this resource:

Buell, Paul D. “Indochina, Vietnamese Nationalism, and the Mongols.” In The Early Mongols: Language, Culture and History Studies in Honour of Igor de Rachewiltz on the Occasion of His 80th Birthday. Edited by Volker Rybatzki, Alessandra Pozzi, Peter W. Geier, and John R. Krueger, 21–29. Indiana University Uralic and Altaic Series 173. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Buell, Paul D. “The Sung Resistance Movement, 1276–1279: The End of an Era.” Annals of the Chinese Historical Society of the Pacific Northwest 3 (1985–1986): 138–186.Find this resource:

Buell, Paul D. “Kalmyk Tanggaci People: Thoughts on the Mechanics and Impact of Mongol Expansion.” Mongolian Studies 6 (1980): 41–59.Find this resource:

Buell, Paul D. “The Role of the Sino-Mongolian Frontier Zone in the Rise of Cinggis-qan.” In Studies on Mongolia, Proceedings of the First North American Conference on Mongolian Studies. Edited by Henry G. Schwarz, 63–76. Bellingham, Washington, 1979.Find this resource:

Buell, Paul D., and Eugene N. Anderson. A Soup for the Qan: Chinese Dietary Medicine of the Mongol Era as Seen in Hu Sihui’s Yinshan Zhengyao. Introduction, translation, text, notes, appendix by Charles Perry. 2nd. rev. ed. Sir Henry Wellcome Asian Series 9. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2010.Find this resource:

Buell, Paul D., and Eugene N. Anderson. Arabic Medicine in China: Tradition, Innovation and Change. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, forthcoming.Find this resource:

Buell, Paul D., and Francesca Fiaschetti. Historical Dictionary of the Mongol World Empire and Its Successor States. 2nd rev. ed. Historical Dictionaries of Ancient Civilizations and Historical Eras, No. 8. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2018.Find this resource:

Chaffee, John W. The Muslim Merchants of Premodern China, the History of a Maritime Asian Trade Diaspora, 750–1400. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2018.Find this resource:

Chaffee, John W. “Cultural Transmission by Sea: Maritime Trade Routes in Yuan China.” In Eurasian Influences on Yuan China. Edited by Morris Rossabi, 41–59. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asia Studies, 2013.Find this resource:

Chipman, Leigh. The World of Pharmacy and Pharmacists in Mamlūk Cairo. Sir Henry Wellcome Asian Series, 8. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2010.Find this resource:

Ciocîltan, Virgil. The Mongols and the Black Sea Trade in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries, Translated Samuel Willcoks. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2012.Find this resource:

Cleaves, F. W. “A Chinese Source Bearing upon Marco Polo’s Departure from China and a Persian Source on his Arrival in Persia.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 36 (1976): 181–203.Find this resource:

Conlan, Thomas D. In Little Need of Divine Intervention, Takezaki Suenaga’s Scrolls of the Mongol Invasions of Japan, Translation with an Interpretive Essay. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, 2001.Find this resource:

Cunliffe, Barry. By Steppe, Desert, and Ocean, the Birth of Eurasia. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Delgado, James P. Kamikaze, History’s Greatest Naval Disaster. New York: Vintage Books, 2010.Find this resource:

Delgado, James P. Khubilai Khan’s Lost Fleet, in Search of a Legendary Armada. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Deng, Gang. Maritime Sector, Institutions, and Sea Power of Premodern China. Contributions in Economics and Economic History, 212. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999.Find this resource:

Doerfer, Gerhard. Türkische und mongolische Elemente im Neupersischen: Band II, Türkische Elemente im Nerpersischen. Wiesbaden, Germany: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1965.Find this resource:

Endicott-West, Elisabeth, “Merchant Associations in Yuan China: The Ortoy.” Asia Major 2–2 (1989): 127–154.Find this resource:

Federov-Davydov, German A. The Silk Road and the Cities of the Golden Horde. Translated by Jeannine Davis-Kimball. Berkeley, CA: Zinat Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Fiaschetti, Francesca. Limits of Belonging, the Concept of Foreign Land in Yuan China, forthcoming.Find this resource:

