The Mongols and the Yuan Dynasty

The Mongol Empire and Knowledge Flows Within It

For a very short while at the height of Mongol power, one huge global system dominated all Eurasia. If Ferdinand von Richtofen had not blessed the Central Asian trade route complex with the cognomen Silk Road in 1877 (Hill 2009: xii), we could well have called it the Eurasian information superhighway. In particular, in the late 1200s and through the 1300s, it was the Mongol information superhighway.

The Mongols, mythologically descended from a gray wolf and a fallow deer, were a scattered set of forest and forest-steppe peoples speaking variants of the Mongolian language. By 1100, they were taking notice of the rise of steppe empires and conquest dynasties. Yet no one could have predicted the rise of Genghis Khan (Chinggis Qaghan, Chingis Khaan in modern Mongol) and his rapid conquests of most of inner Asia. He never conquered China, but his grandson Qubilai did. At the same time, Hulegu was conquering the Near East, sweeping away the last feeble 'Abbasid caliph and establishing the rule of the Ilkhans in Baghdad.

By 1279, most of the core of Eurasia was in Mongol hands. They never bothered with western Europe after an early foray disclosed that there was little loot to be had. They similarly avoided India after brief forays. They had been stopped at Ain Jalut, in Syria in 1260 by the Mamluks of Egypt. They briefly conquered Vietnam but failed to accomplish much there, and otherwise they did not control Southeast Asia. They also failed to take Japan, but otherwise, they ruled Eurasia. The story of the Mongol conquests has been told so many times that it would be tedious to recount it here (see Di Cosmo et al. 2009; Jackson 2005; May 2007, 2012; Ratchnevsky 1991; Weatherford 2004).

In world-systems terms, the Mongols started as an extremely peripheral society—a group of remote wandering tribes. Within a few years they had created a semiperipheral state, learned to administer it successfully, and skyrocketed not only to "core" status but to domination of most of the known world. They then shrank back to more local rule, but they still controlled the cores of the Eastern and Western world-systems (or subsystems) for decades. Never before or since has a group climbed so swiftly to power, and never before or since has a peripheral group taken over several cores and enjoyed such success for so long. Their exceptional abilities to learn from others and to draw on others for administrative and productive talent were the greatest single key to this; Genghis Khans incredible generalship obviously was a sine qua non, but mere military prowess would not have sufficed. It is this ability to learn and borrow that lies behind the texts to be considered below.

Contrary to old ideas that the Mongols were forced out of Mongolia by drought (see May 2012), they rode out during the Medieval Warm Period, when conditions were the best they had ever been for nomadic steppe herding. Tree-ring studies in Mongolia confirm the good conditions of that time (Hvistendahl 2012). The warmth brought more rain, and above all freedom from the dzud (or zhud), the dreaded spring storm that ices up the grass such that the stock cannot paw through the ice to get their food. A dzud can eliminate a whole tribe of nomadic herders. Without such catastrophes, the Mongols rapidly increased in numbers, perhaps to a million or so (May 2012), and rode out in waves of well-fed young men who faced crowding at home as population increased.

Genghis Khan ruled from horseback, but his son Ogodei Khan established a capital at Karakorum in the early 1200s. After only forty years, however, Qubilai Qan shifted the capital to what is now Beijing. Karakorum (nowXar Xorim; к changes to kh in modern Khalkha Mongol) is now a small tourist and monastery town. It lies at the point where a small river exits the dry mountains and permits irrigated agriculture in a small mountain valley—a rare bit of fertile land in Mongolia. It was a cultural meeting ground for travelers from Europe as well as most of Asia. Mongol, Turkic, and Persian were spoken; Marco Polo seems to have spoken Persian when there. Apparently languages were easily learned and widely shared in old Central Asia, as they are in some places today.

The old stereotype of the Mongol hordes as brutal, bestial, and infamous for savagery is long dead (Weatherford 2004; "horde" comes from the Mongol word ordo and has nothing to do with "hoard").Although merciless and savage, Mongol warfare appears to have been no worse than other war of the time, except that the Mongols generally won and thus had more scope to kill and loot (see May 2007, 2012; Weatherford 2004). Warfare in medieval Asia was not a pretty sight. By all accounts the Crusaders were at least as vicious and brutal as the Mongols. The Mongols did kill vast numbers of people, but so has everyone else in war and conquest—certainly in the bloody thirteenth and fourteenth centuries (Mote 1999 for the Chinese world, Tuchman 1978 for the West).

The Mongols, moreover, exaggerated their bloodiness as a form of propaganda. They used the time-honored technique of circulating horrific stories about their atrocities, to scare cities into submitting without a fight. This approach frequently worked (Weatherford 2004). It goes back at least to the Assyrians (Van de Mieroop 2007: 231) and probably is much older. The Mongols included tales of killing a million people in a city with less than 100,000 inhabitants and other unlikely events. These stories, with a good deal added in transmission, became "facts" in the European literature of the time and have tended to remain in books. Less pleasantly, they sometimes appear to have served later conquerors as models.

