Mughal Empire (1526-1857)
The Mughal, Mogul or Moghul Empire, was an early modern empire in South Asia. For some two centuries, the empire stretched from the outer fringes of the Indus basin in the west, northern Afghanistan in the northwest, and Kashmir in the north, to the highlands of present-day Assam and Bangladesh in the east, and the uplands of the Deccan plateau in south India.
The Mughal empire is conventionally said to have been founded in 1526 by Babur, a warrior chieftain from what today is Uzbekistan. He was descended from the conqueror Timur on his father’s side, and from Genghis Khan on his mother’s side.
The relative peace maintained by the empire during much of the 17th century was a factor in India’s economic expansion. The Mughals were responsible for building an extensive road system, creating a uniform currency, and the unification of the country. The empire had an extensive road network, which was vital to the economic infrastructure, built by a public works department set up by the Mughals which designed, constructed and maintained roads linking towns and cities across the empire, making trade easier to conduct.
Indian agricultural production increased under the Mughal Empire. A variety of crops were grown, including food crops such as wheat, rice, and barley, and non-food cash crops such as cotton, indigo and opium. By the mid-17th century, Indian cultivators begun to extensively grow two new crops from the Americas, maize and tobacco.
Mughal agriculture was in some ways advanced compared to European agriculture at the time, exemplified by the common use of the seed drill among Indian peasants before its adoption in Europe. While the average peasant across the world was only skilled in growing very few crops, the average Indian peasant was skilled in growing a wide variety of food and non-food crops, increasing their productivity.
Shah Jahan (King of the World in Persian), was the fifth and one of the best known Mughal emperors, and reigned from 1628 to 1658. Under his reign, the Mughal Empire reached the peak of its cultural glory. Although an able military commander, Shah Jahan is best remembered for his architectural achievements. His reign ushered in the golden age of Mughal architecture. He commissioned many monuments, the best known of which is the Taj Mahal in Agra, in which is entombed his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal who died after giving birth to their fourteenth child.
Shah Jahan owned the royal treasury and several precious stones such as the Kohinoor and has thus often been regarded as the wealthiest Indian in history.
During the early 1700’s the empire began to break up as it sank into chaos and violent feuds, becoming increasingly fragmented. The Empire ended in 1857 when the British East India Company took control of India and through the Government of India Act 1858 the British Crown assumed direct control of East India Company-held territories in India in the form of the new British Raj. In 1876 the British Queen Victoria assumed the title of Empress of India.
China’s Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
The Ming dynasty, officially the Great Ming, was the ruling dynasty of China from 1368 to 1644 following the collapse of the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty. The of the Yuan dynasty was hard-hit by inflation as well as massive flooding of the Yellow River. Agriculture and the economy were in shambles and the ethnic Han Chinese were discriminated against. With the Yuan dynasty crumbling, competing rebel groups began fighting for control of the country and thus the right to establish a new dynasty.
The first Ming emperor issued many edicts forbidding Mongol practices and proclaiming his intention to purify China of barbarian influence. However, he also sought to use the Yuan legacy to legitimize his authority in China and other areas ruled by the Yuan. He continued policies of the Yuan dynasty such as continued request for Korean concubines and eunuchs, Mongol-style hereditary military institutions, Mongol-style clothing and hats, promoting archery and horseback riding, and having large numbers of Mongols serve in the Ming military.
The Portuguese first established trade with China in 1516, trading Japanese silver for Chinese silk and after some initial hostilities gained consent from the Ming court in 1557 to settle Macau as their permanent trade base in China.
Macau is a former colony of the Portuguese Empire, after Ming China leased the territory as a trading post in 1557. Portugal paid an annual rent and administered the territory under Chinese sovereignty until 1887, when it gained perpetual colonial rights in the Sino-Portuguese Treaty of Peking. The colony remained under Portuguese rule until 1999, when it was transferred to China. Macau is a special administrative region of China, which maintains separate governing and economic systems from those of mainland China under the principle of “one country, two systems”.