Fiaschetti, Francesca. “Mongol Imperialism in the Southeast—Uriyangqadai (1201–1272) and Aju (1127–1287).” In the Service of the Khans: Elites in Transition in Mongol Eurasia, ed, Michal Biran. Special issue of Asiatische Studien/Études Asiatiques, 71, no. 4 (2017): 1119–1135.Find this resource:

Fiaschetti, Francesca. “The Six Duties: Yuan Diplomatic Interactions with Southeast Asia.” Archivium Eurasiae Medii Aevii 23 (2017): 81–101.Find this resource:

Fiaschetti, Francesca. “Das Konzept des Auslandes in der Yuan-Zeit.” PhD. diss. Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, 2015.Find this resource:

Fragner, Bert, Ralph Kauz, Roderich Ptak, and Angela Schottenhammer. Pferde in Asien: Geschichte, Handel und Kultur. Wien, Austria: Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschafften, 2009.Find this resource:

Freedman, Paul. Out of the East Spices and the Medieval Imagination. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.Find this resource:

Giraldez, Arturo. The Age of Trade, the Manila Galleons and the Dawn of the Global Economy. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2015.Find this resource:

Glahn, Richard von. “The Ningpo-Hakata Merchant Network and the Reorientation of East Asian Maritime Trade 1150–1350.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 74, no. 2 (December 2014): 249–279.Find this resource:

Goitein, Shelomo Dov, and Mordechai Akiva Friedman. India Traders of the Middle Ages: Part 1: Documents from the Cairo Geniza “India Book”: India Book Pt. 1. Etudes sur le Judaisme Mediaeval. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2007.Find this resource:

Gunn, Geoffrey C. History without Borders: The Making of an Asian World Region, 1000–1800. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Hansen, Valerie. The Silk Road, a New History with Documents, with Coverage of the Mongols and Marco Polo. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017Find this resource:

Haw, Stephen G. Marco Polo’s China: A Venetian in the Realm of Khubilai Khan. London: Routledge, 2006.Find this resource:

Hourani, George. Arab Seafaring in the Indian Ocean in Ancient and Medieval Times. Rev. ed. by John Carswell. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996.Find this resource:

Kauz, Ralph. Aspects of the Maritime Silk Road: From the Persian Gulf to the East China Sea. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2010.Find this resource:

Kauz, Ralph. “Horse Exports from the Persian Gulf until the arrival of the Portuguese.” In Fragner, Pferde in Asien: Geschichte, Handel und Kultur, 129–135.Find this resource:

Kerr, George H. Okinawa, the History of an Island People. Rev. ed. Tokyo, Rutland, VT: Tuttle, 2000.Find this resource:

Kimura Jun. Archaeology of East Asian Shipbuilding. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2016.Find this resource:

Larner, John. Marco Polo and the Discovery of the World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.Find this resource:

Lev, Efraim, and Zohar Amar. Practical Materia Medica of the Medieval Eastern Mediterranean According to the Cairo Genizah. Sir Henry Wellcome Asian Series, 7. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2008.Find this resource:

Lo Jung-pang. China as a Sea Power, 1127–1368, a Preliminary Survey of the Maritime Expansion and Naval Exploits of the Chinese People during the Southern Song and Yuan Periods. Edited by Bruce A. Elleman. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2012.Find this resource:

McLaughlin, Raoul. The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean, the Ancient World Economy and the Kingdoms of Africa, Arabia and India. Yorkshire, UK: Pen and Sword, 2014.Find this resource:

McLaughlin, Raoul. The Roman Empire and the Silk Routes, the Ancient World Economy & the Empires of Parthia, Central Asia, & Han China. Yorkshire, UK: Pen and Sword, 2016.Find this resource:

McGovern, Patrick E. Ancient Wine, the Search for the Origins of Viniculture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.Find this resource:

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(2.) See details in Paul D. Buell, Doing It on Horseback: How the Imperial Mongols Remade China and the World in their Own Image, forthcoming.

(4.) See Buell, Doing It on Horseback.

(6.) See Elisabeth Endicott-West, “Merchant Associations in Yuan China,” and Chaffee, The Muslim Merchants of Premodern China. See also generally Franz Schurmann, Franz, Economic Structure of the Yuan Dynasty (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Yenching Institute, 1956).