Admittedly, there are various versions of a story attributing to Genghis a memorable description of the highest good: to "chase and defeat [my] enemy, seize his total possessions, leave his married women weeping and wailing, ride his gelding, use the bodies of his women as a nightshirt and support" (Ratchnevsky 1991:153), but these stories are obviously embellished and may well be part of the propaganda machine. The stereotype of the savage Mongols is based not only on such stories and the fear they inspired but also—in both China and the West—on recycled war propaganda from earlier "barbarian" attacks.

Oddly, Weatherford (2004) repeats the old nonsense about the Mongols eating raw meat after warming it between their thighs and their horses' backs.

This story was started by Ammianus Marcellinus writing about the Huns and is a pretty typical bit of late Roman war propaganda:

But although they have the form of men, however ugly, they are so hardy in their way of life that they have no need of fire nor of savory food, but eat the roots of wild plants and the half-raw flesh of any animal whatever, which they put between their thighs and the backs of their horses, and thus warm it a little." Ammianus goes on to say their clothes are "skins of field-mice sewed together," and once on they never take it off—it eventually wears out. (Ammianus Marcellinus 1939, Book 31, 382-83)

Not only is this ridiculous war propaganda rather than fact, it has nothing to do with the Mongols; the Huns were a completely separate people who lived 700 years earlier. Moreover, the Mongols believed boiling retained the spiritual essence of the food and therefore almost always boiled their meat. They had a religious horror of eating raw meat (they still shun it). In any case, no nomad—Hun, Mongol, or other—would butcher on the trail and carry bloody meat on his horse, if he could avoid it. Butchering wastes time, depletes livestock, and fouls horse and gear with blood. Mongol trail rations are known to have consisted of hard-dried dairy products, parboiled or parched grain products, and jerky if one was lucky. (The Mongols did sometimes eat the horses they led as spare mounts, but only in severe need.) Nor did the Mongols wear the skins of mice; imagine trying to keep warm in a mouse-skin shirt. Not that Mongols were necessarily clean feeders; they ate mice, rats, wild roots, and anything else they could get (Buell, Anderson, and Perry 2010). But they had common sense.

The Mongols were heavy drinkers, and many emperors apparently died of the effects of overeating and overdrinking. Genghis Khan had warned them in a rather self-deconstructing way: "If he is drunk only twice a month, that is better—if only once, that is more praiseworthy.... But where shall we find a man who never drinks?" (Ratchnevsky 1991:192).

In fact, far from being constantly bloodthirsty, the Mongol Empire brought peace and order. This tranquility was extended with conquests to most of Eurasia, producing the Pax Mongólica, a period so stable that "it was said a virgin carrying a gold urn filled with jewels could walk from one end of the empire to another without being molested" (May 2012: 109). That would be from Russia to south China, or Korea to Baghdad. Of course that particular claim is as exaggerated as the stories of massacres, but the peace was real enough.

Compared to the oceans of ink spilled on recounting the Mongol conquests, surprisingly little has been expended in explaining their continued success. Basically, that success came from their ability to draw on kinship, ethnic, religious, and military ties to build enormous forces by working their networks to the hilt. Genghis Khan was the great master at this. The foundation of this ability is tolerance; they were not limited to fellow Mongols, fellow religious practitioners, or any other arbitrary grouping. Tolerance also showed itself in the Mongols' propensity to learn from others. They picked up military technology such as state-of-the-art knowledge of siege craft. More important and difficult was acquiring the entire ideological and pragmatic baggage of running a bureaucratic state—not necessarily easy for a group of independent forest and steppe nomads! They managed to do so by taking over bureaucracies they conquered. Above all, they used advisors from groups that had made the same transition earlier, notably the Khitan and the Turks. The famous advisor Yelu Chucai, who played a critical role in the process of conquering China, was a descendent of the Liao Khitan royal family.

The Mongols were religiously and culturally tolerant to a degree inconceivable in the Western world. They followed a noble tradition of steppe empires, which never were dogmatic about faith. Most steppe peoples, including the Mongols, were shamanistic and thus accustomed to individual religious practitioners who followed their own counsel and conscience and were judged by results rather than dogma. If they could contact the spirits and bring luck, they were accepted. Attitudes toward religion were similar: holy men were judged by their ability to talk, act, bring good fortune, and otherwise do something, rather than by orthodoxy.