Famines became common in northern China in the early 17th century because of unusually dry and cold weather that shortened the growing season – effects of a larger ecological event now known as the Little Ice Age.
Literature, painting, poetry, music, and Chinese opera of various types flourished during the Ming dynasty. The biggest literary development at that time were novels written in the common (instead of classical) language. You can still read them today!
Based upon the historical bandit Song Jiang and his companions, this Chinese equivalent of the English classic Robin Hood and His Merry Men is an epic tale of rebellion against tyranny and has been thrilling and inspiring readers for hundreds of years.
Written in the sixteenth century, The Journey to the West tells the story of the fourteen-year pilgrimage of the monk Xuanzang, one of China’s most famous religious heroes. Throughout his journey, Xuanzang fights demons who wish to eat him, communes with spirits, and traverses a land riddled with a multitude of obstacles.
Well-known Ming artists could make a living simply by painting due to the high prices they demanded for their artworks and the great demand by the highly cultured community to collect precious works of art. The artist Qiu Ying was once paid 2.8 kg (100 oz) of silver to paint a long handscroll for the eightieth birthday celebration of the mother of a wealthy patron. The period was also renowned for ceramics and porcelains.
Early Ming dynasty saw the strictest sumptuary laws in Chinese history. It was illegal for commoners to wear fine silk or dress in bright red, dark green or yellow colors; nor could they wear boots or guan hats.
Women could not use ornaments made from gold, jade, pearl or emerald.
Merchants and their families were further banned from using silk.
Let’s wrap up the Ming Dynasty with a video:
China’s Qing Dynasty (1636-1912)
The Qing dynasty, officially the Great Qing, was the last imperial dynasty of China. It was established in 1636, and ruled China proper from 1644 to 1912, with a brief restoration in 1917. It was preceded by the Ming dynasty and succeeded by the Republic of China. The multiethnic Qing empire lasted for almost three centuries and formed the territorial base for modern China. It was the fourth-largest empire in world history in terms of territorial size.
The most significant facts of early and mid-Qing social history was growth in population, population density, and mobility. The population in 1700, according to widely accepted estimates, was roughly 150 million, about what it had been under the late Ming a century before, then doubled over the next century, and reached a height of 450 million on the eve of the Taiping Rebellion in 1850.
One reason for this growth was the spread of New World crops like peanuts, sweet potatoes, and potatoes, which helped to sustain the people during shortages of harvest for crops such as rice or wheat. These crops could be grown under harsher conditions, and thus were cheaper as well, which led to them becoming staples for poorer farmers, decreasing the number of deaths from malnutrition. Diseases such as smallpox, widespread in the seventeenth century, were brought under control by an increase in inoculations. In addition, infant deaths were also greatly decreased due to improvements in birthing techniques and childcare performed by doctors and midwives and through an increase in medical books available to the public. Government campaigns decreased the incidence of infanticide (killing babies, especially girls, at birth).
Several events occurred during the Qing dynasty that we’ll cover later: The Opium Wars, the Boxer Rebellion, and the Taiping Rebellion.
You can read more about the Ming and Qing Dynasties in the book The Making of Modern China: The Ming Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty (1368-1912).
For those of you using Guest Hollow’s Whirlwind History, see the weekly schedule for the reading assignment. 🙂
Japan and the Tokugawa (Edo) Period (1603-1867)
The Edo period (or Tokugawa period) is between 1600 and 1868 in the history of Japan, when Japan was under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate, governing from Edo and the country’s 300 regional daimyō (powerful Japanese feudal lords). Tokugawa Ieyasu was the first shōgun of the Edo period.
Emerging from the chaos of the Sengoku period (near constant civil war, social upheaval, and political intrigue that lasted from 1467 to 1615), the Edo period was characterized by economic growth, strict social order, isolationist foreign policies, a stable population, “no more wars”, and popular enjoyment of arts and culture. Japan enjoyed 250 years of stability during this time period.