(7.) For a discussion of the etymology of the word see as an introduction Endicott-West, “Merchant Associations in Yuan China,” 129–133. See also, in more depth, Gerhard Doerfer, Türkische und mongolische Elemente im Neupersischen: Band II, Türkische Elemente im Nerpersischen (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1965), 25–27.

(12.) On this, from the perspective of the Mongols in Tabriz, see the excellent discussion in Prazniak, Sudden Appearances, 25–54 and passim.

(13.) For an overview of Song maritime activity and the role of Muslims in it see in particular Chaffee, The Muslim Merchants of Premodern China, 51–123.

(15.) For a popular overview of the wars of the Mongols with Song see James Waterson, Defending Heaven, China’ Mongol Wars (London, UK: Frontline, 2013).

(16.) On Pu see Chaffee, The Muslim Merchants of Premodern China, passim.

(18.) Marco Polo, The Description of the World, trans. and ed., Sharon Kinoshita (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2016), 141. Polo talks of the revenues coming from Zayton and its trade: “I tell you that in this port and this city, the Great Khan receives very great duties [droit], for I would have you know that all the ships coming from India give ten percent of all merchandise, stones, and pearls,—that is a tenth of everything. The ships take for their rent (for their shipload, that is) 30 percent of the finely crafted merchandise, 44 percent of the pepper, and 40 percent of the aloe, sandalwood, and other bulk merchandise, such that, between the nol, and the Great Khan’s duty, merchants give a good half of all they import. Therefore everyone should believe that the Great Khan has a very great quantity of treasure in the city.” See, also Angela Schottenhammer, ed., The Emporium of the World, Maritime Quanzhou, 1000–1400 (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2001); and See, as an introduction, Schottenhammer, The Emporium of the World. See also the relevant chapter of Prazniak, Sudden Appearances.

(19.) Chaffee, The Muslim Merchants of Premodern China, documents the period.

(21.) For a long-term view of the traditional commerce of the Indian Ocean from a world system perspective see, in particular, Philippe Beaujard, “The Indian Ocean in Eurasian and African World Systems before the Sixteenth Century,” Journal of World History 16 (2005): 411–465.

(22.) And not just as a trading community, the Koreans were also key mediators. They acted as envoys for the Mongols in Japan. They also were a key provider of ships and military personnel for the attacks against Japan itself; Lo Jung-pang, China as a Sea Power, 1127–1368, a Preliminary Survey of the Maritime Expansion and Naval Exploits of the Chinese People during the Southern Song and Yuan Periods, ed. Bruce A. Elleman (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2012), 248–252.

(23.) On the Mongol invasions of Japan and their aftermath see, as a sampling, Randal J. Sasaki, The Origins of the Lost Fleet of the Mongol Empire (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2015); James P. Degado, Khubilai Khan’s Lost Fleet, In Search of a Legendary Armada (Vancouver, Toronto: Douglas and McIntyre, 2008); and James Delgado, Kamikaze, History’s Greatest Naval Disaster (London: Vintage Books, 2010). Now being investigated is a vast graveyard of shipwrecks providing information not only on the ships themselves, for example, that many were quickly and shoddily built to meet invasion plans, but also on the military aspects of the invasion, including surviving hurled bombs designed to be shot from hand-operated catapult devices, huobao 火炮‎. The explosions produced by such weapons are shown clearly in a famous Japanese scroll, but the illustrations were long thought fanciful until the recent underwater discoveries. See Thomas D. Conlan, In Little Need of Divine Intervention, Takezaki Suenaga’s Scrolls of the Mongol Invasions of Japan, Translation with an Interpretive Essay (Ithaca, NY: East Asia Program, Cornell University, 2001).

