Ming dynasty mercentile/naval trade post Zheng He

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Ming dynasty mercentile/naval trade post Zheng He

Postby PainRack » 2012-10-25 09:50am

From Timothy Brooks, The Troubled Empire. China in the Yuan and Ming dynasty.

The South China Sea World-Economy
The Portuguese arrival in 1511 at Malacca at the western edge of the South China Sea was violent. When they discovered a Chinese commercial community already based there and handling a brisk trade, they decided to treat them as their main competitors and do what European traders as a general practice did to their competitors: kill them and take over their business.

This is why the South China Sea became a critical zone for the eventual integration of the Ming economy with the global economy. The tribute system allowed foreigners to enter China as tribute bearers, but it also required them to exit. Foreign merchants were forbidden from residing in the realm on a permanent basis, and the Ming had the military power to enforce this condition. Anyone who wanted access to the Chinese markets, whether to buy or to sell, had to go through state channels and establish a bilateral relationship, the terms of which the Ming always controlled(snipe)

And so a zone of circulation had to emerge to manage the sale of Chinese commodities leaving China and the foreign imports entering. What emerged around the South China Sea, and what the Portuguese became part of, was a network of multilateral exchanges among merchants tied for the most part to states that submitted tribute to the Ming, but who developed an intra-regional trade in which Chinese manufactures and grain were the leading trade goods.

This trading arrangement rested on one economic condition and one political condition.The economic condition was that the Ming economy had to continue producing goods of sufficient quality and reasonable price to be in huge demand elsewhere: China was the motor of this growth. The political condition was that the Ming state had to continue denying foreign access to its domestic market. Neither condition faltered. Indeed, we could say that the growth of the commercial economy through the sixteenth century, combined with a border-closure policy that only relented in the last third of the century, ensured the strength of this trading system.


The author goes on to talk about the "world" economy, in which China maintained trading links, expanded by Zheng He with the Spanish in the Phillipines, the Dutch/Portugese as the first European contacts, in particular, the spices the Dutch controlled and Malacca, then under Dutch influence.

The world-economy preceded the arrival of Europeans, which is why they were able to take advantage of the regional trade once they came on the scene. The Portuguese, sailing in from the west, finally got their perch on the tiny peninsula of Macao in 1557. The Spanish, coming across the Pacific from the west coast of the Americas, discovered the perfect harbor at manila in 1570. They also discovered a trading community of over three hundred Chinese and the court of a minor Muslim rajah, whom they tricked and deposed the following year. The third major European player in this economy, the Dutch, reached the South China Sea only in the 1590s. After returning in the new century under the banner of the VOC, the Dutch east India Company, they set up their base of operations on Java, first at Bantam on the west end of the island in 1609, then at Jakarta(which they called Batavia) further east. Java gave a strategic position from which to lock down the Moluccas(the Spice Islands), but it left them too far from China, though not for want of trying.

The Dutch would gain access to the spice routes, which was how the Bugis people had conducted entrepot trade for generations, selling spices to the Chinese before the Europeans came on the scene.


Note: China would STILL retain the mercantile links. Its just that the Europeans took over the local portion of the trade and conducted their own. Indeed, chinese traders in the region, such as Malacca and etc found themselves displaced in favour of the Europeans.

The other was a deftness in operating an extensive intra-regional trade, such that the company moved more goods between sites within the South ChinaSea and the Indian Ocean than they did between Asia and Europe. The business was profitable so long as Jakarta could monopolize its regional markets......(snipe)
The strengthening of Chinese commercial networks throughout the region meant that by the middle of the eighteenth century, Chinese merchants had a stronger grip on the trade than the Dutch of the Spanish. At the same time, the British were increasing their presence in the region, quite overshadowing the Dutch.

Indeed, the presence of Singapore, influx of Chinese traders and coolie expanded the trading settlement, as entrepot trade, the non existence of taxes and cheap harbour duties shifted the nexus of trade to Singapore. I will argue given the importance of this trade that if the trading routes created by Ming merchants had not existed, neither would have Singapore.


Silver
Silver was the perfect commodity from the European point of view. Its value when traded for gold was three times higher in China than at home, yielding arbitrage profits simply waiting to be plucked. In addition, the goods that the silver bought in manila were acquired at a price far below what they sold for in Europe. The trade was also ideal from the Ming point of view, and for the roughly the same reasons, in reverse. The price differential was fantastic: a hundred catties of Huzhou silk in 1639 could be sold for a hundred ounces of silver in China but fetched two hundred from Spanish buyers in Manila.

The value of the trade.
Fujian merchants responded with alacrity, loading as much merchandise as they could warehouse onto junks and sailing it out to Manila to exchange for the precious metal. The annual departure of the cargo junks was timed to coincide with the spring arrival of the Manila galleon......... The bridge that connected Moon Harbor to manila, Fujian to Peru, Ming to Spain, and China to Europe was made of silver.

One of the main arms of the Chinese trade routes, that which went to Manila.


Regarding the infamous ban and smuggling
The ban on trade with Japan soon became a dead letter. Merchants from Canton all the way north to Chongming Island in the mouth of the Yangzi River near Shanghai were sending vessels to Japan and setting up agents there to handle foreign commerce. The scale of this trade can be imaginged from the ship that a Jiaxing magistrate seized in the winter of 1642 on the charge of smuggling. It was carrying a cargo of ginseng, probably imported into Japan from Manchuria and then re-exported to China. The magistrate claimed that the cargo was worth a stunning one hundred thousand ounces of silver.


The ban that he was petitioning to remove reduced the number of junks sailing to Manila from 50 in 1637 to 16 in 1638. The collapse rippled through the entire coastal economy. Fortunately for the Fujianese whose livelihoods depended on the trade, the ban was lifted in time for 30 junks to catch the spring winds down to the Phillipines-
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Re: Ming dynasty mercentile/naval trade post Zheng He

Postby Ziggy Stardust » 2012-10-25 12:52pm

Neat stuff.

Interestingly, I believe there was a similar trend with the Indian Ocean trading routes. Unfortunately, I am at work and don't have the time to go scrounging for a source, but IIRC the East African/Arab/Persian/Indian trading routes were quite wide-ranging and complex, and were largely re-appropriated by the Europeans in a similarly violent fashion. I think as early as the 13th or 14th centuries the Arabs already had regular trade across the Indian Ocean basin, perhaps (and plausibly) farther.

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Re: Ming dynasty mercentile/naval trade post Zheng He

Postby PainRack » 2012-11-01 01:41pm

What I want to do next is find any citation about the troubles between Siam and Northern Malaya, either Kedah or the Perak Empire. Because prior to British intervention, the Malay states had paid tribute to China and was supposed to had petitioned the Ming court to intervene against Siam encroachment of their soverignty.

Unfortunately, I think the only way I can really dig up the appropriate information is to go to the Zheng He museum in Malacca and then crosscheck it with any Malay heritage museum in Perak, that, or pick up the ability to do a Chinese text search.....

I believe it might show the limits of China ability to project power into South East Asia, as constrasted to the Europeans, but since what little knowledge I had on this was due to Malaysia history classes and some added reading more than 12 years ago, I'm way too confused to stake a position.

For example, it is concrete historical fact that China occupation of Vietnam/Burma was increasingly costly, to the extent that Xuande Emperor withdrew from those states. While Zheng He created vast number of... "tributary" states, or more accurately, client states that swayed under Chinese influence, China simply decided that a policy of Imperialism was too costly and too militaristic, requiring too much taxation/levy of labour to carry out.

Not so much isolationism per say, but rather, an issue of Imperial overreach and thus China focused on the Mongol/nomadic threat in the north, to conquer the previous Yuan dynasty lands in Mongolia than to expand her territories in the south, against states with standing armies. Her intervention in Annam/Vietnam, in an attempt to replicate ancient chinese holdings became a failure by Xuande period.
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Re: Ming dynasty mercentile/naval trade post Zheng He

Postby Blayne » 2012-11-02 12:12am

I get the impression that China wasn't making very good efficient use of its domestic economy for use as power projection at least relative to say Colbert's France or Frederick's Prussia. Imperial taxation seemed more to accomplish two goals 1) maintain current infrastructure/military and 2) punish merchants and keep them from expanding into their own class. Domestic Trade and domestic mobility never seemed to be particularly strongly encouraged nor the cities allowed to develop their own "burghers" all of which was interpreted to be damaging to imperial authority.

Had it been trying to 'extract' every bit of wealth it could for state projects and infrastructure ala the above dirigist examples I think Imperial China would've had the means in which to have even pacified Japan for once and for all as part of a consistent long term strategy of 'hard' power hegemony from which 'soft' power hegemony would soon follow from economic and cultural factors. From this maritime trade would've been I feel expanding with the naval power to back it up merely as a side effect of these domestic factors (since fish would've been extremely important for the maintenance of large field armies as just one example).