The Mongols brought ideas and people from all over Asia. Their religious tolerance now seems wonderful and inspiring, their warfare the opposite. But things were not always so. Europeans of that day understood warfare perfectly and lobbied the Mongols to unleash their hordes on the Muslim world so that the Europeans could succeed better in the Crusades. The lobbyists were not enamored of Mongol tolerance. Thus wrote Andrew of Perugia in 1326: "Each and all are allowed to live according to their own sect, for this is their opinion, or I should say their error, that every man is saved in his own sect." The great traveler William of Rubruck reported disapprovingly that the Great Qan Mongke said, "God has given mankind several paths" (both quotes from Jackson 2005: 273). The Iranian writer Juvaini (1958), a Muslim, noted the same latitude but was more tolerant of tolerance (see also Dawson 1955; Rossabi 1992).

The Mongols believed (and still believe) in Tenggri, or Tengger, heaven (cf. Chinese tian) and saw all faiths as simply other ways to reach it. Later, Buddhism replaced Tenggri shamanism as a religious mediator; Allsen maintains that Buddhist networks of information and commodity flows were superior (Allsen 2009:145). The Tenggrists and Buddhists were certainly more tolerant than Islam, which dominated western Central Asia, and in the east the former were certainly more wide-flung and prevalent.

It is safe to say that historically most people have resisted borrowing such major matters as religion and ideology. The Chinese had their sense of cultural superiority, which inhibited—though it certainly did not stop—learning from "barbarians." The West was worse off, trapped in the exclusivist, often intolerant Abrahamic religious traditions. Only during periods in which its survival was dependent on learning from others did the West open itself to Eastern culture.

The Mongols created a crisis so desperate, and opportunities so irresistible, that Europe opened its doors to learning—thus, slowly but surely, acquiring from the Mongols the great Chinese cultural achievements. Most Westerners now realize that the inventions Francis Bacon called basic to the rise of science—the compass, printing, and gunpowder—were all brought from China by the Mongols (see, e.g., Weatherford 2004; on the spread of gunpowder, see May 2012: i45ff.).

Also important were the wheelbarrow and efficient production of paper (May 2012: 251). Use of the compass, often mentioned in the same breath, was obviously learned by seafarers and thus more likely came from Arabs in the Indian Ocean trade than from the Mongols. It seems possible, indeed likely, that this receptivity had further ramifications, leading to the dramatic open-mindedness of Italy, and then the rest of Europe, to ideas from the Muslim world.

Siege techniques traveled in both directions. Organizational skills did too, but seem largely to have gone from west to east. Medical innovations also followed that pattern (Buell 2007).

However, most revolutionary to the Western world was printing, which appears to have been introduced by the Mongols from China to the West (Allsen 2001; Carter 1955; Tsien 1985; Weatherford 2004; Allsens rather thin doubts about the Mongol introduction and its revolutionary impact are not supported by the evidence, which seems unequivocally to point to the Mongols). Simple block printing was locally present in the West earlier, but set type and movable type and the entire idea of printing long books was quite new.

Blue-and-white painting, using Iranian cobalt blue technology, was applied to Chinese porcelain to make the great feast dishes the Mongols treasured (Carswell 2000); the finest today are in the old Ottoman treasury, the Topkapi Sarayi, in Istanbul. Supposedly this paint has a healthful effect on food served in it, a belief that probably stems from the sacredness of the deep sky-blue color in Turkic and Mongol belief. In Mongolia, invoking the color of heaven (especially by wrapping with a blue silk cloth) still conveys fortune, blessing, and safety on anything so decorated.

Mongol transfers to the East from the West included, among other things, art and painting techniques, foods, philosophy and religion, and medicines. They were perhaps a more dramatic force for "globalization" than late twentieth-century expansion. David Harvey's "time and space compression" was surely anticipated by the Mongol pony express, which shortened the time for a letter to go from Baghdad to Beijing from several months to a few days.

The Mongols were fascinated with the realms they had conquered, and some scholars at each end of the Mongol world became fascinated also. Mapping and geography flourished; impressive collections of maps were made, mapping lore traveled in both directions, and mapping advanced greatly as a result. The indefatigable Rashid al-Din (1247-1318; see below) compiled an atlas, now lost. Several Chinese atlases, compiled under Yuan, fared better and display vast increases in China's knowledge of the Western world.

To the west, Mongol rule brought relief from the Assassins, a violent but powerful Ismaili community whom the Mongols conquered and exterminated (see Juvaini 1958). The term "assassin" comes from hashishin, hashish users, a pejorative term applied by their enemies. If they did not use it (I expect they did), other sects certainly did; one Haydar al-Zawah of Nishapur, founder of such a sect, was said to have discovered marijuana in 1211 by seeing a "small tree ... that... was in a state of agitation, shaking its branches and leaves excitedly even though there was no trace of wind" (Lane 2003: 247).

