Chapter 14 Empires and Cultures of Asia thinking about history and geography

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The Taj Mahal

The tomb Shah Jahan had made for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal (mum TAHZ mah HAHL), or "Chosen One of the Palace," was even more amazing. Mumtaz Mahal died during childbirth in 1631. The grief-stricken emperor ordered his chief architect and thousands of workers to build a special tomb for her in Agra. No expense was spared. When it was completed nearly 20 years later, the Taj Mahal stood as one of the most beautiful buildings ever made.

The white marble dome of the Taj Mahal rises some 20 stories from the ground. Passages from the Koran elegantly carved over each gateway


describe the paradise said to await all Muslims upon death. In this way the Taj Mahal honors not only the life of Mumtaz Mahal and her husband, but also the beliefs of Islam.

Trading With Europe

The Taj Mahal was one of the costliest buildings ever built under Mogul rule. One reason Shah Jahan could afford to spend so much on it was because trade in India was booming as never before. India's cotton fabric now clothed many people in Asia and even Africa and Europe. For the first time, spices and silks were sold directly to eager merchants from Portugal, England, and the Netherlands. In Chapter 19 you will read about how Europeans took part in Indian life.

The Mogul empire is known for its beautiful jewelry and the Taj Mahal (left), built by Shah Jahan in honor of his wife (far left).


During the 1500s and 1600s, the rulers of the Mogul empire united most of the Indian subcontinent under one government. That government in turn benefited from India's growing trade with the rest of the world. Akbar also changed life in India by passing laws that promoted harmony between the Hindu majority and India's small but powerful Muslim population. By this time, Hinduism had spread to other regions of Asia, especially Southeast Asia. You will read about its influence there in the next lesson.

Reviewing Facts and Ideas


• By 1200 India's Indus plain was controlled by Muslims who had arrived from central Asia.

• Akbar expanded the large and wealthy Mogul empire. He gave Hindus rights which had been denied them by other Mogul leaders.

• Akbar's grandson Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal in honor of his wife and the religion of Islam.


1. What was the Mogul empire?

2. Why was it helpful to the Mogul empire that Akbar was a strong military commander?

3. FOCUS How did Akbar's rule affect Hindus in the Mogul empire?

4. THINKING SKILL Describe the main cause that led Akbar to construct a special building for religious meetings. What is one effect this building might have had on life in India?

5. WRITE Write a paragraph describing the Taj Mahal.



The Khmer of Southeast Asia

Focus Activity


What cultures influenced the Khmer of Southeast Asia?


• Jayavarman II

• Suryavarman II


• Mekong River

• Tonle Sap

• Angkor

• Phnom Penh

Read Aloud

The stone temple enclosed an area the size of 370 football fields. Its walls were covered with carvings of famous Hindu stories. At its center rose five towers shaped like the buds of water lilies. On the first day of spring, visitors standing at the temple's west gate could see the sun rise directly over the highest tower. This was fitting since the name of the temple's patron meant "one protected by the sun."


The temple described above is called Angkor Wat (ANG kawr WAHT). Today it is a tourist attraction in the country of Cambodia. Some 700 years ago, however, it was the center of a great kingdom in Southeast Asia.

About 2,000 years ago, Indian merchants stopped at various places in Southeast Asia. The peninsula region of Southeast Asia includes what are now Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos. Some stopped at the mouth of the Mekong (MAY KAHNG) River, a highway of ships and goods since ancient times. Chinese merchants and diplomats also came, bringing their own traditions. As a result, Indian traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism began to take root in Southeast Asia.

Many civilizations were enriched by Chinese and Indian traditions. One of those, along the Mekong, was the Khmer (kuh MER) Kingdom. It occupied present-day Cambodia. Angkor Wat, built in the 1100s, was one of many amazing structures in the Khmer kingdom.



The Mekong, like many of the world's great rivers, provides needed water and silt to farmers of Southeast Asia. During the monsoon rains, torrents of rainwater fill the Mekong to overflowing. In fact, so much water pours into the river that a branch of it starts to flow backward into Tonle Sap (tahn LAY SAP) or "Great Lake." When the rains end, that branch of the Mekong flows forward again and the Tonle Sap returns to its normal size. Locate the Mekong and Tonle Sap on the map.

About 2,000 years ago, Khmer farmers were already using floods along the Mekong and Tonle Sap. Plentiful silt and water allowed them to grow large rice crops. Along with fish, rice became a mainstay of Khmer meals.

Farmers and God-Kings

A food surplus made it possible for a complex civilization to grow in Cambodia. Like their counterparts in ancient Egypt and medieval Europe, Khmer farmers often worked on land owned by religious or government officials. The rice, fruits, vegetables, and livestock that farmers raised fed temple workers, craftworkers, and nobles as well.