A code of laws was established to regulate the daimyō houses. The code encompassed private conduct, marriage, dress, types of weapons and numbers of troops allowed; required feudal lords to reside in Edo every other year (the sankin-kōtai system), restricted castles to one per domain (han), and prohibited the construction of ocean-going ships.
Although the daimyō were not taxed per se, they were regularly levied for contributions for military and logistical support and for such public works projects as castles, roads, bridges and palaces. The various regulations and levies not only strengthened the Tokugawa but also depleted the wealth of the daimyō, thus weakening their threat to the central administration (which helped make things more stable).
Christianity was forbidden. The “Christian problem” was, in effect, a problem of controlling both the Christian daimyō in Kyūshū and their trade with the Europeans. The shogun, Ieyasu was suspicious of outsiders, but he did want foreign trade. He moved to control existing trade and only allowed certain ports to handle specific items.
By 1612, the shōgun’s retainers and residents of Tokugawa lands had been ordered to forswear Christianity. More restrictions came in 1616 (the restriction of foreign trade to Nagasaki and Hirado, an island northwest of Kyūshū), 1622 (the execution of 120 missionaries and converts), 1624 (the expulsion of the Spanish), and 1629 (the execution of thousands of Christians).
Finally, the Closed Country Edict of 1635 prohibited any Japanese from traveling outside Japan or, if someone left, from ever returning. In 1636, the Dutch were restricted to Dejima, a small artificial island—and thus, not true Japanese soil—in Nagasaki’s harbor.
The Japanese were to be kept within Japan’s own boundaries. Strict rules were set to prevent them from leaving the country. Anyone caught trying to leave the country, or anyone who managed to leave and then returned from abroad, was to be executed. Europeans who entered Japan illegally would face the death penalty too.
Christianity was strictly forbidden. Those found practicing the Christian faith were subject to investigation, and anyone associated with it would be punished. To encourage the search for those who still followed Christianity, rewards were given to those who were willing to turn them in. Prevention of missionary activity was also stressed by the edict; no missionary was allowed to enter, and if apprehended by the government, he would face imprisonment.
The fumi-e ceremony was considered one way of detecting a Christian; to reveal any individual that was still loyal to the Christian faith, a picture resembling that of Jesus or Mary was placed on the floor of a pagoda, and everyone within the building was required to step on it. If any hesitation was visible, or any reluctance was detected, that individual was automatically suspect and subject to investigation.
Some Christians survived by going underground, the so-called Kakure Kirishitan. They worshipped in secret rooms in private homes. As time went on, the figures of the saints and the Virgin Mary were transformed into figurines that looked like the traditional statues of the Buddha and bodhisattvas; depictions of Mary modeled on the Buddhist deity Kannon, goddess of mercy, became common, and were known as “Maria Kannon”.
Prayers were adapted to sound like Buddhist chant, yet retained many untranslated words from Latin, Portuguese, and Spanish. The Bible and other parts of the liturgy were passed down orally, because printed works could be confiscated by authorities.
Trade restrictions and strict limitations on goods were set to limit the ports open to trade, and the merchants who would be allowed to engage in trade. Relations with the Portuguese were cut off entirely; Chinese merchants and those of the Dutch East India Company were restricted to enclaves in Nagasaki. The allowance of ships was strictly regulated; only specific vessels were permitted to enter Japan, and merchants had to obtain special licenses to trade. Although trade was not cut off completely, it was very rare.
To discourage those from embracing anything even remotely related to Europe, the Tokugawa punished any offenders that happened to surface. Many were publicly tortured, and often faced the death penalty as a result of their practices.
Only China, the Dutch East India Company, and for a short period, the English, enjoyed the right to visit Japan during this period, for commercial purposes only, and they were restricted to the Dejima port in Nagasaki. Other Europeans who landed on Japanese shores were put to death without trial.
