Cover of 1368 by Ali Humayun Akhtar
China and the Making of the Modern World
Ali Humayun Akhtar


June 2022
288 pages.

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503627475



A new picture of China's rise since the Age of Exploration and its historical impact on the modern world.

The establishment of the Great Ming dynasty in 1368 was a monumental event in world history. A century before Columbus, Beijing sent a series of diplomatic missions across the South China Sea and Indian Ocean that paved the way for China's first modern global era. In 1368, Ali Humayun Akhtar maps China's ascendance from the embassies of Admiral Zheng He to the arrival of European mariners and the shock of the Opium Wars. In Akhtar's new picture of world history, China's current rise evokes an earlier epoch, one that sheds light on where Beijing is heading today.

Spectacular accounts in Persian and Ottoman Turkish describe palaces of silk and jade in Beijing's Forbidden City. Malay legends recount stories of Chinese princesses arriving in Melaka with gifts of porcelain and gold. During Europe's Age of Exploration, Iberian mariners charted new passages to China, which the Dutch and British East India Companies transformed into lucrative tea routes. Among the ships' passengers were Italian Jesuits, who translated and assembled the work of Chinese mapmakers and botanists for books that would then be published in Amsterdam.

But there was a shift during the British Industrial Revolution, that tilted Europe toward its high-tech future. Across the British Empire, the rise of steam engines and factories allowed the export of the very commodities once imported from China. By the end of the Opium Wars and the arrival of Commodore Perry in Japan, Chinese and Japanese reformers called for their own industrial revolutions to propel them into the twentieth century.

What has the world learned from China since the Ming, and how did China reemerge in the 1970s as a manufacturing superpower? Akhtar's book provides much-needed context for understanding China's rise today and to see into its future of its connections with the West and a resurgent Asia.

About the author

Ali Humayun Akhtar is a global historian and Professor of Asian Studies at Bates College. He is the author of Philosophers, Sufis, and Caliphs: Politics and Authority from Cordoba to Cairo and Baghdad (Cambridge, 2017).

"An original global history that tells a compelling story of the interconnectedness of the world in premodern times."

—Fabio Rambelli, UC Santa Barbara