Much of the surplus supported the head of Khmer society, the king. The Khmer believed that their king was not only all-powerful, but a living god as well. One of Cambodia's first kings, Jayavarman II (jah yah VAHR mahn), ruled in the 800s. He, like many Khmer kings to come, observed Hindu traditions and claimed to be a human form of the god Shiva.

Khmer, whether farmers or nobles, were expected to do their part to support their god-king. In local markets women sold rice, fish, and fruits like bananas. Like other workers, they gave some of their goods to the king as taxes. Military leaders promised:

We will not revere another king. . . . If there is a war, we will strive to fight and disregard life, with all our soul, in devotion to the king. . . . The reward of those who are devoted to their masters, may we obtain it from this world into the next.

Kings, in return, built canals and roads in the kingdom. Canals watered the fields, producing better crops. Roads provided better means of transportation. Kings also led troops in war and judged disputes.


Trade and travel routes helped the cultures of southeast Asia to grow.

1. The Mekong River empties into which body of water?

2. On which peninsula is Phnom Penh located?



Between 800 and 1200, Khmer forces expanded the borders of their kingdom into present-day Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. The map on page 399 shows the territory of the Khmer. This expansion made the kingdom rich. In the early 1100s the king was Suryavarman II (sur yuh VAHR mun). He used a large part of this wealth to build a temple in the capital city of Angkor, on the north shore of Tonle Sap. You read about this temple, Angkor Wat, at the lesson's beginning. Angkor means "holy city" in the Khmer language.

Angkor Wat was the biggest temple built by the Khmer up to that time. Like the pyramids of ancient Egypt, it was built with thousands of stones from distant sources. Farmers working as laborers loaded the heavy stones onto boats. Stones were transported about 20 miles on canals. Architects designed the temple so that, in the spring, the sun shone on the walls, which told Hindu stories about the world's creation. At year's end, by contrast, the sun highlighted scenes that described death.

The Walls of Angkor Thom

One of the boys who watched Angkor Wat being built was the king's great-grandson, the future Jayavarman VII. When he became king in 1181, Jayavarman VII set out to create an even grander complex than his great-grandfather's. His Angkor Thom (ANG kawr TAWM) became just that. In 1296 a Chinese diplomat named Zhou Daguan visited the city. He wrote this description:

The city walls are approximately 2.5 miles in circumference. They have five gateways and each gate is a double one. On the outer side of the wall is a great moat. On either side of the moat's bridges are 54 stone gods like "stone generals;" they are gigantic and terrible to look at.

At the center of the city stood a large temple. This one honored Buddhist, rather than Hindu, beliefs. In this respect Jayavarman VII differed greatly from his forefathers. Over time many Khmer would adopt Buddhism as their religious belief. Today, as a sign of this change, Angkor Wat itself contains Buddhist as well as Hindu statues, and the people of Cambodia are mostly followers of Buddhism.


Angkor Wat (above) was built by the Khmer in the 1100s. Many of the statues at the temple (left) represent both Hindu and Buddhist figures.

The Decline of Angkor

The great building projects of Angkor drained Khmer resources. So did the constant wars that Khmer kings waged against neighboring kingdoms. Their strongest enemies were kingdoms that were in what are today Vietnam and Thailand. Jayavarman VII won control over both kingdoms, but they broke free of Khmer rule after his death. In the 1430s Thai soldiers attacked Angkor itself. The city was abandoned shortly thereafter. Khmer rulers moved their capital to a' site farther south along the Mekong. Later the kingdom would become known as Kampuja and its capital as Phnom Penh (puh NOM PEN). It remains Cambodia's capital city today.


The Khmer are just one of the many peoples who built a lasting civilization in the monsoon environment of Southeast Asia. As a reminder of their ancient heritage, today's Cambodians have put an image of Angkor Wat at the center of their flag. Each time they salute their flag, Cambodians honor the special blend of traditions that makes their country unique.

Reviewing Facts and Ideas


• The Khmer kingdom of Southeast Asia was located along major shipping routes between India and China. For this reason, Indian and Chinese traditions became part of life in the Khmer kingdom.

• Khmer kings were considered to be living gods who deserved great power and respect.

• In the 1100s and 1200s, Khmer kings ordered the construction of great buildings and temples in the capital city of Angkor.


1. Why was the Mekong River important to life in early Cambodia?

2. Explain why an advanced civilization was needed to build a place like Angkor Wat.

3. FOCUS How did Angkor Wat reflect what—or who—was most important to the Khmer?

4. THINKING SKILL What would you do to determine the credibility of the description of Angkor Thom quoted on page 400?

5. GEOGRAPHY How did monsoons affect life in early Cambodia?



Great Empires of China

Focus Activity


How did the Mongols affect life in China?