Conquests took the Mongols and their followers into uncharted realms with dubious foods. Sufis traveled from Central Asia to the newly Islamized land of Turkey, where they hoped for a wonderful new home but found instead that "the whole garden was planted with celery" (Lane 2003: 233)—at that time a weedy, intensely bitter herb—as effective an image for a disappointing scene as any in literature. The newcomers complained that there were too many qalandars (holy men of suspect sanity) with serious marijuana habits and rings through their penises to prevent sexual intercourse (246). Not all was reformed in Mongol days.

Under Mongol rule, there flowed textiles of all sorts, books, new inventions, paintings and art objects, ceramics, and indeed everything portable (Komaroff 2006). The Mongols did much to encourage trade, including longdistance trade. Western painting styles incorporated Chinese landscape art (reaching Renaissance Italy around 1400), as well as Chinese dragons, phoenixes, and other unlikely fauna, which were adopted early as far afield as Armenia (Kouymjian 2006). Pottery styles were homogenized across the Islamic world (O. Watson 2006), with, again, much Chinese influence on decoration. There is even a border in Phagspa script, a scientific writing system devised under Qubilai Qan, shown on a robe in an Italian painting from 1306 (Morgan 2006: 432).

A vast range of artistic methods and motifs spread across Asia (recently reviewed in a very valuable survey, Islamic Chinoiserie by Yuka Kadoi, 2009). Kadoi traces countless themes in painting, book design, ceramics, metalwork, cloth, and other arts. It remains only to be mentioned that Chinese landscape art, as filtered through Persia and Arabia, transformed European art after 1400. Most interesting for our purposes are the animal illustrations from the Manafi-i Hayavan by Ibn Bakhtishu' (ca. 1300; Kadoi 2009:128-39). This is a work on animals, including their medical uses. A copy in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, is magnificently illustrated with paintings strongly influenced by Chinese art.

Allsen speculates on why and how some kinds of knowledge spread and were adopted, others spread and were lost, and others never spread. Clearly, the Mongols and their Turkic and Iranian courtiers knew good things when they saw them. They stockpiled skilled craftsmen, sponsored fairs, saved and often enslaved skilled workers and scholars when they conquered cities, and compiled encyclopedias and assembled libraries. They mapped, recorded, described, and sampled. They kept what was most useful and did not bother with the rest—unless it was luxurious for the court! The question of what survived and what did not remains to be addressed.

The Mongols brought back ideas and people from all over Asia. They deliberately captured and took home, or resettled as needed, the learned men, scholars, skilled craftspeople, and other valued workers (Weatherford 2004). This was another practice the Assyrians had perfected (Van de Mieroop 2007: 233), so the Mongols had only to copy a tradition already millennia old. Often the artisans were treated as loot and sent into de facto slavery, but if they were distinguished experts or particularly valuable workers, they were given the highest respect and treated very well (see Allsen 1997: 31-32).

The Mongol Empire had to have a rather astounding clerical staff to handle the languages; "each senior minister needed a host of scribes fluent in the principal languages of the empire, that is, Chinese, Tibetan, Uighur, Tangut [an ancient Tibeto-Burman language], Persian, and Mongolian" (Allsen 1994: 397), and obviously military leaders, large-scale traders, and other such would need similar staffs. Enormous diversity of language, religion, and culture existed and was tolerated. Uighurs and other Central Asian Turkic individuals were particularly important, partly because of their linguistic competence.

The Mongols moved thousands of Chinese and other East Asians to the Western world; Chinese were farming and cooking in Azerbaijan and Iran, and West and Central Asians in China (Allsen 2009). The Mongols sent Chinese doctors to Iran, where Rashid met some and translated Chinese medical texts into Persian.

Trade and commerce flourished, of course (Allsen 1997; Haw 2006, 2008; Jackson 2005), as the Polos' journey famously attests. Marco Polo did make his trip and served the Mongols from 1274 to 1291, though his amanuensis Rusticello exaggerated his status in calling him a "governor." Polo describes many things that only an eyewitness could have known accurately, such as the different species of cranes in Central Asia and the huge pears in Hangzhou. The case against his trip rests on such arguments as his failure to mention the Great Wall—not surprising, since it was built 150 years after his time. The Polos were trading in luxury goods, what they called spicery and the Dutch later called rich trades. Much of the spicery was actually porcelain, fine fabrics, and the like. On the other hand, much of the Mongol trade was bulk staples.

Over the years, an amazing range of people traveled around the Mongol world (Allsen 2001: 6; Lane 2003,2006). In addition to the Italians, Europe sent French, Flemings, Greeks, Germans, Scandinavians, Russians, and Hungarians. They were craftsmen, miners, and businessmen when they were not simply ambassadors or envoys. The Near Eastern people were represented, notably Armenians and Georgians, who were often at high levels as envoys, clerics, scholars, and rich merchants. (Georgia's brief but glorious Golden Age in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries was still a living memory.) Even a few Alans turned up. Turkic peoples of Central Asia were pivotal—they tended to be mediators between the Mongols and the more sophisticated, urban peoples. Khitans, heirs of China's Liao Dynasty, provided much of the elite in the East.