The problem though as I see it, and maybe you can help me figure this out; but is there any point in which a Imperial Decree of some form, advised by the Confucian Bureaucracy that would've allowed for some sort of industrial, economic or social revolution to take off on its own so that later efforts at retrenchment would just simply fail in the face of economic and political realities (like the Vatican ban on crossbows)? From Rise and Fall just as the bureaucracy would suggest the construction of massive steel foundries and canals that facilitated trades during one reign the same bureaucracy could advise against their continued maintenance the next and all progress would seemingly halt, and revolutionary advancements never implemented widely (like the breech loading rifle invented in China during the 1700's and so on).

I think maybe the key would have had to been the Ming golden age and expansion overlapping with extensive European influence in Asia to have 'sparked' the kind of consistent upward self sustaining progress?

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Re: Ming dynasty mercentile/naval trade post Zheng He

Postby PainRack » 2012-11-02 01:11pm

Do you mind elaborating Blayne? I'm not sure what are the specifics you mean.
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Re: Ming dynasty mercentile/naval trade post Zheng He

Postby Blayne » 2012-11-02 01:29pm

What I wondering is what sort of 'decisions' could have the Ming made that would have allowed for a self sustaining economic and technological boom lasting long enough for its continuing to remain important in the face of competitive westerners, and for it too have gone on for too long and changed too much; for the bureaucracy to get wet feet and regress while still keeping some semblance of the Imperial system we know of.

I personally feel it narrows down to a lack of a middle class from which technological innovation and increased demands on the market could have resulted from, but could have a large enough middle class have risen up in less than fifty year after the initial decision to encourage it?

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Re: Ming dynasty mercentile/naval trade post Zheng He

Postby PainRack » 2012-11-03 08:10pm

How about the Mongols/Manchu not proving a military threat/overruning China?

Its a bit...... out of context to say that taxation=maintain current infrastructure.. This ignores the huge expansion of services and of course, the projection of Ming Imperial power overseas, both via 'gunboat diplomacy', trade and protection of her SLOC and of course, straight out occupation and military adventurism. The reopening of the Grand Canal promoted mercantile trade and the siting of the capital in Beijing also promoted the whole grain trade. The use of more innovative licenses in the salt monopoly, grain licenses also promoted trade.

Not free trade as the West knew it, but certainly a form of state sponsered trade where the government gave licenses which the merchants bid for so as to secure lucrative contracts.

I also feel you utterly ignored the importance of maritime trade and naval power to the Ming. The reason why the ban was removed was because it was so disastrous to the Fujian people, where the entire economy was centered around overseas trade(as opposed to the domestic trade that dominated the north south,east west transfers). Just a reduction from 50 to 16 trading voyages shattered the coastal economy.

Ditto to the silver trade in Manila. That silver trade was what made the Imperial currency so strong, and allowed it to promote Imperial power in the north against the Mongols/Manchu. It also helped back the shift in taxation from a mixture of goods, services and labour to one based increasingly on taxation of money at the end of the Ming era.


As for a "middle" class, just what do you think the increasingly larger and larger artisan class was? Or the new urban elite of merchants?
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Re: Ming dynasty mercentile/naval trade post Zheng He

Postby Blayne » 2012-11-04 01:51pm

I think you misunderstood my point, the maritime WAS important, until it wasn't. The Ming at its height had over 300 ocean cruising ships, and over 1500 ships with three masts or more. Then they just decided to let them rot, allowed for canals to be opened/reopened and then allowed to be left to degrade and rendered unusable. Giant steel mills that surpassed anything Europe had until the industrial revolution were constructed to supply equipment to the one million man standing army the Ming possessed until they decided they no longer required it, and so on.

Free Trade/Mecantalism isn't the issue here, France, Prussia, Russia and so on all managed to create impressive and powerful states through such methods, but compared to their relative economic base they seemed willing to accomplish far more on much less even during a time when several of Europe's leading figures extolled the virtues of the Chinese system.

The problem is that no matter what great feats of engineering or prowess the Ming set themselves out to do they never stuck to it and committed. They declined and got conquered by the Manchu after all, but entirely because of their own undoing. The Manchu would never have been a threat and would have been outright absorbed had the Ming stayed powerful.

The urban elite of merchants, and the artisan class aren't a comparable middle class. They never developed into the bourgosie (until the industrial revolution's methods was exported to China's industrious revolution anyways), they were instead decimated by the industrial revolution in Britain, the question needed to be asked here is why not? Both Europe and China had at least equal time to develop it away from the feudal system but only Europe seem to do so. In China most of what I've read explains this because of the Ming authorities stifling domestic trade and mobility, and preventing the local development of burghers. Additionally I see an opposite picture painted, that the Ming had great distrust for merchants and other accumulators of wealth, routinely confiscating their land and wealth and barring their entry into the civil service.

They never seemed to take advantage of their maritime trade the way Europe did, and lost all initiative to Westerners since they [the imperial authorities] didn't have a use for it. Which is why I was thinking that the solution might have been if they had allowed for the development of a indigenous bourgosie (with members thereof within the civil service) whom they couldn't clamp back down on once they decided enough was enough, so progress could continue with only a relatively minor series of setbacks. Instead of being forced to develop one on the wrong side of the musket barrel.

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Re: Ming dynasty mercentile/naval trade post Zheng He

Postby PainRack » 2012-11-07 11:15am

Blayne wrote:I think you misunderstood my point, the maritime WAS important, until it wasn't. The Ming at its height had over 300 ocean cruising ships, and over 1500 ships with three masts or more.

Dude. Go back to my opening post. Did you read the part about the ban? I'm going to give you one guess what ban that refers to and why the Ming re-opened the ban.

Again. The Ming DOMINATED the oceanic trade in Asia until they collapsed. In fact, remember Taiwan?

A colony of the DUTCH, until it was invaded by China? Oh wait, why did the Dutch colonise Taiwan?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_Formosa#Background
Oh yeah. They couldn't get favourable trade terms because of the superiority of the Ming fleet in 1601. Just you know.... 40 years before the Ming dynasty collapsed and the Qing took over. Oh wait, just why was the last bastion of the Ming dynasty in Sichuan and Taiwan? Because the Ming riverine fleet and coastal navy guarded the two places.... Oh wait, just HOW did the Ming make Taiwan the last bastion of their dynasty? Oh yeah. Because the Ming navy CONQUERED it from the Dutch. AFTER their dynasty collapsed when Wu Sangui let in the Manchus and assisted their assault on the capital. You know, the remnants of the Ming dynasty loyalist forces, commanding the remnants of their navy.... conquered a Dutch colony.


The whole sucession of British, Dutch and even French colonies in South East Asia built entirely on the trade routes that the Ming dynasty built. Manila? Trade with Ming China. The Portugese, and later Dutch expansion into the region? And the seizing of the spice routes? Ming China. Hell, the expansion of the spice routes into the wealth generating routes it became? Ming China, albeit with local intermediaries.


Your post is laughingly similar to Mitt Romney "Obama navy has shrunk". In more ways than one.

Then they just decided to let them rot, allowed for canals to be opened/reopened and then allowed to be left to degrade and rendered unusable.

Read up on the plagues such as the Chenzhen slough(I think I spelled it correctly) and how that disrupted the trade, taxation and labour corvees that would had kept the Grand Canal open as well as the routine flooding/damage the Yellow River did.
Furthermore, the Grand Canal existed as a logistic chain to supply Beijing and the northern frontier.....
To be honest, I would need you to supply more details on which specific incident you're referring to.


The problem is that no matter what great feats of engineering or prowess the Ming set themselves out to do they never stuck to it and committed. They declined and got conquered by the Manchu after all, but entirely because of their own undoing. The Manchu would never have been a threat and would have been outright absorbed had the Ming stayed powerful.

..... Did you even read up on the Ming history? The Chinese NEVER managed to control Mongolia properly, due to nomad resistance.

The urban elite of merchants, and the artisan class aren't a comparable middle class. They never developed into the bourgosie (until the industrial revolution's methods was exported to China's industrious revolution anyways), they were instead decimated by the industrial revolution in Britain, the question needed to be asked here is why not? Both Europe and China had at least equal time to develop it away from the feudal system but only Europe seem to do so. In China most of what I've read explains this because of the Ming authorities stifling domestic trade and mobility, and preventing the local development of burghers. Additionally I see an opposite picture painted, that the Ming had great distrust for merchants and other accumulators of wealth, routinely confiscating their land and wealth and barring their entry into the civil service.

I guess you're the perfect picture of what I'm posting this information for.
What "stifling" of domestic trade and mobility? You mean the thousand barge traffic along the Grand Canal, both government and private owned isn't trade? The entire development of cities and counties isn't social mobility? The domination of said councils by the merchants aren't burghers and a new political class?
You're focusing entirely on the resistance within the political elites to the new social class and ignoring the reality that the new middle class of the merchants/artisan had real social and even political power during the Ming dynasty, made even more so by the money economy.


They never seemed to take advantage of their maritime trade the way Europe did, and lost all initiative to Westerners since they [the imperial authorities] didn't have a use for it. Which is why I was thinking that the solution might have been if they had allowed for the development of a indigenous bourgosie (with members thereof within the civil service) whom they couldn't clamp back down on once they decided enough was enough, so progress could continue with only a relatively minor series of setbacks. Instead of being forced to develop one on the wrong side of the musket barrel.