• Grand Canal


• Genghis Khan

• Kublai Khan

• Marco Polo


• Beijing

• Forbidden City

Read Aloud

The walls that Shihuangdi and the Qin dynasty built along China's northern border were meant to protect against invaders. In the 1200s, though, these walls did little to stop a fierce group of conquerors. These invaders from the grasslands north of China had conquered much territory in Asia. Then they focused their might on the biggest prize of all: China.


In the 1100s—while the Khmer were building Angkor and Europeans were fighting the Crusades—China was prospering as never before. Chinese farmers began to grow a new kind of rice developed by the Khmer and their neighbors. They were able to grow more of this rice in less time, especially in southern China's warm and wet climate. Huge surpluses were shipped to faraway cities using a system of canals that kept water flowing for hundreds of miles.

Port cities such as Guangzhou (GWAHNG JOO)— later known as Canton—linked China to international trade. In those busy cities people made new kinds of printed books, paintings, compasses, and large ships that could carry as many as 500 people.

All of this was threatened in the 1200s, when invaders from the north set out to take over China. China's ancient border walls could not stop them. These invaders were called Mongols. They were herders and horse-riding experts from the grassy steppes north of China. Sheep provided much of what they needed. The Mongols also depended on trade for goods such as cloth and weapons.



In 1209, Mongol leader Genghis Khan (JENG gihs KAHN) united Mongol communities to conquer China, their main source of supplies. The Mongols rode south into China. They were helped by Chinese military leaders who joined their side after being defeated. When Genghis Khan died in 1227 he controlled almost all of northern China.

Kublai Khan

In 1252 Genghis Khan's grandson Kublai Khan (KOO bli KAHN) invaded southern China. After 27 years, all of China yielded to Kublai Khan's rule. China's Mongol rulers were called the Yuan dynasty. How would Mongols, who lived neither on farms nor in cities, govern a land of both?

Kublai Khan's answer was to have Mongols oversee China's already vast government. Kublai Khan made tax collection easier, though, by establishing paper money. The world's first all-paper money system made things easier on people's pockets. One note replaced about 8 pounds of coins!

Kublai Khan also oversaw the expansion of the Grand Canal. This canal had been built many years earlier to connect the Huang and Chang rivers. With Kublai Khan's expansion, it connected the new capital city, Beijing (BAY JING), with cities over 1,000 miles to the south. The Grand Canal is still used for shipping today.

Kublai Khan assigned soldiers to protect merchants traveling on the ancient Silk Road that connected Asia with Europe. You will read more about the Silk Road and one man who traveled on it, Marco Polo, in the Info-graphic on page 406.


In the 1200s the Mongol empire extended west into eastern Europe.

1. Which river flowed near the westernmost Asian boundary of Mongol lands?

2. About how far from Beijing is the mouth of the Tigris River?

3. Which cities in the empire were not in China?



After Kublai Khan's death in '1294, Mongol control over China began to weaken. Terrible floods along the Huang River, famine, and disease added to the country's distress. In 1368 the Mongols were driven out by rebel Chinese forces. Chinese rulers once again came to control China. The Ming Dynasty had begun.

Cultural Expansion

During the Ming dynasty's 276-year history, China prospered. Between '1417 and '1420 almost one million people worked to build the in Beijing. Stoneworkers and carpenters built almost 1,000 stately palaces, libraries, temples, and gardens. Ming emperors lived and ruled from within the walls of this city. Outside the poor sang to passersby, asking for money. You can see one of their songs on the next page.

When the Forbidden City was completed, China's best porcelain, silk, and paintings were sent to fill its palaces and kitchens. The Ming government controlled thousands of porcelain workshops. They produced blue-and-white dishes that became world-famous. The government also controlled silk workshops. In those shops women and children over the age of 10 worked to produce China's valuable silk cloth.

Many of these luxury products went to the emperor's palace. Still more were bought by foreign merchants. Some merchants brought goods home along the Silk Road. Others shipped their goods from port cities like Guangzhou.

In 1405 large ships were built to take Ming officials on trading expeditions. The largest ship was about 400 feet long! Ming ships reached East Africa.


Ming rulers expanded the canal system to increase trade.

1. To which sea did the Grand Canal link Beijing?

2. The Great Wall extended along which of China's borders?

Looking Inward

With the new ships, China was well on its way to becoming the world's greatest sea power. That changed in the late 1400s, when Ming concerns shifted northward once again. Fears of another Mongol invasion grew. Ming emperors focused China's resources on the Great Wall as protection. They strengthened and extended the walls Shihuangdi had built almost 2,000 years earlier.