Tibetans and Tanguts were well represented. Of course it was Arabs, Persians, and Chinese who staffed most of the middle and minor posts, and some rose to elite positions. They ranged from leopard keepers to cooks, from singers to stonemasons. Persian astronomers came to Beijing to build observatories and design state-of-the-art astronomical instruments. "Muslim" astronomy retained a place in the Chinese court astronomical bureau for centuries, until the Jesuits brought a better version (Elman 2005: 67-68). A Nestorian named Mar Sarghis made sherbets for Qubilais court, possibly using sugar made by a combination of Western and Chinese technologies and Near Eastern types of lemons or limes grown in southeast China (Allsen 2001:155-56).

Of course, there was a huge flow in the other direction. The Nestorians Rabban Sauma and Markos traveled from Yuan China to the Holy Land, where they found themselves elevated to high office; Rabban Sauma became an ambassador from the Mongols to Europe and left interesting descriptions of Italy and France (Budge 1928; Rossabi 1992).

Much of the flow of people consisted of slaves. Chinese conquest dynasties had a tradition of slavery; many, possibly most, citizens of the Wei and Jin Empires were in some form of servile status (Martinez 2009). This seems less true of Yuan, but in the West, the Golden Horde traded countless thousands of slaves to Byzantium and beyond; Genoese dominated the trade, basing it in Caffa (modern Fedosiya, near Odessa). The slave trade, already enormous, reached flood proportions; the West was deluged with Inner Asian slaves (Jackson 2005: 308), as it would be later by Tamerlane and other conquerors. The slave trade must have had a huge effect on demography then and since (think how many Italians have surnames like Slavo and Rosso), but no one has stepped forward to examine this issue. An almost equal lack of curiosity has bedeviled the question what cultural knowledge the slaves spread abroad. Many of them were specifically taken as skilled craftspersons. One assumes they had an enormous effect on the spread of technology and the arts.

Slavery was, of course, no new industry; the ancient Greeks and Romans had already developed that trade. Millions of people flowed outward from southeast Europe, southwest Central Asia, and points beyond. This movement is part of the reason for the rather uniform black-haired, brown-eyed, pale-skinned physical type of the Mediterranean. It is also part of the reason for the chronic failure of that part of the world to develop a great civilization. Foreigners (from Jews to Germans to Turks) flowed into the region, over time, to fill the demographic void. This item of information would seem to take us far from China, but the Western slave trade was an intimate part of Mongol power and enormously affected political development all over Eurasia. Imagine a counterfactual case in which the Black Sea had been a center of a more moral trade: given its central position, fertile soil, accessible seas and land routes, and rich resources, it would surely have become a great center of civilization and industry, like China, India, and western Europe. One remembers the point, made by countless writers from Adam Smith on, that slavery corrupts and debases the owners almost as much as it oppresses the slaves. The Chinese wisely moved away from it during history. In spite of having various forms of servility, China was usually a land of free, small-scale farmers—not peasants, serfs, or slaves.

The Mongols organized communications and trade into a comprehensive system. The morin (horse) mail was ancestral to Americas Pony Express, but there was also a narin (careful) pathway for direct communication with the central government and a tergen (wagon) network for hauling bulk goods to the dispersed nomadizing hordes and migrating governments. In Thomas Allsen's felicitous wording, these comprised a part of the "interlocking networks that account for the extensive circulation of commodities, ideologies, technologies and pathologies that so characterizes the history of the Old World from ancient times" (Allsen 2009: 145). These were so incredibly successful that gyrfalcons, delicate birds from the arctic and subarctic that invariably die in hot climates unless superbly handled, traveled the sea lanes as far as Iran (146), Japan, and probably China.

It was at this time (ca. 1250) that Frederick II of Hohenstaufen wrote the worlds greatest treatise on falconry, still a standard text in actual use by falconers and still in print (Hohenstaufen 1943). It is a thoroughly scientific work. In line with the relative tolerance of the times, he dedicated it to the neighboring sultan, a fellow falconer. It is dramatic proof that extremely rigorous, self-conscious, fully developed science did not have to wait for Galileo and Descartes. There were, obviously, equally skilled falconers in Japan, China, and Mongolia, as paintings and poetic references show (pers. obs., esp. of Chinese and Japanese paintings; the Chinese, ever fond of exotic "barbarians," loved to show Mongols with their eagles and falcons). They did not go into the meticulous and comprehensive historical and medical realms that Frederick covered, but they, too, were scientists in their way. It was during the brief period of unity, when it became as easy to go from Samarkand to Beijing as to Baghdad, that the Huihui Yaofang was born.