Try another lie. The entire Ming currency was based on the silver trade with the Spanish and later Japanese, because the ming government hesitated to build/expand on their own mines. Its also arguable that their own mines were of insufficient capacity to meet the currency demand anyway.
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Re: Ming dynasty mercentile/naval trade post Zheng He

Postby Ziggy Stardust » 2012-11-07 02:28pm

The whole sucession of British, Dutch and even French colonies in South East Asia built entirely on the trade routes that the Ming dynasty built. Manila? Trade with Ming China. The Portugese, and later Dutch expansion into the region? And the seizing of the spice routes? Ming China. Hell, the expansion of the spice routes into the wealth generating routes it became? Ming China, albeit with local intermediaries.


How much of this involved direct co-option of the pre-existing logistics/networks versus those trade routes that simply coincided due to geographic (or otherwise) expediency? That is, even if the Europeans had come in and set up all of their own trade routes without using a single Ming one (which, of course, is not the case, but this is a hypothetical), you would expect a certain proportion of these new trade routes to closely coincide with old ones for a variety of reasons. I mean, there are only a limited number of direct routes between places, it's not like trade ships are going to just sail randomly in circles around the South China Sea before they eventually stumble on Formosa.

Naturally, though, this isn't a realistic scenario.

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Re: Ming dynasty mercentile/naval trade post Zheng He

Postby PainRack » 2012-11-08 12:45pm

Ziggy Stardust wrote:
The whole sucession of British, Dutch and even French colonies in South East Asia built entirely on the trade routes that the Ming dynasty built. Manila? Trade with Ming China. The Portugese, and later Dutch expansion into the region? And the seizing of the spice routes? Ming China. Hell, the expansion of the spice routes into the wealth generating routes it became? Ming China, albeit with local intermediaries.


How much of this involved direct co-option of the pre-existing logistics/networks versus those trade routes that simply coincided due to geographic (or otherwise) expediency? That is, even if the Europeans had come in and set up all of their own trade routes without using a single Ming one (which, of course, is not the case, but this is a hypothetical), you would expect a certain proportion of these new trade routes to closely coincide with old ones for a variety of reasons. I mean, there are only a limited number of direct routes between places, it's not like trade ships are going to just sail randomly in circles around the South China Sea before they eventually stumble on Formosa.

Naturally, though, this isn't a realistic scenario.

Well, geopolitics of course played a role but they laid on the existing frameworks.

For example.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of ... 81-1898.29
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of ... onwards.29

The chinese trade with the locals, which was conquered by the Spanish.
And of course, the real meat is the Ming/Spanish trade. Again, the influx of Spanish silver was critical to the Chinese economy/currency, and even to the economic livilihood of an entire region of Fujian, to the extent that a ban on such overseas trade, in the dying years of the Ming dynasty was promptly removed in one year, which essentially reduced half of the overseas trade then going on. The Spanish shipped silver to South East Asia, along with other goods instead of Europe because of Ming traders. Which lasted until the Ming demise.


The spice trade is a bit more complicated. However, the Chinese desire for spices, ivory, bird nest and tiger penises helped create and lubricate the Arab trading networks which was taken over by the Portugese and Dutch.

I need to change something though. I been too eager in using the word Ming when I should use the word China, since a lot of these networks/trade was going on under the Song dynasty........
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Re: Ming dynasty mercentile/naval trade post Zheng He

Postby Zinegata » 2012-11-09 12:51am

PainRack wrote:
Ziggy Stardust wrote:How much of this involved direct co-option of the pre-existing logistics/networks versus those trade routes that simply coincided due to geographic (or otherwise) expediency? That is, even if the Europeans had come in and set up all of their own trade routes without using a single Ming one (which, of course, is not the case, but this is a hypothetical), you would expect a certain proportion of these new trade routes to closely coincide with old ones for a variety of reasons. I mean, there are only a limited number of direct routes between places, it's not like trade ships are going to just sail randomly in circles around the South China Sea before they eventually stumble on Formosa.

Naturally, though, this isn't a realistic scenario.

Well, geopolitics of course played a role but they laid on the existing frameworks.

For example.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of ... 81-1898.29
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of ... onwards.29

The chinese trade with the locals, which was conquered by the Spanish.
And of course, the real meat is the Ming/Spanish trade. Again, the influx of Spanish silver was critical to the Chinese economy/currency, and even to the economic livilihood of an entire region of Fujian, to the extent that a ban on such overseas trade, in the dying years of the Ming dynasty was promptly removed in one year, which essentially reduced half of the overseas trade then going on. The Spanish shipped silver to South East Asia, along with other goods instead of Europe because of Ming traders. Which lasted until the Ming demise.


To expand, there had always been a fairly large Chinese presence in the Philippines (I'm part of that) to the point basically 1/3 of the population has some Chinese ancestors. Without them, I doubt that the trade would have endured as the local Chinese helped facilitate trade deals. Manila was essentially an earlier, Spanish version of Raffle's Singapore.

I'd also like to note that the Spanish authorities in Madrid actually really hated the idea of Mexican silver going to South East Asia to buy trade goods; preferring that the silver go to Spain to help pay off the huge debts of the Spanish crown.

Officially, only one galleon of limited tonnage per year was allowed to travel from Mexico to the Philippines (with another going from the Philippines to Mexico), but the trade was so incredibly lucrative the Spanish merchants in Mexico and the Philippines tended to ignore the rules and overload the hell out of that one galleon. I'd actually like to see a study someday if the Ming economy was adversely affected whenever the lone Manila Galleon got sunk or captured by pirates for a particular year.

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Re: Ming dynasty mercentile/naval trade post Zheng He

Postby Blayne » 2012-11-09 10:33am

I don't have my copy of Rise and Fall on me so there's a limitation as to what extent I can argue the point but I'll try my best.Library Ebooks to the rescue!

Dude. Go back to my opening post. Did you read the part about the ban? I'm going to give you one guess what ban that refers to and why the Ming re-opened the ban.


Do you not see it as a systemic problem that the Ming authorities could at a whim, close or open said ban and not have any chilling effect on the accumulation of private capital?

Again. The Ming DOMINATED the oceanic trade in Asia until they collapsed. In fact, remember Taiwan?

A colony of the DUTCH, until it was invaded by China? Oh wait, why did the Dutch colonise Taiwan?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_Formosa#Background
Oh yeah. They couldn't get favourable trade terms because of the superiority of the Ming fleet in 1601. Just you know.... 40 years before the Ming dynasty collapsed and the Qing took over. Oh wait, just why was the last bastion of the Ming dynasty in Sichuan and Taiwan? Because the Ming riverine fleet and coastal navy guarded the two places.... Oh wait, just HOW did the Ming make Taiwan the last bastion of their dynasty? Oh yeah. Because the Ming navy CONQUERED it from the Dutch. AFTER their dynasty collapsed when Wu Sangui let in the Manchus and assisted their assault on the capital. You know, the remnants of the Ming dynasty loyalist forces, commanding the remnants of their navy.... conquered a Dutch colony.


And then the Ming got overrun by the Manchu's and crushed navally by Britain soon after. But lets look at this critically, it was a self styled loyalist; it wasn't some official Ming stronghold that was deliberately designed as a part of some William Pitt styled grand strategy for dominance that would help project pacific trade; it was just the last remnants of the Ming in some way shape and form. Formosa could have been used much more effectively and earlier if the Ming looked at maritime trade the sameway the maritime Europeans did.

Also do you not think it odd the Dutch could not get trade terms? From wikipedia:


The Dutch first attempted to trade with China in 1601[1] but were rebuffed by the Chinese authorities, who were already engaged in trade with the Portuguese at Macau from 1535. In a 1604 expedition from Batavia (the central base of the Dutch in Asia), Admiral van Warwijk set out to attack Macau, but his force was waylaid by a typhoon, driving them to the Pescadores (now known as Penghu). Once there, the admiral attempted to negotiate trade terms with the Chinese on the mainland, but was asked to pay an exorbitant fee for the privilege of an interview. Surrounded by a vastly superior Chinese fleet, he left without achieving any of his aims.


I don't see nuanced 'favourable terms' I see "We refused to trade with you at all, except under ridiculous conditions." This does not strike as me rational behavior from a powerful and dynamic mercantile maritime state; it does not seem consistent with a state that sees maritime trade as economically vital. Otherwise Ming should have welcomed trade... On their terms... But with good faith negotiations none the less, seeing that some negotiated trade is preferable to no trade at all.

The whole sucession of British, Dutch and even French colonies in South East Asia built entirely on the trade routes that the Ming dynasty built. Manila? Trade with Ming China. The Portugese, and later Dutch expansion into the region? And the seizing of the spice routes? Ming China. Hell, the expansion of the spice routes into the wealth generating routes it became? Ming China, albeit with local intermediaries.


I never disputed this, nor did I ever dispute the Ming developed excellent trading routes for a time. But doesn't it strike you as a problem, that the Ming would consider the maritime trade such a low priority to their national interest that they would let these foreigners take over?

The reverse would never have been allowed under any circumstances, not without a war as was the case with intra-european rivalry.