(26.) Wang Dayuan 汪大淵‎, Daoyi zhilüe xiaoshi 島夷誌略校釋‎ (Beijing 北京‎, Zhonghua shuju 中華書局‎, 1981), 16–22. Wang’s main description (16–17) is as follows:

Liuqiu 琉球‎

The character of the land is flat arched. Forest trees are an armful. There is a mountain called Cuilu 翠麓‎, “Azure Foot of the Hill,” there is one called Chongman 重曼‎, “Repeated and drawn out,” there is one called Futou 斧頭‎, “Ax Head,” and there is one called Daqi 大崎‎ “Great and Rugged.” The peaks and mountains are extremely tall and lofty. Viewed from the Penghu 彭湖‎ [Islands] they seem very near. When I climbed these mountains, then [in] the ocean I saw the tide disappearing and extending. Half way through the night then I saw in the distance the sun come forth in the valley of sunshine, the red radiance illuminated heaven. The mountain tops were all bright because of this. The earth was moist and the fields fertile. It would be suitable for cereal crops and husbandry. The weather was gradually becoming warm. As a rule, different than the Penghu [Islands]. The water is without boats or oars. Rafts help things. The men and the women twist their hair. Flower cloth is used to make shirts.

They cook ocean water to make salt, they ferment sugar cane juice to make liquor. They know to honor foreign lords as headmen. There is a virtue of blood relationship between fathers and sons. If people of other countries aggress [against them], then they hack off their flesh while they are alive in order to chew it. They take their heads and hang from a pole.

The land produces gold, yellow beans, millet, sulfur, yellow wax, deer, wild cats, muntijac deer skins, trade goods, domestic pearls for use, agate, golden pearls, rough bowls, and things like Chuzhou 處州‎ porcelain. The various foreign countries beyond the seas start from here.

This account accords closely with what we know from contemporary archaeological sources discussed in Pearson, Ancient Ryukyu. The large mountains are obviously the volcanoes of the chain. The account even seems to note local pottery production. Only lacking is a reference to wild boars, a common hunting animal during the period, and a note on turbo shell exports, if this is not what is meant by domestic pearls. Note that in Wang’s time the Ryukyus as such extended vaguely from Korea and southern Japan to northern Taiwan. The Penghu 彭湖‎ Islands mentioned are probably not the Pescadores, but some group located in the north. Note how close these islands are to the main Ryukyus in Wang’s account, another indication that the islands are not the Pescadores, located much farther away.

(27.) These expeditions find a special mention in the Yuanshi, juan 210, 4667–4668.

(29.) On the campaign in general see David Bade, Of Palm Wine, Women and War, the Mongolian Naval Expedition to Java in the 13th Century (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2013). The conflict with the Mongols came just as the Javanese state of Majapahit was moving into the power vacuum caused by the decline of the mega state om the area, Šrīvijaya. See O. W. Wolters, The Fall of Šrīvijaya in Malay History (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1970).

(30.) Much of Polo’s information about the Indian Ocean and connected areas, including insular Southeast Asia and points west in book 3, was based on eyewitness observations made during his journey to accompany a Mongol princess west to the Ilqanate for marriage. In his discussion Polo sees the entire Indian Ocean world as connected, and clearly with maritime points off the China coast starting with Japan and extending south to Java, but also to the Nicobar and Andaman Islands and even Ceylon. He also distinguishes a Greater India, essentially India, and a Middle India and the Arabian Sea, including places such as Abyssinia, Socotra, Aden, and Hormuz. See the passages in Polo, The Description of the World, 143–192. Interestingly, Polo, even at the end of the 13th century, sees much of the Indian Ocean world he described as aware of, and having connections to, in many cases, Great Khan Qubilai. On Polo’s voyage, see F. W. Cleaves, “A Chinese Source Bearing upon Marco Polo’s Departure from China and a Persian Source on His Arrival in Persia,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 36 (1976): 181–203. Cleaves is an important support for the veracity of Marco Polo’s account. For a full Marco Polo bibliography see also Paul D. Buell and Francesca Fiaschetti, Historical Dictionary of the Mongol World Empire and Its Successor States, 2nd rev. ed., Historical Dictionaries of Ancient Civilizations and Historical Eras, No. 8 (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2018).

(31.) See Ciocîltan, The Mongols and the Black Sea Trade.