The integration of the Western and Eastern realms might have had world-making effects, but, ironically, it was the Mongols' own introductions that helped end the opportunity. The Mongols brought improved compasses, navigation instruments, printing, and related technologies to the West, enabling Europe to develop the sea trade that in the fifteenth century ended once and for all the dominance of the Silk Route.

An astonishing example of Mongol irrigation technology, recently described, is a dam built in Iran in the early fourteenth century (Hill 2000: 266). It still survives. Built across a river in a deep V-shaped gorge, it is 26 m high and 55 m along the top. The dam was built into limestone, which dissolves slowly over time. A similar dam in soluble rock in southern California failed in 1926 when the rock softened, leading to many deaths and to river system damage that is still not healed. Already by the fourteenth century the Mongols were beyond such foolishness; they dug grooves back into the solid rock and extended the dam several meters into them. Moreover, the dam is the first known arch dam: rather than stopping the river by sheer mass, it forms a curve, distributing the weight of water as an arch distributes the overlying weight of masonry. Somebody, somewhere, had had the brilliant realization that an arch rotated 90 degrees—to face upstream rather than upward—could stop water just as a regular arch bears the load of a building. Dams like Hoover Dam today still use the technique.

Humans have a maddening tendency not to record useful inventions of this sort. People would rather list battles or write about abstruse theological points. Thus we have no written record of this dam or of any like it until modern times. Probably the Mongols did not invent it; the Persians, great water engineers, may have been building such dams for years. In any case, the Mongol Empire had the good sense to build this one.

The Mongols also maintained and presumably expanded the networks of qanats, those greatest of all works of water engineering, invented in Persia or Mesopotamia a millennium or more earlier (see Chapter 5). Also popular were norias—sophisticated water-lifting wheels—which were known in both Rome and China by the first to second century CE, implying an origin possibly in Central Asia (Hill 2000: 269).

In addition to the trade and contacts across Central Asia, focal to this narrative, there was a huge amount of contact via the Indian Ocean, with India as the intermediary; Indian merchant groups such as Gujeratis joined Arabs (often Hadramautis), Jews (Wink 2002), and even Indonesians and Africans in a vast international enterprise.

Thomas Allsen, in Culture and Conquest in Mongol Eurasia (2001), documented a great deal of the knowledge transfer under the Mongols. He summarizes a great deal of information, mostly in Western sources but also in Chinese ones, on relations between the Ilkhans in the Near East, the Mongols in the steppes, and the Yuan Dynasty in China. Long after these were separate realms, they stayed in touch and exchanged information and goods. The relationship ended around 1335, when the Ilkhanid Abu Sa'id died and the Yuan court ran into desperate straits.

Lists of gift exchanges from 1324 to 1332 show that the West sent a range of goods, especially Western products (Allsen 2001: 44). Notable were animals— lions, tigers, dromedaries, and the like. Precious stones, medicines, and minor manufactured items traveled. The Chinese sent silk and money, and once some medicines. Apparently this was more a question of the Chinese court buying exotica than of real exchange or tribute.

To some extent, this economic activity was in the family; the Golden Horde still held south Russia and the neighboring steppes. Ibn Battuta stayed with the Golden Hordes royalty in 1332 and accompanied Khan Uzbaks third wife, a Greek princess from Constantinople, on a visit to her home (Ibn Battuta 1959: 498-517). It was quite a trip, with all the requisite courtiers, jurists (he being one of them), servants, beasts of burden, presents, and luxury items. A single such progression conveyed a vast amount of material wealth across vast spaces.

In an earlier work, Commodity and Exchange in the Mongol Empire (1997), Allsen studied the flow of cloth and cloth technology through the Mongol world. The Mongols reveled in silk brocaded with gold, the most luxurious thing they could imagine. They not only dressed in it; they lined their tents with it. (They still love silks and fine clothing.) Textile art has always been a major fine art in Asia, not a "mere craft" as in Europe, and cloth technology (including dye chemistry) became a major part of global knowledge transfer in the Middle Ages.

Marco Polo and other European travelers played important roles in documenting the life and culture of the time (Haw 2006). The most important, however, was the great polymath Rashid al-Din, a Persian dietitian and physician who served under the Ilkhans. Rashid was said to have been Jewish, but converted to Islam. In addition to his atlas, he compiled a history of the world and several science books (many now lost) in conjunction with teams of experts and writers. Rashid knew the elites of the time and worked especially with a Mongol named Bolad Aqa (Allsen 2001). Both had been leading nutritionists and dietitians in their respective courts. Bolad apparently occupied the position of court nutritionist (130), later occupied by Hu Sihui, of whom more below.

Rashid al-Din, "a Sunni administrator, wrote, with his research team that included Buddhists, a history of Buddhism for a Shfa Mongol khan" (May 2012: 188). Rashid introduced Chinese medicine to Iran and had something to do with growing Chinese seeds in Tabriz and spreading Chinese rice agricultural techniques to the Caspian lowlands (Allsen 2001).