Your post is laughingly similar to Mitt Romney "Obama navy has shrunk". In more ways than one.


Now this was uncalled for, I love Chinese history and culture so we are of like minds here. The claims aren't equivalent because the modern US navy utilizes more expensive more advanced technologies, the cost of maintaining a fleet has gone up. What would you rather have, 500 WWII Destroyers or 5 AEGIS cruisers? This defence isn't applicable to the Ming though, who didn't replace their fleet with a smaller more advanced one, but simply stopped investment in it entirely and got overcome by the Europeans in naval design (Since Chinese imperial decline was a long process this covers and overlaps both the Ming-Qing dynasties since the full effects weren't felt until the Opium War).

Page 18 of The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers,

"Yet this quite valid reasoning does not appear to have been reconsidered when the disadvantages of naval retrenchment became clear; within a century or so, the Chinese coastline and even cities on the Yangtse were being attacked by Japanese pirates, but there was no serious rebuilding of an Imperial navy. Even the repeated presence of the Portugese off their coast, did not force a reassement (the rebuilding of the Imperial navy)."


Sure they may have been able to intimidate the Dutch, but it doesn't seem like their naval strength was sufficient to do what the Royal Navy could routinely do with a fraction of their fleet on a much greater scale.

Read up on the plagues such as the Chenzhen slough(I think I spelled it correctly) and how that disrupted the trade, taxation and labour corvees that would had kept the Grand Canal open as well as the routine flooding/damage the Yellow River did.
Furthermore, the Grand Canal existed as a logistic chain to supply Beijing and the northern frontier.....
To be honest, I would need you to supply more details on which specific incident you're referring to.


Kennedy appears to be somewhat scant on the details here, if I had the actual book I could dig up his sources but that's with my friend who needed it for a paper on Japanese militerism.

Here's the quote:
"This dislike of commerce and private capital does not conflict with the technological achievements mentioned above. The Ming rebuilding of the Great Wall of China, the canal system, the iron works, and the Imperial navy were for State purposes, because the bureaucracy had advised the Emperor that they were necessary. But just as the enterprises could be started, so also they could be neglected. The canals were permitted to decay, the army periodically starved of new equipment, the astronomical clocks (built,c 1090) were disregarded, the ironworks fell into desuetude. These were not the only disincentives to economic growth. Printing was restricted to scholarly works and not employed for the widespread dissemination of practical knowledge, much less social criticism. The use of paper currency was discontinued. Chinese cities were never allowed the autonomy of those in the West; there were no Chinese burghers, with all that term implied;.... Yet without official encouragement, merchants and other entrepreneurs could not thrive; and even those that did acquire wealth tended to purchase land and education, rather than investing it in protoindustrial development. Similarly the banning of overseas trade and fishing took away another potential stimulus to sustained economic expansion; such foreign trade as did occur with the Portugese and the Dutch in the following centuries was in luxury goods and (although there were doubtless many evasions) controlled by officials.

In consequence, Ming China was much less vigorous and entreprising land than it been under the Sung four centuries earlier. There were improved agricultural techniques to be sure during the Ming period, but after a while even the more extensive farming of marginal lands found it harder to keep pace with the burgeoning population; the latter only to be checked by those Malthusian methods of plague, floods, and war, all of which were very difficult to handle. Even the replacement of the Ming by the more vigorous Manchu's after 1644 could not halt the relative steady decline."


Yes the Chinese had a great maritime trading empire... for a time... Until they let westerners take it over; that they never used to its full potential. If they thought it important during one reign they abandoned it the next.

For reference from Wikipedia on "Burgher" or Medieval Bourgosie:

In the 11th century, the bourgeoisie emerged as a historical and political phenomenon, when the bourgs of Central and Western Europe developed into cities dedicated to commerce. The organised economic concentration that made possible such urban expansion derived from the protective self-organisation into guilds, which became necessary when individual businessmen (craftsmen, artisans, merchants, et alii) conflicted with their rent-seeking feudal landlords who demanded greater-than-agreed rents. In the event, by the end of the Middle Ages (ca. AD 1500), under régimes of the early national monarchies of Western Europe, the bourgeoisie acted in self-interest, and politically supported the king or the queen against the legal and financial disorder caused by the greed of the feudal lords. In the late-16th and early 17-th centuries, the bourgeoisies of England and the Netherlands had become the financial — and thus political — forces that deposed the feudal order; economic power had vanquished military power in the realm of politics.


Which does not seem consistent with Chinese economic development as I've read it.

..... Did you even read up on the Ming history? The Chinese NEVER managed to control Mongolia properly, due to nomad resistance.


This isn't what the Oxford History of China says; and wasn't what I was saying either; the Chinese had for centuries continuously expanded and absorbed the Mongols into what is today Han China (such as during the Spring and Autumn). We saw the Qing for instance, entirely absorb Mongolia during their expansionist period...? That the Ming had difficulties sure, but that's not my argument. I am saying that if the Ming had the same Colbert like dirigist drive to exact the full economic potential of their territories nothing could have prevented their inevitable absorption just as how it was inevitable for the Muscovites to eventually pacify the nomads on their frontiers.

I guess you're the perfect picture of what I'm posting this information for.
What "stifling" of domestic trade and mobility? You mean the thousand barge traffic along the Grand Canal, both government and private owned isn't trade? The entire development of cities and counties isn't social mobility? The domination of said councils by the merchants aren't burghers and a new political class?
You're focusing entirely on the resistance within the political elites to the new social class and ignoring the reality that the new middle class of the merchants/artisan had real social and even political power during the Ming dynasty, made even more so by the money economy.


No one is disputing that Ming society had an functioning economy, I am observing that they did not make effective use of it, neither did they actively encourage it like other nations. My focus on the importance of the bureaucracy and the Imperial authorities to encourage economic growth is because their influence is non-trivial even for a nation as large as China. We repeatedly see evidence that officials stifled economic growth out of sheer conservatism, how do you explain China's economic relative decline?

Try another lie. The entire Ming currency was based on the silver trade with the Spanish and later Japanese, because the ming government hesitated to build/expand on their own mines. Its also arguable that their own mines were of insufficient capacity to meet the currency demand anyway.


Ming had paper currency, until they didn't. That to me speaks volumes about why they declined, as paper currency would've allowed for much greater economic traffic ( as we know silver/gold backed currencies are problematic, especially if production can't meet economic demand, acting as a passive suppressor of growth).

Actually I'm not entirely sure what your responding to, your response doesn't seem to be responding to whats in that quote block, can you elaborate?

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Re: Ming dynasty mercentile/naval trade post Zheng He

Postby PainRack » 2012-11-09 01:45pm

Blayne wrote:Do you not see it as a systemic problem that the Ming authorities could at a whim, close or open said ban and not have any chilling effect on the accumulation of private capital?

You asked for an example in which a movement against mercentile trade/merchant class could be overturned. Just WHAT do you call the overturning of the ban then?
You asked for an example of the bureaucracy deciding something, but it not being able to take effect because it would had been overturned. This example is JUST that.


And then the Ming got overrun by the Manchu's and crushed navally by Britain soon after. But lets look at this critically, it was a self styled loyalist; it wasn't some official Ming stronghold that was deliberately designed as a part of some William Pitt styled grand strategy for dominance that would help project pacific trade; it was just the last remnants of the Ming in some way shape and form. Formosa could have been used much more effectively and earlier if the Ming looked at maritime trade the sameway the maritime Europeans did.

WTF? What was your point? That the Ming had this huge, awesome navy and let it wither away into nothing? If your point is true, please explain exactly WHY all of the last bastions of the Ming were defended by the Ming navy.

Also do you not think it odd the Dutch could not get trade terms? From wikipedia:

No shit. The Chinese wanted trade terms that was entirely favourable to government officers who could profit from revenues and their pockets............


I don't see nuanced 'favourable terms' I see "We refused to trade with you at all, except under ridiculous conditions." This does not strike as me rational behavior from a powerful and dynamic mercantile maritime state; it does not seem consistent with a state that sees maritime trade as economically vital. Otherwise Ming should have welcomed trade... On their terms... But with good faith negotiations none the less, seeing that some negotiated trade is preferable to no trade at all.

We got the goods, they got the money, they get the oochie koochie goo.

I never disputed this, nor did I ever dispute the Ming developed excellent trading routes for a time. But doesn't it strike you as a problem, that the Ming would consider the maritime trade such a low priority to their national interest that they would let these foreigners take over?

.... Say what? They didn't LET the foreigners take over. The Ming traded with the Fillipinos. When the Spainish conquered the existing settlements, they traded with the Spanish.

The spice routes? Traded with Arabs. When the Dutch took over, they traded with the Dutch.


Oh. And btw, you're ignoring examples where the Chinese DID attempt to fight and conquer Manila, in response to their citizens oppression (of course, the Spanish protray this as Chinese agitation). They lost. The Ming was never in a state like the Royal Navy. They simply lacked the ability to project power that far overseas, and lacked the inclination further after expensive occupation in Vietnam. Its not as simplistic as Imperialism of course, since Chinese imperialism was that of client states as opposed to outright colonies. Witness Korea.


