The world as seen through the clarifying lens of the 9th Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1875-1889).

Sunday, 10 August 2008

26. (ii)The accidents of war, commerce and opportunity

Professor R. K. Douglas' comprehensive study CHINA is prefaced by an account of how China became known to the Western world, written by Colonel Sir Henry Yule, R.E., K.C.S.I., C.B. It is an interesting opening, not least because, contrary to prejudices one might have expected in a 19th century writer, the emphasis is not upon Marco Polo or other 'discoverers' of the East, but on Genghis and sons, who brought the Orient west. In this opening, amongst a great wealth of other material which deserves revisiting, Sir Henry makes a very effective summary of the significance of the Mongol conquest in the wider historical perspective. Should any high school plagiarists have been set homework to "Explain the significance of the Mongol conquest in the wider historical perspective in 200 words or less" then I hope that the following proves of service. For extra credit, change the spelling 'Jenghiz' to 'Chinggis.'

"The name [Cathay] first became known to Europe in the 13th century, when the vast conquests of Jenghiz and his house drew a new and vivid attention to Asia. [...]

The conquests of Jenghiz and his successors had spread not only over China and, as it seemed the adjoining East, but westward also over all Northern Asia, Persia, Armenia, part of Asia Minor, and Russia, threatening to deluge Christendom. Though the Mongol wave retired, as it seemed almost by an immediate act of Providence, when Europe lay at its feet, it had levelled or covered all political barriers from the frontier of Poland to the Yellow Sea, and when Western Europe recovered from its alarm, Asia lay open, as never before or since, to the inspection of Christendom. Princes, envoys, priests, - half-missionary half-envoy - visited the court of the great Khan in Mongolia ; and besides these, the accidents of war, commerce, or opportunity carried a variety of persons from various classes of human life into the depths of Asia."

[EDIT : correction to the accreditation of the above article extract thanks to the vigilant sages at]

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