One interesting observation (from among many) was Rashids description of a rice variety popular with Indian elites (Allsen 2001: 137). From the description, it was a basmati. The Persians tried to grow it, but it would not flourish under Persian conditions. Allsen further speculates that this was the time when rice began to spread rapidly in the Near East. Of course it had been known before, but rice cookery may have become more advanced. One strong possibility is that pilaf was invented at this time. The pilaf or pilau technique— frying the rice in fat before boiling it and then adding spices and other items— appears to be a Persian invention. (Chinese fried rice is fried after boiling and drying.) Nothing like pilaf is attested in any medieval cookbook. Yet, the technique was widespread as far as Spain in the early modern period—early enough for it to be part of the package of Moorish-Andalusian cuisine transmitted to the New World in Spanish colonial times. Clearly, it was invented sometime before then and spread swiftly.

Agricultural manuals were one of the types of scholarship that flowed in both directions. The knowledge industry Rashid al-Din developed was involved, and a manual compiled by him actually survives (Allsen 2001:117-18): The Book of Monuments and Living Things. It contains much Chinese lore, studied with the help of his Mongol collaborator Bolad. It was part of a larger work that ranged from calendrics to dam building to mining. The agricultural part covers seeds, trees, grafting, fertilizer, melons and other crops, domestic animals, bees, "crop failures and their prevention," and product storage (118). Much of the information is direct from China, and Allsen suspects "that Rashid al-Din had access, albeit indirect, to the vast Chinese literature on agronomy" (118). I wonder if it really was indirect. Rashid certainly could have acquired Chinese manuals had he wanted. If he could not read them himself (and he may well have been able to), he certainly had staff members who could. In any case, he includes data on classically Chinese products like oranges, rice, jujubes, and mulberries; he knew the Chinese had different kinds of mulberries for raising silkworms and for making paper. He was aware that the Chinese had varieties of millet unknown or barely known in the West. One millet variety had been introduced to Iran.

He gives quite recognizable Persian spellings of the Chinese words for coconut, cinnamon, black pepper (which the Chinese called Iranian pepper), betel nut, sandalwood, litchi nut, and, of course, tea—which is still known in Persian by the Chinese name cha. The word has evolved into chai in Persia and its old sphere of influence by adding a Persian nominative suffix. One can tell today that Eastern Europe, India, and even—surprisingly—Mongolia got tea initially from Persia, by their use of this form. The Persians already had already been acquainted with tea before Mongol times, but not very well; the Mongols were the ones who brought it to stay. A fusion cuisine developed. Even chopsticks were known, acquiring a Turkish name borrowed into Arabic (Allsen 2001:136).

Chinese medicine was already somewhat known in the West; there are Chinese medicines in al-Kindis work in the ninth century (Savage-Smith et al. 2011:217). Our irrepressible friend Rashid al-Din noted and summarized various Chinese books on medicine, "translated into Persian and then into Arabic" (Allsen 2001: 144). He and one SafT al-Din compiled a book called Tanksuq-namah il-khani (Treasure book of the Il-qans); Allsen 2001:144; see also Adnan 1940; the work is referred to as the Ilkhan Compendium Concerning the Sciences and Arts of the Chinese in Nasr 1976:182). This book remained unique in Near Eastern literature, but from it, knowledge of Chinese medicine spread rather widely in the Western world. Amazingly, a first volume survives, covering pulse, anatomy of the head, pregnancy, and fatness. The illustrations look very Chinese. It was preserved in Istanbul and is now being studied by Vivienne Lo and other scholars. A pair of anatomical drawings showing the internal organs from front and back was copied faithfully from a text by the Song Emperor Huizongs physician Yang Jie (twelfth century); the original and a copy in a Persian manuscript of the fourteenth century are shown by Shih-shan Susan Huang in her great work on Daoist art, Picturing the True Form (73-74)-

Much medical lore in Rashids book seems to have been taken down directly from Chinese teaching—evidently everyone, or at least many key people, knew both Chinese and Persian, to say nothing of Mongol, Turkic, and Arabic. The work shows familiarity with the Nanjing, the Yellow Emperors Classic, the "Hua Tuo" material, and other classic Chinese medical texts. Hua To—a surgeon of the third century CE who had legendary powers and became a mythic figure—inspired a much later work called the Hua Tuo Nei

Zhaotu (Hua Tuos illuminating illustrations of internal medicine; Allsen 2001: 145), and this was drawn on heavily in Rashid al-Dins text. The Persians were particularly impressed by pulse diagnosis. They translated the Mai Jue (Secrets of the pulse), a composite book dating from the Sung or Yuan eras and mistakenly ascribed to Wang Shuhuo of a much earlier era (Allsen 2001:145-46; see also Savage-Smith et al. 2011: 217).

