1200s: A Time of Instability and Discovery
The Arabian War
By 1200, the eastern part of China was under the command of the Dynasty of Generals, and the western area of former China was a collection of three independent kingdoms known as Kipchak, Persia and Arabia. Besides these were the strong states of Japan, Sri Vijaya, and the Byzantine Empire. All three of these non-Chinese states gained clout throughout the latter half of the 12th century. The kings of the new break-away states, however, were immediately faced with internal rebellions and war. Such was the case in Arabia in 1204, when an Arabic tribal leader known as Yusuf bin Ghazi al-Qassimi. Yusuf managed to gather a large group of southern Arabs (who hadn't been as severely subject to Chinese rules because of weak rule in the region) and ride to Baghdad, attacking the Chinese Arabian monarch. In October, Baghdad was once again beseiged by an army, this time al-Qassimi's. By January, 1205, al-Qassimi's army was able to break through into the city. The Arabian Chinese King, Yi Ba (伊巴) fled, along with other Chinese. Yusuf had stated that any Muslims were in the city were not to be harmed, but that Chinese and Muslim apostates were to be killed. Thus, while most Arabs at least pretended to be Muslim once again or had never given Islam up in the first place, a small diaspora of non-Muslim Arabs and Chinese from Baghdad and other cities that were heavily Chinese-influenced fled to Jerusalem. Once there, they reinforced it so that they could better defend against al-Qassimi's army. One mistake that Yusuf bin Ghazi made was not keeping an eye on the north of Baghdad, where the escape occurred, but continually besieging it from the south. His prize was the city, as he knew that it was the most important in the region. However, from Jerusalem, Yi Ba wrote letters to the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, asking for assistance. He stated that al-Qassimi was set to attack the Byzantine Empire once he had completed his domination of Arabia, and proposed that he could lend troops and support to the Byzantines in exchange for being the governor of Baghdad once again. At first, the Byzantines didn't believe Yi Ba, but at the same time, they were worried about the instability to the East, and thought that this was a good chance to grow their empire while solving the conflict. However, before The Byzantines had a chance to think things over, both Jerusalem (under Yi Ba's control) and eastern Anatolia (under Byzantine control) were attacked by Yusuf's swelling army. The Byzantine Empire quickly agreed to Yi Ba's proposal, but added that he would have to convert to Christianity if he wanted any part in ruling the conquered lands. Yi Ba agreed, and an offensive gathered force against Yusuf's forces. For the first time, Yusuf's army felt what real war was like, and the first few battles left his forces reeling. There was soon a mutiny in Yusuf's own army, and he was killed. A number of his men claimed leadership, and several factions were formed, which ended up fighting amongst themselves as much as they fought against the ethnic Chinese and Byzantines. Still, they managed to hold their own and gain control of most of the former Chinese break-away nation of Arabia, including the Sinai Peninsula, but minus most of the Levant, which by now was under Byzantine control. The Muslim forces didn't let up, even though they lost an astonishing number of fighting men. The Byzantines grew so desperate that they called upon the Pope of the Western church for aid, offering up a council to attempt to mend the religious schism, as well this perhaps one-time opportunity to Christianize the Muslim lands. The Pope decided to help, and ordered the Crusade in 1208. By 1209, there was fierce fighting in most of the Middle East. This fighting would go on for 17 years, and this, along with the emnity between China and its former domains would bring the Silk Road to a screeching halt, hurting the economies of China, Japan, and Sri Vijaya in particular.
Sri Vijayan Discoveries
Sri Vijaya, a nation highly dependent on international trade for its wealth, is not able to sail ships to the Red Sea, or through the previously re-opened canal to the Nile, which let boats continue on to the Mediterranean Sea, and, hence, Europe. The non-stop war between the powers in that region had deeply hurt the international trade situation that had flourished up until the break-up of China. It was because of this situation and its bad effects for Sri Vijaya that Sri Vijaya began some exploration missions along the east coast of Africa to try to find an alternative route to Europe. On the first voyage in 1213, the Sri Vijayan explorers came upon Madagascar. On board the ship was a native Barito speaker from Borneo (Borneans being called "Dayak"s). This man, upon hearing the natives of Madagascar, was able to understand most of what they said. This incredible surprise facilitated communication and instantly brought these two disparate communities together. The explorers soon left Madagascar and explored the coast of Southern Africa, passing the southern cape and making it up to near the Congo River, before turning back, staying in Madagascar again, and then continuing back to the major port of Temasek, whence they originated. When the news of the crew's discoveries got around, the Emperor immediately called for more exploration, and assembled crews made up of men from disparate parts of the Empire, including Barito speakers on each ship. Soon, there was a notion that Malays might have been the native people of Africa, and possibly more places. It was noticed that the population of southern Africa tended to be shorter, lighter of complexion, and had some semblance of epicanthal folds - that is, more Asian eyelids. These were, in fact, the Khoi-San, or Bushmen, who had no immediate relation to Malays, but they did resemble Malays to a much higher degree than did the Bantu people of the north. Unfortunately for the Sri Vijayans, nobody on board an exploration ship was able to speak any Khoi San languages, and it became clear that the language was very far removed from Malay. However, there was still speculation that they were Malays of mixed race who had lost their original language. At any rate, Malagasy (the language of Madagascar) was soon translated into Malay by Barito (particularly Maanyan) speakers. Madagascar was soon known in Sri Vijaya as "Brunei Baru" (meaning "New Borneo"). In 1235, Sri Vijayan explorers successfully make it around Africa and reach the Mediterranean Sea through the Strait of Gibraltar. Throughout the 13th century, Sri Vijaya would start a strong trading relationship with Norman England and France, and Portugal, among other kingdoms. At the same time, traders started to colonize the southern tip of Africa. Their major permanent settlement in the south of Africa (OTL Cape of Good Hope) was called "Tanjung Harapan".
When news got out that Sri Vijaya had discovered a way to trade with Europe, Japan realized that there were great opportunities to be made in exploration and trade. Sri Vijaya dominated its areas of control, and there was little hope that it would allow the Japanese to colonize areas within the regions it had found. A war with Sri Vijaya, especially in Africa, would be fought far from Japan, and supplies would not be able to reach there, due to then having to be shipped through Sri Vijayan waters. So Japan decided to first try exploring to the north and east. Ship technology rapidly progressed, and by 1251, Japanese explorers had made it halfway across the Aleutian archipelago. By late 1269, they had made it to the Alaska mainland. In the decades afterwards, it became clear that they had discovered a new continent. In 1286, Japanese explorers made it all the way south down the west coast into temperate areas and decided to create their first permanent settlement. It was named Yamami (山見). Yamami (OTL Tacoma, WA) was thought to be a spot of good luck, because it was overlooked by a tall mountain that explorers and colonists claimed was as tall as Mount Fuji. By the year 1300, there would be nearly 100 Japanese people permanently situated in Yamami. A further 200 were scattered about various other permanent settlements situated all around the Ring of Fire's northern arc (from OTL Hokkaido and Kamchatka to the Aleutians and Alaska). Although Japan did not benefit from trade with Europe, it had found a land of great natural wealth.