This defence isn't applicable to the Ming though, who didn't replace their fleet with a smaller more advanced one, but simply stopped investment in it entirely and got overcome by the Europeans in naval design (Since Chinese imperial decline was a long process this covers and overlaps both the Ming-Qing dynasties since the full effects weren't felt until the Opium War).

You're nuts. You DO know that the Ming dynasty fleet was inferior to Dutch and Spanish warships, right? This has nothing do with the size or numbers of the fleet, but just sheer technology. Their initial conflicts with European cannons ended badly for them.

Ditto to the Japanese pirates. Their superior musketry and cannons allowed them to ravage the coast. Indeed, the reason for the Ming adopting the bans on naval trade was to essentially adopt a scorched earth tactic against superior Japanese raiders, oh, that and a draconian politics that essentially decleared if you aren't with us, you are with them, driving multiple Chinese merchants/smugglers to join the side of the Japanese.


Oh wait. Just how did the Ming capture Taiwan then? The Ming adopted Japanese musketry and attempted to incorporate Western cannons and gunners to upgrade their own forces. They weren't entirely successful for the navy but it improved significantly after initial contact with the Europeans.



Sure they may have been able to intimidate the Dutch, but it doesn't seem like their naval strength was sufficient to do what the Royal Navy could routinely do with a fraction of their fleet on a much greater scale.

Right. And of course, the Russians had never let their navy wither away while focusing entirely on landward threats...... The Ming for example didn't have a highly expensive occupation of Vietnam fail, which turned them away from Imperial politics. Their focus on the north, to reclaim Chinese(read Yuan) territories did not drive them to spend more and more on Imperial armies to attack the north. Similarly, the need to defend their borders as well as to define what is Imperial China vs outside barbarians didn't drive expensive constructions and fortifications.

Also, read up on the Japanese superior technology. Also, note how the Ming caught up.

Lastly, you're under the impression that the Ming military was superior to any other force in Asia. It wasn't.

The canals were permitted to decay, the army periodically starved of new equipment,

Just how was the army periodically starved of new equipment? Unless you're referring to periods of time when the Ming dynasty was finanicially broke(which it did undergo), they certainly wasn't. After conflicts with Japanese muskets, they copied it wholesale and created the second largest gun armed army in Asia, outfitting entire formations with muskets.
Ditto to cannons/rockets.


the astronomical clocks (built,c 1090) were disregarded,

The Su Song astronomical clock was dismantled by an invading ARMY.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Su_Song
Its also........... quite funny about clocks, since one of the luxury trade goods you're talking about?

Mechanical clocks from Europe.
http://english.caixin.com/2012-01-13/100348555.html
Note, the article is not entirely correct regarding the lost technology of mechanical clocks. The treatise and etc was still available. Afterall, the Ming dynasty did build its own mechanical clocks, inspired by European traders and their designs afterwards.

the ironworks fell into desuetude.

Any examples?
These were not the only disincentives to economic growth. Printing was restricted to scholarly works and not employed for the widespread dissemination of practical knowledge,

Really? So, the printing of the Farmer Almanac, or advice about agriculture is NOT practical knowledge?

much less social criticism.

That's fucking odd. The arts of the various dynasties could be summarised as this.
Tang Si. Song Ci. Ming shu.

Or in other words, Tang Poems, Song longer poems, and Ming NOVELS. Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Journey to the West. Dream of Red Chambers.

Hey, remember that recent 3D hong kong porno flick?
http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/ ... 28/1/.html
It takes its.... "inspiration" from Jin Ping Mei.

An erotic novel published during the Ming dynasty.


The rich elite loved it, the scholars and officers criticised this new erotic literature and etc.

All in paper, and not just in the official Ming gazette.



The use of paper currency was discontinued.

..... Yes. Because the Ming got so rich from the Spanish/Japan silver trade that they had enough silver to back their currency.......

Chinese cities were never allowed the autonomy of those in the West; there were no Chinese burghers, with all that term implied;

..... I'm going to have to do some digging up on this.... You're wrong on this part, its would be true of course that Chinese cities didn't have the autonomy of Western cities, like London or etc, but this does not equate to the urban elite not having political power.

Yet without official encouragement, merchants and other entrepreneurs could not thrive;

Utter nonsense, BOTH ways. The officials created and sustained the merchant class and the merchants were rich enough to thrive even without government support.(well, save security.)

and even those that did acquire wealth tended to purchase land and education, rather than investing it in protoindustrial development.

Nonsense. Just WHAT was Ming porcelain, and the development of said kilns but proto-industrial development?
Hell. Its why we call China, CHINA.
Or the salt derricks in Sichuan, the deepest wells in the world PRIOR to modern oil wells. (albeit, I can't recall whether said well was opened in Qing or Ming times).

Similarly the banning of overseas trade and fishing took away another potential stimulus to sustained economic expansion; such foreign trade as did occur with the Portugese and the Dutch in the following centuries was in luxury goods and (although there were doubtless many evasions) controlled by officials.

The only thing that didn't happen was that China didn't trade in necessities with other countries.



Which does not seem consistent with Chinese economic development as I've read it.

This is because Chinese economic development was mostly driven by state licenses/enterprise. Although there are at least one counter example to this. I post details on this later.


This isn't what the Oxford History of China says; and wasn't what I was saying either; the Chinese had for centuries continuously expanded and absorbed the Mongols into what is today Han China (such as during the Spring and Autumn). We saw the Qing for instance, entirely absorb Mongolia during their expansionist period...? That the Ming had difficulties sure, but that's not my argument. I am saying that if the Ming had the same Colbert like dirigist drive to exact the full economic potential of their territories nothing could have prevented their inevitable absorption just as how it was inevitable for the Muscovites to eventually pacify the nomads on their frontiers.

The Ming spent the equivalent of BILLIONS of dollars trying to conquer the Mongols and etc. Their resulting defeat and the need to both provide a cultural identity as well as military defence drove the creation of the Great Wall of China. You're LITERALLY speaking nonsense here.


No one is disputing that Ming society had an functioning economy, I am observing that they did not make effective use of it, neither did they actively encourage it like other nations. My focus on the importance of the bureaucracy and the Imperial authorities to encourage economic growth is because their influence is non-trivial even for a nation as large as China. We repeatedly see evidence that officials stifled economic growth out of sheer conservatism, how do you explain China's economic relative decline?

A change in global climate which decreased China agricultural efficiency as well as increased flooding which increased labour requirements to maintain its waterway, combined with the decline in military superiority against its opponents.


Ming had paper currency, until they didn't. That to me speaks volumes about why they declined, as paper currency would've allowed for much greater economic traffic ( as we know silver/gold backed currencies are problematic, especially if production can't meet economic demand, acting as a passive suppressor of growth).

They DIDN"T because they had enough SILVER to back up their currency with. And with regards to trade/economic demand, you DO know that silver became the trading currency in East asia naval trade.......... BECAUSE the Ming demanded silver, right?
Just how did they not take advantage of their maritime trade? They created an entirely stronger monetary economy out of it!?!?!?!?!

HELL. The switch to a successful monetary economy, including banking functions happened during THIS period! Just...... Just HOW do you quantify not maximising their maritime trade?!

Your complains seem to be "China wasn't as successful as Europe, hence, it didn't 'maximise' its potential".
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Re: Ming dynasty mercentile/naval trade post Zheng He

Postby Blayne » 2012-11-09 03:24pm

You asked for an example in which a movement against mercentile trade/merchant class could be overturned. Just WHAT do you call the overturning of the ban then?
You asked for an example of the bureaucracy deciding something, but it not being able to take effect because it would had been overturned. This example is JUST that.


Which was an exception to an otherwise consistent policy to not encourage free market activity for state purposes, and to outright actively discourage market activity.

WTF? What was your point? That the Ming had this huge, awesome navy and let it wither away into nothing? If your point is true, please explain exactly WHY all of the last bastions of the Ming were defended by the Ming navy.


*Blink* Except they weren't? Japanese pirates seemed to act pretty much unopposed.

No shit. The Chinese wanted trade terms that was entirely favourable to government officers who could profit from revenues and their pockets............

We got the goods, they got the money, they get the oochie koochie goo.


It was a stupid short sighted decision and that's obvious in hindsight and should have been obvious for them. If they don't trade with your at all because your price is too high than you make zero. Smart traders know that to make money you have to buy and sell and that requires people to trade with for at least marginal profits; they [the Ming] either did not realize this potential from such trade or did not care, and did not pursue or encourage it. We can entirely pin European economic expansion as greatly helped contributed from its maritime activities, England especially.

That the Ming consistently did not trade as per a mercantile nation would reveals their contempt for the practice and its practitioners; which Kennedy describes as being because the Ming officials didn't trust them, as maritime trade they saw as being hard for the court to control.

The smart thing to do is to let anyone trade and then set tariffs and taxations; investing money in a "State" enterprise to act as a tool of national interest while the real money makers are the private enterprises. From this new class of merchants and fishermen you recruit your naval personnel and officers. But no, they BANNED trading for a while, why? How does this make any sense? Its clear that the officials were not encouraging it at best and did what they could to discourage it at worse.