Because their resources were being used to protect their borders, the Ming abandoned efforts in shipbuilding. Expeditions were expensive and the Ming government was not interested in expansion. By the year 1525 it had given up all efforts in sea travel. China's interests turned inward for the next several centuries.



Trade on the Silk Road

In the 13th century a Venetian explorer named Marco Polo traveled the entire route of the Silk Road, from Constantinople to Khanbalik, China. As he traveled, he kept records of the places he visited and the things he saw. The Silk Road provided a route for merchants and traders to transport goods. What are some of the items Marco Polo saw and described in his travels along the Silk Road?

Beautiful items like this porcelain jar (far left) and Chinese silk fan were traded along the Silk Road.


This artwork shows Marco Polo trading goods.

"The strangest and most valuable things come from [China] and other provinces. At least 1,000 cartloads of silk are sent [here] every day."

"The Great Khan's subjects are perfectly willing to be pair paper money since with it they can buy anything, including pearls, precious stones, gold, and silver."


Between the 1200s and 1500s, China underwent many changes. The Mongol invasions hurt once-bustling cities. Under Kublai Khan, though, China's cities and trade grew once again. In the Ming dynasty that followed, China became even stronger.

Wherever its trade goods went, China's ideas and traditions soon followed. China's influence was especially strong in the chain of islands that lay to the east. Those were the islands of Japan, which will be the focus of the next lesson.

Reviewing Facts and Ideas


• Genghis Khan began the Mongol invasion of China in the 1200s.

• Kublai Khan ruled by using China's ancient government system. He also started the world's first all-paper money system and made the Silk Road safer for travel.

• Trade, cities, and sea travel grew under the early Ming dynasty. With the threat of foreign invasion, Ming emperors focused on defense projects such as the Great Wall.


1. Why did Mongols invade China?

2. What did Kublai Khan do to govern China? Why might he have wanted to protect travelers?

3. FOCUS How did Kublai Khan improve life in China?

4. THINKING SKILL Make at least two conclusions about the importance of trade in Ming China. On what facts did you base each conclusion?

5. GEOGRAPHY How did the Grand Canal affect movement in China?


Thinking Skills

Queen Elizabeth I (left) and Ghengis Khan were powerful leaders who ruled vast empires.

Making Generalizations




In the last lesson you read about Ghengis Khan and the Mongols' rise to power in China. You have also read about other leaders and how they came to rule—Alexander the Great, Sunjata, and Elizabeth I, to name a few. If you compare their histories, you might notice certain similarities. As a result, you might make a general statement about what things are necessary for people to become powerful leaders.

If you did so, you would be making a generalization. A generalization is a statement that points out a common feature shared among different things. A generalization shows how some things that might seem very different on the surface can actually be similar underneath.

Why are generalizations useful? Generalizations allow you to draw conclusions from specific examples. Once you make a generalization, you can better understand how


things fit within a larger framework. You can see new relationships between separate things. This is very useful in the study of history. Use the Helping Yourself box to guide you in making generalizations.


Suppose you wanted to make a generalization about how people become powerful leaders. To start, you might choose three leaders to serve as your examples. Say that you chose Ghengis Khan, Sunjata, and Alexander the Great.

Your next step would be to examine these different examples, looking for similarities. Ghengis Khan's great armies of soldiers and expert horsemen brought almost all of Northern China under his control in the 1200s. At roughly the same time in West Africa, the swift armies of the underestimated Sunjata helped him to rule the huge empire of Mali. Over 1,000 years earlier, Alexander the Great led his undefeated army to conquer vast lands from Asia Minor to Persia.

In order to make a generalization, think about what features or qualities these leaders may have shared. Recall that, by making the most of their powerful armies, all won control over vast stretches of land. The use of a strong military is therefore a feature that was common to all of these leaders.

More than one generalization might be made about this topic. Based on these facts though, one possible generalization might be Many leaders gain power as a result of control they have over a strong military force.

Helping Yourself

• A generalization states a feature shared by a group of examples.

• Select a topic to make a generalization about.

• Identify a feature that relates to the topic and is common to all of the examples.

• Based on this common feature, make a generalization.


You just made a generalization about leaders' rise to power. Now try making a generalization about how leaders can use their power to develop strong governments. Remember to look for common features with which to make a generalization.

Use as your examples the rules of Akbar, Elizabeth I, and Caesar Augustus. You may recall that Akbar faced religious conflict. Elizabeth I and Augustus were challenged by threats of war when they came to power. Akbar used his power to bring peace and religious tolerance to India. Elizabeth I faced down the Spanish Armada while England enjoyed the Renaissance. Augustus brought the Pax Romana to ancient Rome. How did their actions win these rulers special popularity, thereby strengthening their governments? What generalization can you make from these three examples?

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