Although Zahir al-Din Muhammad Babur, a Muslim who founded the Mughal Empire, made little effort to assimilate to Indian culture, his grandson Akbar forged a culture that incorporated Indian and Persian, Hindu and Muslim elements. Under him, the Mughal Empire grew to encompass most of northern and much of central India, including the Sultanate of Gujarat, the heart of a rich Indian Ocean trade. Under Aurangzeb, who attempted an Islamic revival and was largely intolerant of the Hindu population, the empire weakened as it battled the Maratha Empire for dominance over the states of seventeenth-century India.
Europeans sought to control India’s wealth. First the Portuguese attempted to establish trading posts in India while forcing out Arab and other merchants. Indian rulers and the Mamluk sultan tried to force them from India, but unsuccessfully. The Portuguese were assisted by alliances with some Indian rulers but soon found themselves competing with the English and French, who also formed alliances with Indian rulers and took advantage of their disputes with one another. As the Mughals and Marathas battled each other and the invading Afghan forces, states in northern India broke free of their rule and allied themselves instead with the British, allowing Britain to gradually consolidate its power in India.
The Malaccan Sultanate was established around 1400 by Parameswara, the last king of Singapura. The city’s location on both sides of the Malaccan Straits destined it for success, because the straits were the route taken by trading ships between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. The city grew wealthy and attracted a diverse population of merchants from many countries, and the sultanate thrived under the leadership of Mansur Shah, who expanded its territory. Its prosperity was also aided by its support for Islam and the formulation of a legal code to regulate the conduct of foreign sailors.
In 1511, the Portuguese attacked Malacca and took over the city, but their insistence on converting the people to Christianity resulted in their being expelled from both Malacca and the Sultanate of Ternate in Indonesia. In the end, the Spanish took control of the Philippines, and the Dutch, who had no interest in spreading Roman Catholicism, became the main European power in Indonesia.
East Asia was drawn into the network of global maritime trade in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Portuguese and Spanish arrived in Japan when powerful daimyos were each fighting to unify the country and bring it under their rule. Guns brought by Europeans began to play an important role in Japanese warfare. Many Japanese also began to convert to Christianity. In 1603, Tokugawa Ieyasu became the shogun of a united Japan, and wishing to control the samurai and fearing Christian subjects would not be loyal, he prohibited Christianity, banned the entry of the Portuguese and Spanish, and prohibited Japanese from leaving the country except on government missions.
Following the expulsion of the Mongols, China also turned inward. The first Ming emperor, Hongwu, forbade foreign trade. Needing money, however, the government permitted trade with Europeans in the second half of the sixteenth century. Trade brought prosperity for Chinese farmers, artisans, and merchants, though changes in their lifestyle alarmed conservatives. However, famines, floods, and the inability of the Ming government to solve China’s problems led to the dynasty’s overthrow in 1644. The Manchu Qing dynasty attempted to reassert traditional Confucian values while still trading with Europe.
Korea’s Joseon dynasty, a vassal of China, also tried to structure its society on a Confucian model. The seventeenth-century Silhak movement in Korea advocated the study of science and technology in order to solve social problems.