(36.) On this see, in particular, Tansen Sen, “The Yuan Khanate and India: Cross-cultural Diplomacy in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries, Asia Major, 19, part 1/2 (2006): 299–326 and Mukai, and Fiaschetti, “Yang Tingbi.” See also Sen, “The Formation of Chinese Maritime Networks to Southern Asia.” Yϊγmϊš‎ has a biography in the Yuanshi (Zhonghua shuju 中華書局‎, 131, 3198–3200). It has the following entry:

Twenty-fourth year [of Zhiyuan 至元‎, 1287–1288], he went as an envoy to Malabar. He took up [for presentation] a relic from the Buddha’s body. He floated on the ocean against a perverse wind. He only arrived after travelling a year. He got their excellent medical treatment and good medicinals. Subsequently he came with local people, to come to court to offer as tribute local products. He also, with his own money, purchased both purple sandal wood, and palace materials to present them. He was waiting on the emperor in the bath chamber. He [the emperor] asked saying: “How many times have you gone across the ocean?” He replied saying: “Your servant has gone across the ocean four times, I think.” The emperor commiserated with his effort. He also gave him a jade belt, and changed his title to “Magnate Relying on Virtue.” He gave him a distance appointment as left minister of the mobile executive council [xing shangshu sheng 行尚書省‎] for the Jiang 江‎ and Huai 淮‎ [areas] and provisional Quanfu 泉府‎ great minister.

(37.) See Mukai and Fiaschetti, Yang Tingbi.

(38) Yuanshi, 210, Zhonghua shuju 中華書局‎, 4669

(40.) For an introduction to the history of Chinese nautical science see Joseph Needham, Lu Gwei djen, and Wang Ling, Science and Civilisation in China, Vol. 4, Physics and Physical Technology, Part 3: Civil Engineering and Nautics (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1971). See also Lo Jung-pang, China as a Sea Power; and Deng Gang, Maritime Sector, Institutions and Sea Power of Premodern China (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999). On Arabic shipping, see also in passing, Hourani, Arab Seafaring. Now, see also, on classical shipping, McLaughlin, The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean. On the recent maritime archaeology that is now adding so much to our knowledge of ships and shipping see in particular Kimura Jun 木村純‎, Archaeology of East Asian Shipbuilding (Gainsville: University of Florida Press, 2016). Kimura carefully generalizes from specific wrecks. These are described in detail and analyzed comparatively. A chapter entitled “East Asia’s Link to the South China Sea and Gulf Traders” (209–237) explores the issue of hybridization of ship types and long-distance trade, something ongoing in the China Seas and within a wider Indian Ocean region. See also Wu Chunming’s edited collection, Early Navigation in the Asia-Pacific Region, a Maritime Archaeological Perspective (Singapore: Springer, 2016). For two key wrecks see the following URLs, although the second is not strictly marine and just shows the scope of the trade:

Belitung Shipwreck.

Chinese porcelain discovered in UAE shows 700 years of Gulf relations.

More recent wrecks and associated archaeology, in this case connected with Java, are the subject of an in-depth study by Mai Lin Tjoa-Bonatz in her “Sea Routes in Sumatran Waters, Indonesia: Surveys of Historic Shipwrecks in the Straits of Bangka, Gaspar and Karimata,” in Selected Papers from the Second SEAMEO SPAFA International Conference on Southeast Asian Archaeology, ed. Dr. Noel Hidalgo Tan (Bangkok, Thailand: SEAMEO SPAFA Regional Centre for Archaeology and Fine Arts, 2018)79–90. In her paper she surveys Indonesian shipwrecks from the 10th through the 19th century, including many (most) that are still unpublished. She also looks at the contexts of shipwrecks, including ports and trade networks, and also Indonesia’s dominant position in trade, which often was carried on coasting via Indonesian ports (during the time of Srivijaya domination, e.g., in particular), although voyages tended to become more and more long-distance and direct as time passed. Other similar regional considerations like Tjoa-Bonatz’s also exist, that of Miksic-based on Singapore, for example. See John N. Miksic, Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea (Singapore: National University of Singapore Press, 2013). I am grateful to Mai Lin Tjoa-Bonatz for supplying this reference and for other assistance during the writing of this article.

(41.) For a discussion of the role of Muslim merchants associated with the southeastern Chinese coast and even based there, see, as an introduction, Chaffee, The Muslim Merchants of Premodern China. See also John W. Chaffee, “Cultural Transmission by Sea: Maritime Trade Routes in Yuan China,” in Eurasian Influences on Yuan China, ed. Morris Rossabi (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asia Studies, 2013), 41–59.

