The Global Awakening

Whether in their policy of religious tolerance, devising a universal alphabet, maintaining relay stations, playing games, or printing almanacs, money, or astronomy charts, the rulers of the Mongol Empire displayed a persistent universalism. Because they had no system of their own to impose upon their subjects, they were willing to adopt and combine systems from everywhere. Without deep cultural preferences in these areas, the Mongols implemented pragmatic rather than ideological solutions.

They searched for what worked best; and when they found it they spread it to other countries. They did not have to worry whether their astronomy agreed with the precepts of the Bible, that their standards of writing followed classical principles taught by the mandarins if China, or that Muslim imams disapproved of their printing and painting. The Mongols had the power, at least temporarily, to impose new international systems of technologies, agriculture, and knowledge that superseded the predilections or prejudices of any single civilization; and in so doing they broke the monopoly on thought exercised by local elites.

In conquering their empire, not only had the Mongols revolutionized warfare, they also created the nucleus of a universal culture and world system. This new global culture continued to grow long after the demise of the Mongol Empire, and through continued development over the coming centuries, it became the foundation for the modern world system with the original Mongol emphasis on free commerce, open communication, shared knowledge, secular politics, religious coexistence, international law, and diplomatic immunity.

Although never ruled by the Mongols, in many ways Europe gained the most from their world system. The Europeans received all the benefits of trade, technology transfer, and the Global Awakening without paying the cost of Mongol conquest. The Mongols had killed off the knights in Hungary and Germany, but they had not destroyed or occupied the cities. The Europeans, who had been cut off from the mainstream of civilization since the fall of Rome, eagerly drank in the new knowledge, put on the new clothes, listened to the new music, ate the new foods, and enjoyed a rapidly escalating standard of living in almost every regard.

Jack Weatherford
Genghis Khan
and the Making of the Modern World

Creative connections

Creating Connections with Mongolia