How is a profitable, functioning, prosperous maritime trading empire supposed to arise in spite of Imperial resistance to the very concept?

.... Say what? They didn't LET the foreigners take over. The Ming traded with the Fillipinos. When the Spainish conquered the existing settlements, they traded with the Spanish.

The spice routes? Traded with Arabs. When the Dutch took over, they traded with the Dutch.

Oh. And btw, you're ignoring examples where the Chinese DID attempt to fight and conquer Manila, in response to their citizens oppression (of course, the Spanish protray this as Chinese agitation). They lost. The Ming was never in a state like the Royal Navy. They simply lacked the ability to project power that far overseas, and lacked the inclination further after expensive occupation in Vietnam. Its not as simplistic as Imperialism of course, since Chinese imperialism was that of client states as opposed to outright colonies. Witness Korea.


"Ignoring" is quite the mischaracterization; regardless, your quite wrong here. Zheng He's expeditions showed quite clearly that the Ming had the technological, economic and imperial potential to have had their own expansive maritime and colonial empire far ahead of time of the Europeans, and to potentially project power overseas to those distances. The fact is that they choose not to; and so they declined relatively speaking because the navy didn't recieve consistent investment and development; especially when the Europeans arrived which should have necessitated the State taking steps to address the news threats.

However the Ming, losing Manilla like you say, did not put in the effort required to fight and win a round 2. My point is that they were perfectly capable given the will and economic momentum given their size and domestic markets of having their own "Royal Navy" given time, development and investment on top of the foundations of Zheng He's achievements.

Do you dispute the argument that by not developing an ocean going fleet the Ming contributed to their own decline?

The Su Song astronomical clock was dismantled by an invading ARMY.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Su_Song
Its also........... quite funny about clocks, since one of the luxury trade goods you're talking about?

Mechanical clocks from Europe.
http://english.caixin.com/2012-01-13/100348555.html
Note, the article is not entirely correct regarding the lost technology of mechanical clocks. The treatise and etc was still available. Afterall, the Ming dynasty did build its own mechanical clocks, inspired by European traders and their designs afterwards.

(Regarding Ironworks) Any examples?

Just how was the army periodically starved of new equipment? Unless you're referring to periods of time when the Ming dynasty was finanicially broke(which it did undergo), they certainly wasn't. After conflicts with Japanese muskets, they copied it wholesale and created the second largest gun armed army in Asia, outfitting entire formations with muskets.
Ditto to cannons/rockets.


I am referring to whatever Paul Kennedy was referring to.

I already mentioned I did not have the physical copy of the book, if the Ebook from my library has the footnotes I can't figure out how to prompt them.

However Kennedy does mention:

"One final detail can be summarize this tale. In 1736 just as Abraham Darby's ironworks at Coalbrookdale were beginning to bloom---the blast furnaces and coke ovens of Honan and Hopei were abandoned entirely. They had been great, before the Conqueror had landed at Hastings. Now they would not resume production until the 20th century."


A process begun by the Ming far earlier; but again I can't find the specific references until my friend returns my book. I think Kennedy's points regarding the clocks was that their development stagnated and never led to the widespread adoption of mechanized clocks for timekeeping, which would've been a mini productivity multiplier on its own and crucial economically.

That's fucking odd. The arts of the various dynasties could be summarised as this.
Tang Si. Song Ci. Ming shu.

Or in other words, Tang Poems, Song longer poems, and Ming NOVELS. Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Journey to the West. Dream of Red Chambers.

Hey, remember that recent 3D hong kong porno flick?
http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/ ... 28/1/.html
It takes its.... "inspiration" from Jin Ping Mei.

An erotic novel published during the Ming dynasty.


The rich elite loved it, the scholars and officers criticised this new erotic literature and etc.

All in paper, and not just in the official Ming gazette.


Can you show me the equivalent of say, the Communist Manifesto that challenges the very notion of the Mandate of Heaven and the feudal order then you might be onto something. Smut doesn't count as social criticism.

..... Yes. Because the Ming got so rich from the Spanish/Japan silver trade that they had enough silver to back their currency.......


That's not how monetary policy works. You don't abandon paper currency because you suddenly have enough silver, abandoning paper currency was specifically to reduce the ease of transactions harming trade and economic activity, acting as a regulation device; almost certainly such a switch back would cause a recession.

..... I'm going to have to do some digging up on this.... You're wrong on this part, its would be true of course that Chinese cities didn't have the autonomy of Western cities, like London or etc, but this does not equate to the urban elite not having political power.


Technically, you think I'm wrong on this, but otherwise I can wait until you dig the information up, I would be interesting in knowing.

Utter nonsense, BOTH ways. The officials created and sustained the merchant class and the merchants were rich enough to thrive even without government support.(well, save security.)


Obviously for a country and economy as large as Ming's China's it would be the case there's some merchants and some officials who helped them along, but history shows us that the officials gradually grew distrustful of them and worked against their interests, routinely confiscating their lands and wealth; this is what my sources say.

Nonsense. Just WHAT was Ming porcelain, and the development of said kilns but proto-industrial development?
Hell. Its why we call China, CHINA.
Or the salt derricks in Sichuan, the deepest wells in the world PRIOR to modern oil wells. (albeit, I can't recall whether said well was opened in Qing or Ming times).


Which was clearly insufficient on its own to prompt the indigenous development of the industrial revolution, which requires the sociological, economical and technological convergence of many factors. Having some industries doesn't alone spark an economy, after all as pointed out they did have their own very large iron industry; producing over 250,000 tonnes of iron a year, more than England produced during the early stages of their own industrial revolution centuries later (the army needed it after all). Of course they had industries, but the political climate actively discouraged the developments that lead to the industrial revolution elsewhere.

The only thing that didn't happen was that China didn't trade in necessities with other countries.


They could have, they could also have traded in comparative trading of produced goods. Worked to improve quality and quantity across the board, but they didn't.

This is because Chinese economic development was mostly driven by state licenses/enterprise. Although there are at least one counter example to this. I post details on this later.


Which the Europeans had, but why did the Ming's insufficient to keep growing the economy and spark demand for the industrial innovations Europe would eventually bring? To me its clear that the State licenses were insufficient for this task, but there was too much discouragement of private enterprise to spur the development of the bourgosie.

The Ming spent the equivalent of BILLIONS of dollars trying to conquer the Mongols and etc. Their resulting defeat and the need to both provide a cultural identity as well as military defence drove the creation of the Great Wall of China. You're LITERALLY speaking nonsense here.


Nope. During earlier periods of Chinese history much of what is now "Han" China was the same sorts of nomadic peoples who the Han felt to be like the Mongols, but up until the modern borders of Inner/Outer Mongolia they successfully settled those places and absorbed them, and the Qing DID successfully conquer Mongolia proper with the widespread proliferation of gunpowder weapons. Again, the Muscovites faced the same type of threat on their frontier with far less of a domestic population in their hinterland but managed to entirely subjugate the Khanates and Siberian nomads.

A change in global climate which decreased China agricultural efficiency as well as increased flooding which increased labour requirements to maintain its waterway, combined with the decline in military superiority against its opponents.


But with industrial and up to date farming techniques China would later have no problems supporting hundreds of millions more people; its clear stagnation in technological development had a huge role to play.

They DIDN"T because they had enough SILVER to back up their currency with. And with regards to trade/economic demand, you DO know that silver became the trading currency in East asia naval trade.......... BECAUSE the Ming demanded silver, right?


Just as the Spanish loved their gold right? I wonder what happened to Spain too...

I explained this earlier, just because you manage to import enough silver from trade to maintain the currency levels you aim for doesn't guarantee a successful or expanding economy. There's a reason why economic developments mandated the abandoning of the silver and later, gold standards in favor of fiat currency. Fast paced economic growth requires that currency be easily transferable and thus paper currency because of its convenience. Abandoning perfectly serviceable paper currency was economic regression.

Just how did they not take advantage of their maritime trade? They created an entirely stronger monetary economy out of it!?!?!?!?!

HELL. The switch to a successful monetary economy, including banking functions happened during THIS period! Just...... Just HOW do you quantify not maximising their maritime trade?!

Your complains seem to be "China wasn't as successful as Europe, hence, it didn't 'maximise' its potential".


The successful monetary economy and banking functions actually arose during the Yuan period and reached their zenith with the early Ming, but fell into disuse, contributing to the Ming's relative decline.

Out of curiosity, why do you believe the Ming declined? I find Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel; along with Kennedy's "Rise and Fall" to satisfactory in their explanation of it being due to a combination of political and economical factors. You seem to dispute that the Ming seemed to have declined at all economically or ever "needed" to compete with Europeans the way Europeans do, and should've been fine 'as they are', am I wrong?

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Re: Ming dynasty mercentile/naval trade post Zheng He

Postby Ziggy Stardust » 2012-11-09 03:28pm

Blayne wrote:I find Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel; along with Kennedy's "Rise and Fall" to satisfactory in their explanation of it being due to a combination of political and economical factors.


I don't really want to wade into this debate, and I am not taking a particular side, but come on, "Guns, Germs, and Steel" is anything but a rigorous historical examination. He is a big fan of jumping to conclusions with nothing but vague anecdotal evidence, and nobody ever explained to him that correlation=/=causation. Just saying, he kinda sucks.