A great deal of herbal lore spread with this. Chinese rhubarb (Rheum palmatum and R. officinal) became popular to relieve constipation. Use of Cubeb pepper, cassia, and many other drugs also expanded. Cinnamon was known as darsini, "Chinese cinnamon," in Arabic and Persian, so when cassia—the Chinese equivalent—became known, it got a double dose of "Chineseness": darsinisini. Allsen does not note, but we should here, that cinnamon, Cinnamomun zeylanicum, comes not from China but from Sri Lanka. Spice cassia, C. cassia and related species, is from China and is so similar to true cinnamon that few people can tell the difference. Among medicinal foods, Coptis teeta, Smilax china, Chinese rhubarb Rheum emodi (Akira 1989), camphor Camphora officinalis, and cassia Cinnamomum cassia, and some less important items, were adopted by Near Eastern medicine in early days (Said !997)- Opium entered with the Huihui Yaofang, becoming regular Chinese practice in the Ming Dynasty (Allsen 2001:159).

Among things that spread the other way were mastic, theriac (much discussed in the Huihui Yaofang), and medical uses of sharbat (see Allsen 2001: 154-56). Allsen believes Galenic medicine was hard to accept—though made easier by the diversity of medical traditions in China. Actually, Galenic medicine had been filtering into China for centuries. The Chinese fused it with yin-yang cosmology without much difficulty.

Allsen devotes much notice to the limu, a citrus that seems to have started its career in Persia, or perhaps India, and spread to the Near East and China shortly before the Mongol period (Allsen 2001: 122-24). The word is, of course, ancestral to our "lime" and "lemon." This one was probably a variety of lime since it grew commonly in Baghdad, which is too hot for lemons. The Yuan established a botanical garden at Litchee Bay near Canton, and grew, among other things, 800 of these citrus, to produce a thirst-quencher (keshui) "explicitly equated" with shelibie, the Chinese spelling of sharbat. (Sharbat, from the Arabic root for "drink," gives us the English words "sherbet," "sorbet," and "shrub"—the rum drink, not the bush.)

Meanwhile and later, Near Eastern knowledge was merging with Indian knowledge and influencing Tibet (Buell et al. 2010, whence it fed into the

Mongol and Chinese data pools of herbal references, medical texts, local knowledge). Central Asia was placed at the meeting ground of Near Eastern, Indian, and Chinese lore and boasted an enormous wealth of local herbs and herbalism to draw on. The Mongols took full advantage of this. (For chronicles of the many Mongol and subsequent encyclopedias intended to propagate medicine there, see Richter-Bernburg and Said 2000:312-15.) The Mongols set up medical schools and raised the status of the medical profession significantly, probably inspired by Near Eastern norms. The Mongols seem to have seen Western medicine as more advanced than Chinese and did all they could to bring it to China. Four medical schools were founded over time in the Mongol capital, and all had heavy Persian (and thus Arabic) influence (Rail 1970; Rossabi 1994).

Moreover, the Mongols also transferred veterinary medicine around their empire, and thus a major Central Asian tradition of veterinary medicine (Richter-Bernburg and Said 2000: 315-17) reached China in Yuan (Buell, in progress). Moreover, knowledge flowed both ways. Ibn al-Baytar (1197-1248) introduced many Chinese drugs to the Near Eastern world, including varieties of aconite and rhubarb.

The great plague of 1346-48 (Dols 1977) may have been started by Mongol armies or Mongol slaving or trade with the Mongols; it supposedly spread from Kaffa, on the Crimean peninsula, via Genoese merchant ships. It did not affect China significantly. Li Bozhong (2003: 138) correctly dismisses the claims of bubonic plague episodes contemporary with or earlier than Europe's great epidemic. There is absolutely no evidence for a Chinese equivalent to this one. For many reasons (some addressed memorably in C. Benedict 1996 and more recently in Buell 2012), bubonic plague is endemic, not epidemic, in China. It seems never to have been a major killer, judging from the lack of descriptions of this unmistakable disease in the records we have (Brook 2010: 65-66; Buell 2012). It is somewhat depressing to read Western histories that assume China "must have" had the same plagues as Europe. Diseases are not like that. They do what they do, not what a historian thinks they "must have" done.

By contrast, this epidemic devastated the Western world. It hurt the Near East more than it hurt Europe. In Europe many of the elite lived in castles in the country and were thus relatively safe from rats. Thus after the plague, the workforce was depleted, the elite less so. Further cycles of plague continued the process. Wages rose, innovation flourished to make up for shortages of labor, and the economy eventually prospered greatly. In the Near East, elites lived in crowded cities, where the plague was worst. The country folk were less affected. Thus the plague created a shortage of employers and a surplus of labor, leading to economic problems. More to the point, scholars, scientists, and craftsmen were almost exterminated. The Near East lost its lead in the world and never recovered it.

 
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