1300s: Colonization and the Rebirth of China
The 1300s were the beginning of a new era in global affairs. Asian states rapidly prospered, and for the first time, their authority transcended continents. East Asian influence would find itself in far off places such as Africa, North Yodderick (North America) and South Yodderick (South America). Major colonial efforts took place, and settlement of other lands began in earnest. This would enrich the Asian empires, usually at the expense the indigenous people of their colonies. Especially in Yodderick, disease previously unknown to the natives would ravage populations, and a few diseases were also transferred to Asia.
China's Changing Government
Under control of the Dynasty of Generals in the 1200s, China sank further into poverty while some of its rivals were at their peaks of achievement. Although there were no major famines or wars, the Chinese government and people knew about the headway that some of its neighbors were making. By this time, China was also slowly breaking up into independent states. From a firm government in Beijing in the early 1200s, the Chinese Dynasty of Generals had evolved into a meeting of warlords from various regions. By the end of the century, the generals/warlords rarely met to discuss any overarching plan for China, and bloodshed would sometimes result when they did meet. Slowly, however, the general of Beijing started building up a major army in preparation of once again uniting China. He was known as Hǔ Chóngshēng (乕重生). In 1311, he called a meeting of the generals. Out of the other eight generals, two showed up, and another one sent a representative. It was with these other generals that he talked of a plan to once again unite China and make it a great nation. After the meeting, these generals sent word to the others that they could agree to the conditions brought up at the meeting, or they could be conquered. Hu Chongsheng styled himself as the leader of the new China, even though all were supposedly equal. In the end, three generals located in southern China resisted, and a war broke out. Within a few years of fighting, Hu Chongsheng and his allies had triumphed. Hu, now the undisputed most powerful person in China, came up with a new system of governance, which was actually very progressive for the day. He created the Chinese National Council instead of declaring himself an emperor. He made it illegal for one to pass down the title of general to one's child and instead implemented tests to show the worthiness of people to rule. The test would be administered to well off families who could pay to take it (the fee to apply for a test was out of a peasant's price range). Those who scored at the very top became candidates in their respective provinces. Then, the leaders of the provinces could choose a few of that number who would be sent to Beijing to serve in the National Council. This group of a few hundred people would be tested again (to make sure that the provincial authorities didn't cheat) and then would assume the power to make laws and dictate policy. For the rest of Hu Chongsheng's life, he served as the "Council Leader". The Council altogether had a 70% say, and the Council Leader had a 30% say, although in the beginning years, the Council mostly agreed with the Council Leader on issues of great importance. After Hu Chongsheng's death, Council members were allowed to elect a Council Leader from among them. Although this led to great partisanship, this form of government would remain little changed for the next few hundred years.
Sri Vijaya Prospers
Throughout the 1300s, Sri Vijaya became the major trading power in the world. Its ships plied the waters from western Europe to southern Africa to eastern Asia. Tanjung Harapan (டன்ஜொங் ஹரபன் / டன்ஜுங் ஹரபன்), at the South Cape of Africa, continued to grow, while other African colonies were founded, such as Padang Pasir (படங் பஸிர்; Walvis Bay, Namibia), and Pekan Singa (பெகன் ஸிங; Mombasa, Kenya mainland area). The previously uninhabited islands of Pulau Batuan (புலௌ படுஅன்; Cape Verde) and the islands of Pulau Anjing (புலௌ அன்ஜிங்; Canary Islands), formerly only inhabited by stone-age cultures were also discovered and small towns and military outposts appeared. Most of these islands would stay uninhabited, however. By the mid 14th century, Sri Vijaya had under its control a good bit of the coastline from Kenya south around the south cape, and up to the Strait of Gibraltar. Of course, the vast majority of this land was not settled, or still home to hunter-gatherers, and the interior areas were largely unexplored, but a new great trade route had come into its own. This started to take a lot of trade from the Egyptian route, which was still unstable, as fighting between Christians and Muslims, and even now between Orthodox and Catholic sects had not completely died down.
Sri Vijaya did much business with Tolosa, Granada (Southern, Muslim Iberia), Aragon, and Norman England (which still controlled OTL western France). At the same time, Castile, Portugal, the Papal States, and the Marinids (Muslim Empire of Morocco) thought of Sri Vijaya as a threat, and mobilized forces on various occasions to keep them from docking. The Pope called for an end to all direct business with these outsiders on European soil, but allowed ships to meet them in their African territories. The Cathar faith was professed by the vast majority of Tolosans by this time (the Crusade of 1208 removed to Arabia the forces that could have overcome them), and a growing minority in Aragon and the English possessions on the European mainland, and thus, the pope had little power over the countries that were already trading with Sri Vijaya. Tolosa, especially, became a rich country and a major power in Europe during its relationship with the Malays. The same is true for Sri Vijaya, itself, as it became one of the richest and most powerful countries in the world at this time.
