Friday, September 26, 2008

When Asia Was The World

Papermaking originally came from China. The basic technique passed down the Silk Road into the Middle East with the Abbasids in about 750 CE. With royal support at Baghdad, the process was reinvented to suit local conditions. Chinese paper manufacture used tropical plants that did not grow in the Middle East. It was soon discovered that linen and cotton fibers produced a supple smooth paper. Within a century there was a flourishing paper market and many paper mills in Baghdad. The earliest surviving paper document from the Middle East is in an official Jewish letter from Baghdad to Egypt.

Other capitals such as Damascus and Fustat soon competed with Baghdad, offering alternate sizes and compositions of paper. Paper made possible not only the hundreds of thousands of volumes of Baghdad Imperial Library, but circulation of these texts to multiple capitals in Middle East, Persia, Central Asia and Spain. [From Stewart Gordon’s When Asia was the World]
So the technology of paper spread this way. As did many, many other things – spices, silk, and of course, religions and ideas. In Stewart Gordon’s When Asia was the World, a short book about eight Asian travelers from 600 AD – 1500 AD, we get to glimpse this globalizing world, which spanned North Africa, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia and China. These regions were privileged in the sense that they were connected to innovations and imports from faraway places.

Other regions – North and South America, Australia, and parts of Africa – would soon come to know, rather harshly, what they had missed. But I've bemoaned this tragic quirk of history in earlier posts, so I won't say more.

1 comment:

Krishnan said...

I am always fascinated with the Silk Route. Historically it has played a significant role in world history.