(42.) On the period in general see Chaffee, The Muslim Merchants of Premodern China.

(44.) See Bert Fragner, Ralph Kauz, Roderich Ptak, and Angela Schottenhammer, Pferde in Asien: Geschichte, Handel und Kultur (Wien, Austria: Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschafften, 2009). See in particular Yokkaichi Yasuhiro, “Horses in East-West Trade between China and Iran under Mongol Rule,” in Fragner et al., Pferde in Asien, 87–97; and Ralph Kauz, “Horse Exports from the Persian Gulf until the Arrival of the Portuguese,” in Fragner, et al., Pferde in Asien, 129–135.

(45.) Our principal source for Arabic medicine in China, the fragments of a hospital manual from Ming dynasty times called Huihui yaofang 回回藥方‎, “Muslim Medicinal Recipes,” shows clearly that the medicinals called for in it are virtually identical to the medicines called for in the Cairo Genizah materials from Egypt, for example. And most of them came over the seas due to almost continual disruptions of the land Silk Roads in Yuan and Ming times, and a growing convenience of shipment by sea. See Paul D. Buell, “Eurasia, Medicine and Trade: Arabic Medicine in East Asia, How It Came There, and How It Was Supported, Including Possible Indian Ocean Connections for the Supply of Medicinals,” in Ideology and Knowledge Exchanges across the Indian Ocean World, Volume II, Exchanges of Ideas, Religions, and Technologies, ed. Angela Schottenhammer (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan,2019); 261-293. see also Paul D. Buell, “The Early Indian Ocean Trade in Medicinals: Some Indications from Chinese Sources,” in Tribute, Trade and Smuggling, ed. Angela Schottenhammer (Wiesbaden, Germany: Otto Harrasowitz, 2014), 133–140. While we have good information regarding the quality of the trade involved, quantities are more difficult to trace, one reason why maritime archaeology is so important. But see Allsen, The Steppe and the Sea, Pearls in the Mongol Empire on pearls. On the Cairo Genizah and its medicine see Efraim Lev and Zohar Amar, Practical Materia Medica of the Medieval Eastern Mediterranean According to the Cairo Genizah, Sir Henry Wellcome Asian Series, 7 (Leiden, The Netherlands, 2008. See also Leigh Chipman, The World of Pharmacy and Pharmacists in Mamlūk Cairo, E. J. Brill (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2010) . See also Paul D. Buell and Eugene N. Anderson, Arabic Medicine in China: Tradition, Innovation and Change (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, forthcoming.)

(47.) As an introduction see Chaffee, The Muslim Merchants of Premodern China.

(48.) Traces of these communities are mostly seen in tombstones and in religious monuments (mosques). Some have been at the center of recent studies. As an introduction ee George Lane’s review on the Phoenix Mosque in Hangzhou: ”The Phoenix Mosque and the Persians of Medieval Hangzhou”.

(49.) On Han migration in Southeast Asia during the Mongol period see: Lo Jung-pang, China as a Sea Power, 326–329.

(50.) For the trade routes of the time and a bit later see the map at Medieval trade route networks. For more maps see also Allsen, The Steppe and the Sea, Pearls in the Mongol Empire.

(51.) On Tabriz as a center of Mongol activities in Iran see the useful discussion in Prazniak, Sudden Appearances.

(52.) Among recent studies see Yokkaichi Yasuhiro, “Chinese and Muslim Diasporas and the Indian Ocean Trade Network under Mongol Hegemony.” In The East Asian Mediterranean: Maritime Crossroads of Culture, Commerce, and Human Migration, ed. Angela Schottenhammer, 73–103 (Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz; Manz F. Beatrice Manz, 2010). “The Rule of the Infidels: The Mongols and the Islamic World,” In The New Cambridge History of Islam, 3 ed. ed. David O. Morgan and Anthony Reid, 128–168 (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press).

(53.) There is a rich literature on the Portuguese maritime empire. See, as an introduction, A. J. R. Russell-Wood, The Portuguese Empire, 1415–1808: A World on the Move (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998).