In the preceding centuries, Europe had been showing more and more that it was hugely significant in world affairs. After the collapse of the Silk Road, it was not long until Sri Vijaya regained contact with its voyages around southern Africa. Western European nations, once considered backwaters to the Byzantine Empire and Italy, now were quickly becoming the most prosperous. The Strait of Gibraltar had become hugely important, and various countries would vie for power over it. In the early part of the century, the Strait was completely controlled by Muslims, from the Marinids to the south (in Morocco) to Granada to the north. The Marinids were against Sri Vijaya because of their religious fanaticism and xenophobia, but Granada was only too eager to establish treaties with Sri Vijaya. This is mostly because Granada was being pressed from the north and hoped that they could turn their fortunes around with technology from the east. However, Granada was still paying tribute to Castile at this time, and the Pope ordered all Christians to not allow Sri Vijayans into Christian ports. Because of this, Castile became enraged at Granada, and pressed even harder to erase it from the Iberian peninsula. Tolosa was in a similar situation to Granada. The 1208 Crusade helped keep major Cathar cities from being besieged, but that was now over, and the Pope was increasingly bent on eradicating the heretics. It was harder now, however, as Catharism had spilled into surrounding nations and had become a major affront to Catholics instead of a fringe group. Tolosa, being the most liberal nation in Europe at the time, had no qualms with trading with outsiders, and also thought that it could help keep back any crusaders. Oriental ship technology and knowledge of the New World also piqued their interest, as they felt that if things got too bad, survivors could make another home for themselves. England and Normandy (and the west coast of OTL France), under the same crown, also felt that they could benefit from outside technology, as they were in the midst of battling to stay viable on the European mainland.
Japanese Domination of the North Pacific
By the middle of the century, Japan has solidified its position as the ruler of the North Pacific coastal lands. It fortified and enlarged its settlement of Yamami, while establishing other permanent settlements such as Shintoko (新東港 [Shintoukou], OTL San Jose / Silicon Valley, CA) and Heino (平野, OTL Los Angeles, CA). Still, with all this, it still did not have a route to Europe, and so had to trade via its rival Sri Vijaya's African route. However, Japan gained many mineral and other resources that were found on the North Yodderick (北洋大陸 [Kita You Tairiku] lands.
The Break-Up of Kipchak
By 1350, Kipchak had practically wasted away. This is because the country had originally been just a part of the Chinese Empire where Turkic nomads lived. When it broke away from China, it was left with an unsettled population that was prone to moving, as well as warfare, both within Kipchak and without. Over time, the king had control over less and less of the country, and various nomadic warriors became de facto rulers of their own domains. At first, they listened to the king, because the Chinese Empire had been both strong and severe, and they expected this to continue. But over time, the monarchy showed its weakness. In addition, the Turkic people did not particularly like a relatively small group of Chinese to rule over them. There was not one moment when Kipchak dissolved, but rather, it was over a long time. Out of Kipchak came smaller, more ethnically homogeneous groups, the largest of which were the Kazakhs and Tatars. These groups were in no way nation-states, or even countries, but groups of similar tribes. They would soon be under Chinese control again, however.
Korea Arrives on the Scene
Korea had been a minor country until the fall of the Zheng Dynasty in 1189. It was mostly in the Chinese Empire's shadow, and was a tributary state off and on. When China weakened, Korea had more freedom, and the Chinese reforms of the early 1300s did not diminish Korea's power. Korea was never thought of as a part of China (unlike Guangdong and other southern areas) and so instead of trying to conquer it, the new Chinese government signed a number of treaties with them. Under these treaties, Korea could continue to have autonomy in most matters, but would also allow itself to be a staging ground for any offensive against Japan. Koreans had adopted many of the ship-building methods from the Japanese, and the Chinese were also eager to take those designs and improve upon them. It turned out that Korea also did some exploring in the North Pacific, though not yet on the scale of the Japanese. Generally, China wanted Korea to establish some colonies in the Japanese sphere of influence, so as to break it up into smaller pieces, while Korea could use the threat of a Chinese invasion of Japan to make sure that they were not harassed on the high seas by the Japanese.
New Chinese Colonization
Throughout much of the 14th century, China mostly focused on re-taking the territories that had been pried away at the end of the Zheng Dynasty. The final end of Kipchak came when the small town and capital was taken by Chinese forces. China reinstated its laws over the wild territories that were the home of nomads. Also, inspired by the Japanese ability to travel so far north (to the Aleutian Islands), the Chinese government declared its ambition to control all of the land north of China. Thus, whereas before the frozen tundra of Siberia had stopped China from claiming land above a certain latitude, it was in this period that explorers made it to the Arctic Ocean, and claimed all of the land in-between as China's. On the one hand, it was a hard task to travel so far, and under so arduous conditions, but on the other hand, the extremely sparse population and hunter-gatherer lifestyles of the population meant that China could essentially claim the whole of Northern Asia without a fight.
China started almost a century behind, but as its economy rebounded, it undertook various campaigns in the New World. With its new ship technology, it did what the Japanese hadn't been able to yet. It cut a line through the temperate waters to the New World. In 1361, the Chinese made the first non-stop trip from (non-Arctic) Asia to Yodderick and landed near the city of Huicheng (辉城 [huī chéng], OTL Puerto Vallarta). Many more trips were made subsequently. On one of these journeys (in 1376), the Chinese discovered the Hawaiian islands via following the atolls southeast from the Midway Islands. When the Japanese found out about this discovery, relations soured severely, since a harbor in the vicinity of Hawaii helped colonization efforts of the New World greatly. Soon, there would become a race for colonies between Japan and China, with Korea also in the mix.