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Re: Ming dynasty mercentile/naval trade post Zheng He

Postby Blayne » 2012-11-09 04:19pm

95% of my argument comes from Rise and Fall anyways, but I felt Diamond makes a good point about trends and prerequisites and sets the stage for my overall observations. China had just about every advantage Europe had geographically and biodivirsity; and in many ways had a superior potential; there's MANY more markets initially around the pacific rim, especially once Europeans arrived to vacuum goods back to Europe.

So why didn't they? Why couldn't they? To me, China had huge economic potential (which is readily apparent today) and I think the evidence is overwhelming that they simply squandered it through bad decision making, and worse their society was structured in such a way that they couldn't consistently maintain the rewards of good decisions.

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Re: Ming dynasty mercentile/naval trade post Zheng He

Postby Zinegata » 2012-11-09 10:20pm

PainRack wrote:Oh. And btw, you're ignoring examples where the Chinese DID attempt to fight and conquer Manila, in response to their citizens oppression (of course, the Spanish protray this as Chinese agitation). They lost. The Ming was never in a state like the Royal Navy. They simply lacked the ability to project power that far overseas, and lacked the inclination further after expensive occupation in Vietnam. Its not as simplistic as Imperialism of course, since Chinese imperialism was that of client states as opposed to outright colonies. Witness Korea.


Serious question though: What attempts were this?

In our history books, the only major attempt by the Chinese to take Manila from the Spanish was done by a guy named Limahong. While this has been used by the Spanish as an excuse to oppress the Chinese community for 300 years, Limahong was always portrayed as a renegade "pirate" and not an official Ming military attack.

Was Limahong actually working for the Ming and his actions were just disavowed by everyone as an act of piracy? Or were there other attempts that are just not well covered by our history books? Because my impression is that the Spanish authorities in the Philippines actually went to some lengths to appease the Ming.
Last edited by Zinegata on 2012-11-09 10:27pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Ming dynasty mercentile/naval trade post Zheng He

Postby Zinegata » 2012-11-09 10:25pm

Blayne wrote:So why didn't they? Why couldn't they? To me, China had huge economic potential (which is readily apparent today) and I think the evidence is overwhelming that they simply squandered it through bad decision making, and worse their society was structured in such a way that they couldn't consistently maintain the rewards of good decisions.


States do not always act rationally. One only has to look at the Spanish management of the Philippines to see how geographical advantage does not translate to power.

Seriously, rather than send Mexican silver to the Philippines to dominate the SE Asian trade, the Spanish decided on this method:

1) Send as much silver as possible to Spain.

2) Use the silver as collateral to Dutch bankers, who would lend money to the Spanish crown so that it can continue operating.

3) The Dutch would then ship the same silver right back to the East Indies for trading and make themselves even richer, at the expense of the Spanish.

To be fair though, the reason why this persisted was because the Spanish were too busy fighting many, many wars in Europe to realize how their silver credit line was getting taken from them. I suspect the Ming were similarly focused on other matters, hence they made bad decisions like enforcing a ban, only to repeal it immediatly once they realized what a stupid idea it was.

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Re: Ming dynasty mercentile/naval trade post Zheng He

Postby PainRack » 2012-11-11 01:09am

Zinegata wrote:
PainRack wrote:Oh. And btw, you're ignoring examples where the Chinese DID attempt to fight and conquer Manila, in response to their citizens oppression (of course, the Spanish protray this as Chinese agitation). They lost. The Ming was never in a state like the Royal Navy. They simply lacked the ability to project power that far overseas, and lacked the inclination further after expensive occupation in Vietnam. Its not as simplistic as Imperialism of course, since Chinese imperialism was that of client states as opposed to outright colonies. Witness Korea.


Serious question though: What attempts were this?

In our history books, the only major attempt by the Chinese to take Manila from the Spanish was done by a guy named Limahong. While this has been used by the Spanish as an excuse to oppress the Chinese community for 300 years, Limahong was always portrayed as a renegade "pirate" and not an official Ming military attack.

Was Limahong actually working for the Ming and his actions were just disavowed by everyone as an act of piracy? Or were there other attempts that are just not well covered by our history books? Because my impression is that the Spanish authorities in the Philippines actually went to some lengths to appease the Ming.

Hmm.... You're right. For some reason, I remembered Li Ma Hong as being a Chinese warlord who was being persecuted by the Ming Emperor/turned renegade instead.....


To Blayne, I'm not sure whether you realised that you shifted your goalposts in many of the rebuttals.

Let me just reiterate. You complained that printing was restricted to "scholarly" works as opposed to practical knowledge and not used for social criticism.

So, multiple novels= scholarly works? Erotic novels=scholarly works? Farmer's alamanac=not practical knowledge? Criticism of the new dynasty social customs on gratitious display of wealth, sensuality(aka Jin Pin Mei) is not social criticism?

Or are you suggesting that they weren't printed instead?
Let him land on any Lyran world to taste firsthand the wrath of peace loving people thwarted by the myopic greed of a few miserly old farts- Katrina Steiner

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Re: Ming dynasty mercentile/naval trade post Zheng He

Postby Zinegata » 2012-11-11 02:53am

PainRack wrote:Hmm.... You're right. For some reason, I remembered Li Ma Hong as being a Chinese warlord who was being persecuted by the Ming Emperor/turned renegade instead.....


Locally Limahong had always been depicted as a notorious pirate, who was not involved with the Ming at all. I was wondering if a different version of the tale existed elsewhere given how most historical sources from that era were rewritten by the Spanish for propaganda purposes, but it seems the Spanish were accurate about this one then.

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Re: Ming dynasty mercentile/naval trade post Zheng He

Postby Blayne » 2012-11-11 10:35am

To Blayne, I'm not sure whether you realised that you shifted your goalposts in many of the rebuttals.


I do not believe this to be the case, I am consistent in my point in that Ming did not make consistent effective use of its resources, and declined because of it; using academic sources I have provided. In your rebuttals you usually respond with an example, to which I disputing the example does not mean I changed the goal posts because I still stick to my original argument.

You have not, to my understanding reasonably put forward an argument why the Ming declined; while bizarrely seeming to argue that the Ming couldn't have competing with Europe on equal terms and it was the 'smart money' to not even try? While also arguing that they had this super awesome trading network that made lots of money and was good for the economy; okay, but which is it? If it was awesome why didn't they use it for national interest and defend it like such?

Here's another quote:

“The fact was that in Europe there were always some princes and local lords willing to tolerate merchants and their ways even when others plundered and expelled them; and as the records show, oppressed Jewish traders, ruined Flemish textile workers, persecuted Huguenots, moved on and took their expertise with them. A Rhineland baron who overtaxed commercial travelers would find that the trade routes had gone elsewhere, and with it its revenues. A Monarch who repudiated his debts would have immense difficulties raising a loan for the next war threatened and funds were quickly needed to equip his armies and fleets. Bankers and arms dealers and artisans were essential, not peripheral, members of society. Gradually, unevenly, most of the regimes of Europe entered into a symbiotic relationship with the market economy, providing for it domestic order and a nonarbitrary legal system (even for foreigners), and receiving in taxes a share of the growing profits from trade. Long before Adam Smith had coined the exact words, the rulers of certain societies of western Europe were tacitly recognizing that “little else is required to carry a state to the highest degrees of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and tolerable administration of justice...” From time to time the less percipient leaders—like the Spanish administrators of Castile, or the occasional Bourbon king of France—would virtually kill the golden goose that laid the golden eggs; but the consequent decline in wealth, and thus in military power, was soon obvious to all but the most purblind.”


The implication being that because Europe had this, and thus Ming did not have this, is why Ming never grew out of being a feudal society and declined relative to Europe. Pages 35ish to 44 further reinforce this argument. It doesn't let me select words so I still have to manually type them, so there's a limit here :p

Let me just reiterate. You complained that printing was restricted to "scholarly" works as opposed to practical knowledge and not used for social criticism.


You are aware I quoted academic literature on this respect right? The way you structure your responses to me comes across as a little weird; and that it is valid to dispute your definition as to what constitutes 'social criticism', to which erotic novels (entertainment) I do not believe reasonably qualifies, its a semantic point at best.

So, multiple novels= scholarly works? Erotic novels=scholarly works? Farmer's alamanac=not practical knowledge? Criticism of the new dynasty social customs on gratitious display of wealth, sensuality(aka Jin Pin Mei) is not social criticism?


Is the farmers almanac a single exception, or part of a long consistent use of the printing press for practical dissemination? Why didn't it get more widely used like in Europe? Was it printed originally during the Early Ming or late Ming? Without context it isn't very good evidence.

As for the latter, its funny coming from the Marxist perspective to suggest that books that merely criticize the wealthy for acting the part as constituting 'social criticism'; especially in context of Imperial China's "Mandate of Heaven" system of Imperial legitimacy. Look at the context of these books, Good Emperor dies or becomes tricked by an Evil Un-virtuous Person who raised taxes or plunders the land with his bandits; Our Hero rises up and forms a peasant rebellion and wins, he either overthrows an evil Emperor and becomes Emperor himself or manages to restore the Good Emperor to full power and is rewarded with land and titles, and so on; becoming a part of the existing social order without having substantially reformed it!.

