Between the Islamic and Chinese Universal Empires: The Ottoman Empire, Ming Dynasty, and Global Age of Explorations
This article studies two sixteenth-century Asian texts: Khitay namah, a Persian travelogue about the Ming dynasty written by the Muslim merchant Ali Akbar and presented to the Ottoman sultan, and Xiyu, an illustrated Chinese geographical treatise with detailed travel itinerary from China to Istanbul by the Ming scholar-official Ma Li. In addition to demonstrating the breadth of Ottoman and Chinese knowledge about each other in the global Age of Exploration, these two books, written respectively for the monarchs of the self-proclaimed Islamic and Chinese universal empires, reflect the Ottoman and Chinese imperial ideologies in an era when major world powers aggressively vied for larger territories and broader international influence. Both the Ottoman and Chinese authors recast the foreign Other as the familiar Self – Ali Akbar constructed an Islamized China while Ma Li depicted a Sinicized Ottoman world – to justify their countries’ claims to universal sovereignty and plans for imperial expansion. Like many contemporary European colonial writers, Ali Akbar’s and Ma Li’s exploration of foreign societies, their literary glorification of their own culture’s supremacy, and their imposition of their own cultural thinking on foreign lands all served their countries’ colonial enterprise in the global Age of Exploration.
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