Just three years before this policy was implemented, a man named William Adams arrived at the shore of Japan after 19 months at sea with a sick and dying crew (23 men out of the original 100). Adams ended up staying in Japan and became the first non-Japanese samurai and was employed by the shogun. The novel Shōgun by James Clavell is loosely based on this true story and features many characters based on real-life counterparts. The editor of Learning from Shōgun: Japanese History and Western Fantasy (1980) estimated that 20 to 50% of all students in American college-level courses about Japan had read the novel. He described the book as “a virtual encyclopedia of Japanese history and culture; somewhere among those half-million words, one can find a brief description of virtually everything one wanted to know about Japan”, and stated that “In sheer quantity, Shōgun has probably conveyed more information about Japan to more people than all the combined writings of scholars, journalists, and novelists since the Pacific War”. The author of James Clavell: A Critical Companion calls the novel “one of the most effective depictions of cross-cultural encounters ever written”, and “Clavell’s finest effort”.
After Englishman John Blackthorne is lost at sea, he awakens in a place few Europeans know of and even fewer have seen—Nippon. Thrust into the closed society that is late sixteenth-century Japan, a land where the line between life and death is razor-thin, Blackthorne must negotiate not only a foreign people, with unknown customs and language, but also his own definitions of morality, truth, and freedom. As internal political strife and a clash of cultures lead to seemingly inevitable conflict, Blackthorne’s loyalty and strength of character are tested by both passion and loss, and he is torn between two worlds that will each be forever changed.
Powerful and engrossing, capturing both the rich pageantry and stark realities of life in feudal Japan, Shōgun is a critically acclaimed powerhouse of a book. Heart-stopping, edge-of-your-seat action melds seamlessly with intricate historical detail and raw human emotion. Endlessly compelling, this sweeping saga captivated the world to become not only one of the bestselling novels of all time but also one of the highest-rated television miniseries, as well as inspiring a nationwide surge of interest in the culture of Japan. Shakespearean in both scope and depth, Shōgun is, as the New York Times put it, “…not only something you read—you live it.” Provocative, absorbing, and endlessly fascinating, there is only one: Shōgun.
As discussed previously, the social structure of Japan was as follows (click this link to read about it in more detail).
Outside the classes were the so-called eta and hinin, those whose professions broke the taboos of Buddhism. Eta were butchers, tanners and undertakers. Hinin served as town guards, street cleaners, and executioners. Other outsiders included the beggars, entertainers, and prostitutes. The word eta literally translates to “filthy” and hinin to “non-humans”, a thorough reflection of the attitude held by other classes that the eta and hinin were not even people.
Hinin were only allowed inside a special quarter of the city. Other persecution of the hinin included disallowing them from wearing robes longer than knee-length and the wearing of hats. Sometimes eta villages were not even printed on official maps. A sub-class of hinin who were born into their social class had no option of mobility to a different social class whereas the other class of hinin who had lost their previous class status could be reinstated in Japanese society.
In the 19th century the umbrella term burakumin was coined to name the eta and hinin because both classes were forced to live in separate village neighborhoods. The eta, hinin and burakumin classes were officially abolished in 1871. However, their cultural and societal impact, including some forms of discrimination, continues into modern times.
You can read an article about how this discrimination continues today by clicking here. (Thanks to our daughter Hannah Haruna for the link!)
By the mid-18th century, Edo (which was the capital and is now Tokyo) had a population of more than one million, likely the biggest city in the world at the time.
Edo was repeatedly and regularly devastated by fires due to the wooden houses (machiya) of the city being heated with charcoal. The Great fire of Meireki in 1657 being the most disastrous, with an estimated 100,000 victims and a vast portion of the city completely burnt. At the time, the population of Edo was around 300,000, and the impact of the fire was tremendous. The fire destroyed the dungeon of the Edo Castle, which was never rebuilt, and it influenced the urban planning afterwards to make the city more resilient with many empty areas to break spreading fires and wider streets. Reconstruction efforts expanded the city east of the Sumida River, and some daimyō residences were relocated to give more space to the city, especially in the direct vicinity of the shogun’s residence, giving birth to a large green space beside the castle, present-day Fukiage gardens.
