The Khatay'namah, or Book of China, a description of Chinese government and society in the mid-Ming period, written by a Central Asian merchant and presented to the Ottoman court in 1516, is evidence that the advent of more rationalized, centralized, and bureaucratic forms of governance in Ming China played a significant role in political developments in the Islamic world. The political ideology of the Ming founder, combining bureaucratic absolutism with a kind of populism that emphasized a direct connection between ruler and subjects, would see a close parallel in the Ottoman Empire in the reign of Suleyman I (1520–66). The Chinese near contemporary of Suleyman, the Zhengde emperor (1505–21), promoted his reign as a continuation of the Mongol Empire, called himself by the title Sheikh `Alam, and took other measures that engendered speculation of his conversion to Islam. This and other developments in China, including construction of the Great Wall in the late fifteenth century, resonated with millenarian beliefs in the Islamic world. The Khatay'namah's description of China evokes millenarian, utopian ideals but also demystifies China's prosperity, which it attributes to the Chinese people's assiduous adherence to law and system, or qanun. This account of China reflects the importance of cross-border trade, the military, and Muslim Chinese communities as sites of encounter between the Islamic world and the Chinese state. The text's rhetorical strategy of emphasizing similarities between China and the Ottoman Empire may be a reflection of early attempts by Muslim Chinese to negotiate a distinct Chinese Islamic identity.
Children of Cain in the Land of Error: A Central Asian Merchant's Treatise on Government and Society in Ming China
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Kaveh Louis Hemmat; Children of Cain in the Land of Error: A Central Asian Merchant's Treatise on Government and Society in Ming China. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 1 December 2010; 30 (3): 434–448. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/1089201X-2010-026
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