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


July 2022
256 pages.
from $18.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503627475
Paperback ISBN: 9781503638136
Ebook ISBN: 9781503631519

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Gold Medal (tie) in the History (World) Category for the 2023 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPYs).

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. 1368 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 Ali Humayun 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.

But during the British Industrial Revolution, 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 the future of its connections with both 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 (2017).

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

—Fabio Rambelli, UC Santa Barbara

"This book provides us with a valuable historical understanding of one of the big questions of our time: how and why has China become a 21st -century global superpower?"

—Roger Crowley, author of Conquerors

"1368 is an exciting and important book that broadens our understanding of the Ming and Qing centuries, two momentous eras in Chinese and world history."

—Hyunhee Park, author of Mapping the Chinese and Islamic Worlds

"A brilliant reorientation of 600 years of history. Its global perspective explores afresh a number of multifaceted encounters with high points in China's civilization and successfully avoids both Sinocentric and Eurocentric narratives. A remarkable story succinctly told."

—Wang Gungwu, author of The Eurasian Core and its Edges

"Akhtar's smooth and rich narrative, grounded in extant scholarship, archival sources, literary texts and material culture, makes 1368 accessible and thought-provoking for readers of different backgrounds."

—Chiara Formichi, author of Islam and Asia

"Ali Akhtar writes a longue durée history from an Asian perspective. His masterly exploration of global-Asian interaction leaves readers mulling over an important question: How are we to understand Asia's and specifically also China's role in the evolving global order? The light of history offers some answers."

—Peter Borschberg, author of The Singapore and Melaka Straits

"A wide-ranging and very thought-provoking book. 1368 presents a vision of how the world became knitted together by the seams."

—Eric Tagliacozzo, author of The Longest Journey

"A remarkably concise and well-illustrated volume that commands attention for its Asia-centered approach to global history as well as its erudite and original coverage of a broad range of subjects, from the history of the Silk Road, the Spice Trade, the European overseas empires, to modern Japan and global China in the 21st century, and more."

—André Wink, author of The Making of the Indo-Islamic world c.700–1800 CE

"This exciting study reveals the place of global China in the modern world's economic system and its layered history. From the book's long-duration understanding of history, we can learn many perspectives on our relationship with China as a new global power."

—Eiji Nagasawa, The University of Tokyo

"Ali Akhtar's 1368 reveals the Indian Ocean, the Silk Road, and China's relations with the Persianate World to be significant strands in the weaving of global modernity."

—Zvi Ben-Dor Benite, author of The Dao Of Muhammad

"Ali Humayun Akhtar's book offers an important intervention in scholarly considerations of the transitions to the global modern age. Akhtar builds upon the recent turn to the study of social networks while at the same time challenging us to think more creatively about the dynamic nature of such networks. The work highlights elements such as the prominent role of Muslims in the renewed promotions of network ties based on premodern relations between China, Central Asia, and the Middle East. Chinese governments and related networks, including Japanese governments, were international and, arguably, globalizing influences, long before their appearance as global players in the 20th century."

—Brian Ruppert, Kanagawa University, author of Jewel in the Ashes

"With deep research and engaging prose, 1368 upends orthodox trajectories of research that have long inquired about the impact of 'the west' upon 'the rest' through a vivid exploration of how travelers and wanderers became conduits of Chinese culture to the rest of the world. 1368 is a timely book and positively engrossing read."

—William Noseworthy, Cornell University

"[1368] is an enlightening look into a vital historical era that has been understudied in the West"

Publisher's Weekly

"Today's China is a manufacturing powerhouse producing much of the world's trade goods. Akhtar makes the case that this phenomenon is a reoccurrence of China's manufacturing dominance in international trade before the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, which tipped the balance to Western Europe and the United States."

—Joshua Wallace, Library Journal

"Akhtar synthesizes more than 500 years of global history with style and economy. He fluidly construes Zen Buddhism, Timurid travel accounts, Islam in Korea, so-called "peace marriages" with Malay vassals, Vermeer's "The Milkmaid" (ca. 1660), Thomas Paine and Voltaire on Confucius, and the rise and fall of the Tokugawa shogunate—and contrasts the divergent strategies and legacies of the Europeans on one hand, and those of the Chinese and Japanese on the other."

—Maxwell Carter, The Wall Street Journal

"China's influence in the Indo-Pacific is not an entirely new phenomenon. The country dominated the region and the famous 'Silk Road' trading route that connected China to the West hundreds of years ago. Understanding this history is helpful for anyone concerned about America's path forward as China continues to rebuild and strengthen the Silk Road and solidify its position as a global superpower. ... 1368: China and the Making of the Modern World by Ali Humayun Akhtar provides a compelling rundown of that history."

—Lynn White, Princeton University, In CONGRESS

"Readers seeking a new perspective on when globalization began will find Ali Humayun Akhtar's book an important and insightful read. ... What makes this book refreshing is its Asian-focused perspective and its unique assertion of when our modern 'globalized' world actually began to take shape."

—Paul Everding, World History Encyclopedia

"Akhtar seeks to rewrite the history of the world of the past half-millennium by placing what he calls the East, though he mostly means China, at the center of the narrative...his contribution to it is to draw from sources in the Muslim world."

—Timothy Brook, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"Ali Humayun Akhtar's 1368: China and the Making of the Modern World is an ambitious macrohistory of imperial China's exchanges with neighboring and distant states."

—Gianamar Giovannetti-Singh, Los Angeles Review of Books

"1368 is an erudite account of 600 years of history from an Asian-centered global perspective. Its rich narrative is grounded in a variety of recent scholarship, spectacular accounts in Persian and Ottoman Turkish, Malay legends, and colorful material culture.... This book provides timely context for understanding the rise of Asia. It is remarkably concise and accessible to readers of different backgrounds. Highly recommended."