Around the year 1700, Japan was perhaps the most urbanized country in the world, at a rate of around 10–12%. Half of that figure would be samurai, while the other half, consisting of merchants and artisans, would be known as chōnin.
Eating out became popular due to urbanization. Particularly popular among ordinary people were stalls serving fast food such as soba (thin buckwheat noodles), sushi, tempura, and unagi (freshwater eel), tofu restaurants, teahouses and izakaya (Japanese-style pubs).
The Tokugawa era brought peace, and that brought prosperity to a nation of 31 million, 80% of them rice farmers. Rice production increased steadily, but population remained stable. Improved technology helped farmers control the all-important flow of water to their paddies. The daimyos operated several hundred castle towns, which became locations of domestic trade.
Large-scale rice markets developed, centered on Edo and Ōsaka. In the cities and towns, guilds of merchants and artisans met the growing demand for goods and services. The merchants, while low in status, prospered, especially those with official patronage. Merchants invented credit instruments to transfer money, currency came into common use, and the strengthening credit market encouraged entrepreneurship. The daimyō collected the taxes from the peasants in the form of rice. Taxes were high, often at around 40%-50% of the harvest. The rice was sold at the fudasashi market in Edo. To raise money, the daimyō used forward contracts to sell rice that was not even harvested yet. These contracts were similar to modern futures trading.
It was during the Edo period that Japan developed an advanced forest management policy. Increased demand for timber resources for construction, shipbuilding and fuel had led to widespread deforestation, which resulted in forest fires, floods and soil erosion. In response the shōgun, beginning around 1666, instituted a policy to reduce logging and increase the planting of trees. The policy mandated that only the shōgun and daimyō could authorize the use of wood. By the 18th century, Japan had developed detailed scientific knowledge about silviculture and plantation forestry.
Professional female entertainers (geisha), music, popular stories, Kabuki (theater) and bunraku (puppet theater), poetry, a rich literature, and art, exemplified by beautiful woodblock prints (known as ukiyo-e), were all a part of the flowering of culture during this period.
More of Hokusai’s work – Click an image below to see the gallery and scroll through the pictures.
The most popular sport of the Edo period was sumo. Sumo is a form of competitive full-contact wrestling where a rikishi (wrestler) attempts to force his opponent out of a circular ring (dohyō) or into touching the ground with any body part other than the soles of his feet (usually by throwing, shoving or pushing him down).
Many ancient traditions have been preserved in present-day sumo with many ritual elements, such as the use of salt purification, from Shinto.
Gardening were also popular pastimes for the people of the time. Especially in Edo, residences of daimyo (feudal lords) of each domain were gathered, and many gardeners existed to manage these gardens, which led to the development of horticultural techniques. Among people, cherry blossoms, morning glories, Japanese irises and chrysanthemums were especially popular, and bonsai using deep pots became popular. Not only did people buy plants and appreciate flowers, but they were also enthusiastic about improving the varieties of flowers, so specialized books were published one after another.
Clothing acquired a wide variety of designs and decorative techniques, especially for kimono worn by women. The main consumers of kimono were the samurai who used lavish clothing and other material luxuries to signal their place at the top of the social order. Driven by this demand, the textile industry grew and used increasingly sophisticated methods of weaving, dyeing, and embroidery.
Over this period, women adopted brighter colors and bolder designs, whereas women’s and men’s kimono had been very similar. The rise of a merchant class fuelled more demand for elaborate costumes. While ordinary kimono would usually be created by women at home, luxurious silk kimono were designed and created by specialist artists who were usually men.
We’ll return to the Edo period later, when we discuss how Japan’s seclusion ended and how the Tokugawa dynasty came to an end ushering in the Meiji period.
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