These types of stories do not criticize the existing social order, they reinforce it; serving as a a legitimizing force within the overall part of the feudal order's system of checks and balances that underline it as part of the culture-systemic superstructure. None of these books were likely to spark an 1848, just the replacement of one feudal despot with a slightly less abusive feudal despot for one reign before his kids or grand kids take over and become despots again.

Ask yourself, do these books criticize the accumulation of capital in the hands of the feudal aristocracy or do they just criticize the aristocracy for violating the informal social contract laid down by Master Confucius and needs to be slapped in the face by a peasant uprising? I.e. for 'misbehaving'?

There is of course exceptions, but they certainly weren't written during the Ming; but whatever survived during the Spring and Autumn during the time of the One Hundred Schools of Thought, most likely. Mohism (Master Mo or Moh I think, I forget which one) in particular strikes me as a proto-Marx*, but that was like, over a thousand years ago; significantly prior to Ming.

(*)The Chinese Machiavelli: 3000 Years of Chinese Statecraft. By Dennis Bloodworth, Ching Ping Bloodworth.

States do not always act rationally. One only has to look at the Spanish management of the Philippines to see how geographical advantage does not translate to power.

Seriously, rather than send Mexican silver to the Philippines to dominate the SE Asian trade, the Spanish decided on this method:

1) Send as much silver as possible to Spain.

2) Use the silver as collateral to Dutch bankers, who would lend money to the Spanish crown so that it can continue operating.

3) The Dutch would then ship the same silver right back to the East Indies for trading and make themselves even richer, at the expense of the Spanish.

To be fair though, the reason why this persisted was because the Spanish were too busy fighting many, many wars in Europe to realize how their silver credit line was getting taken from them. I suspect the Ming were similarly focused on other matters, hence they made bad decisions like enforcing a ban, only to repeal it immediatly once they realized what a stupid idea it was.


States being rational actors is the working definition of states within both anarchic and inanarchic systems. States can rationally make bad decisions, that's essentially the whole point of the discussion is that the Ming for valid reasons decided to make a bad decision; but, when circumstances were such that they should have reversed it, the tools of social change did not sufficiently exist (i.e; the transition from a feudal society to a bourgosie one) to allow the Ming to rationally act within the new post-Columbus/post-Westphalia world order; the Ming were still rational within context they were familiar with, but the new order of dominating 'Edge Nations' was too alien or un-understandable to their 'Central Nation' world view ('Center Nation' in this context is a distinct concept from 'the Middle Kingdom' though they significantly overlap; Card I feel was on to something there).

The Spanish, due to their geographical and historical constraints were also acting rationally within the context of "Hey, lets win these wars for dominance!" Losing sight of the fact that in terms of growth of their own financial industry, of the growth of domestic manufacturies or textiles they were losing pace with France, the German states, France, Britain, Holland and so on; When times came to realize this, it is too late to stop it without coordinated herculean effort by all facets of state governance.

From Kennedy:
Nevertheless, the fact remains that had the Habsburgs achieved all of their limited regional aims--even their defencive--the mastery of Europe would virtually have been theirs.


The pages detailing the 'Hapsburg bid for mastery' from 1519 to 1659, this century and a half of warfare provides much of the context as to why the Spanish found themselves making poor long term decisions that made sense at the time (unless your referring to a different period of course).

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Re: Ming dynasty mercentile/naval trade post Zheng He

Postby Zinegata » 2012-11-11 11:09am

"Rational" decisions made with poor understanding of the actual situation are useless however, to the point that they are basically irrational decisions.

The Hapsburgs for instance fought so many wars largely because of religious grounds, when they could have simply said "screw the Vatican, we will allow the Protestants in our territories as long as they remain loyal to the Hapsburg crown".

Sure, for the Catholic Hapsburgs it "made sense" to try and keep everyone in their realm Catholic, but other empires (i.e. the Romans) have shown that it is perfectly possible to maintain political power while granting religious freedom or tolerance.

They didn't need to win any "wars for dominance", because they already dominated much of Europe, with their territories including Germany, Holland, much of Italy, and Portugal plus its colonies. The collapse of the Hapsburgs as a superpower stems almost entirely from its failure to resolve the Reformation in a peaceful manner. In the end, a good chunk of the areas that turned Protestant remained Protestant and also gained political independence, which is the complete reverse of your thesis - Spain was not fighting to win dominance of Europe. It was unnecessarily ripping itself apart due to religious conflict.

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Re: Ming dynasty mercentile/naval trade post Zheng He

Postby Blayne » 2012-11-11 01:48pm

"Rational" decisions made with poor understanding of the actual situation are useless however, to the point that they are basically irrational decisions.


This isn't true though, because if I decide to open the door and I get shot but I did not know I would get shot (because I did not hear the violence outside as I was listening to loud music) and I needed to leave the house to buy groceries. Opening the door was the wrong decision, but it wasn't irrational. "Why did that poor smuck open the door?" Can only be answered by assuming rationality in the actors reasoning; regardless if the ultimate decision/result was incorrect or suboptimal when ALL factors are considered. But not all nation-states can be said to know all factors given their factionalization, some are better than others are knowing whats up and making good bets; since these things are always relative.

The Hapsburgs for instance fought so many wars largely because of religious grounds, when they could have simply said "screw the Vatican, we will allow the Protestants in our territories as long as they remain loyal to the Hapsburg crown".


To the Hapsburgs its not just about oppressing the new religious sect because 'lol, religious bigotry' but because the Protestant Reformation marked a legitimate and serious threat to their political power base (we know this to eventually be true because Prussia/Germany), especially in Germany where Protestant Electors could potentially disrupt their chances to get themselves elected as the Emperor; also it may be probable that nations suddenly becoming protestant may become enemies on otherwise safe frontiers.

Religious tolerance sounds like the smart idea for us, but that's hindsight and three centuries of progressive enlightenment thought influencing us; thinking that way is quite unthinkable for the Hapsburgs and Bourbons at the time, for a variety of political reasons, some better explained in the book than others, so I'm not entirely convinced of the usefulness of drawing comparisons to ancient Rome.

They didn't need to win any "wars for dominance", because they already dominated much of Europe, with their territories including Germany, Holland, much of Italy, and Portugal plus its colonies. The collapse of the Hapsburgs as a superpower stems almost entirely from its failure to resolve the Reformation in a peaceful manner.


Much of the Hapsburgs aims were defencive in nature, as many of their fortuitous marriages caused counter balancing movement from other European powers; remember that Europe was an anarchic system with an active balance of power mechanism to it, wars happen and its impossible from their point of view to predict the outcome of any endeavor. We know they 'failed' but we also know they had rational reasons to expect significant gains if they 'succeeded'.

Simple stating that yes, the Hapsburg's did not 'meet their aims' does not imply that those aims were irrational in the first place.

Otherwise 'gambling' can be seen as inherently irrational, when gambling is probably one of the most rational of disciplines.

In the end, a good chunk of the areas that turned Protestant remained Protestant and also gained political independence, which is the complete reverse of your thesis - Spain was not fighting to win dominance of Europe. It was unnecessarily ripping itself apart due to religious conflict.


I didn't really have a thesis, just an observation based on the facts that I have read. However if I had one, I do not believe the above here is at all 'my thesis' can you please state for me what you believe it to be? My premise however is that as per political realism/neorealism is that states are rational actors; though rationality doesn't always imply that they make good decisions, only that they be understandable through empirical means (See near the bottom why rationality to me matters here).

In our context, I observed that they did not make good use of their vast potential (as per my original post), (such as the maritime networks PainRack posted about) and because they did not Europe surpassed them. We know they made certain decisions that were for their perspective rational decisions. We also know when it turned out those decisions were the wrong bets to make, they did not reverse* their decision even though the Ming were a rational actor; We also know had they made the right calls they would've likely not declined because we have plenty of examples of nations who made the right calls and did not decline (we assume that the right calls in this instance would've allowed China to develop their bourgeoisie early and made their social and economic transformations self sustaining as per Marx, Smith, & Kennedy).

The way I see it is that imperial relative decline had a certain momentum to it for the Ming due to the sheer conservatism of the Imperial court and the Confucian bureaucracy (which was not an engine of enlightened progress, but its own bastion of archconservatism); and they simply just lacked the tools (the bourgeoisie) to adapt to these new sets of circumstances; stemming ultimately from their authoritarian feudal order made the conditions for the transition impossible on its own. Which subsequently became impossible for them to later realize their own failings until decisively militarily defeated by Britain in 1839 which finally opened the doors for the Bourgeoisie to slowly form enabling the later Xinhua Revolution in 1911 (As the 'century of humiliation' saw some slow movement towards reform, and most importantly trade and contact (flow of information) with the West).

[As for why not just conclude "Well what if Ming is not a rational actor as the simplest solution? Well, lets assume the contrapositive, "Ming does not make rational decisions therefore it is not a rational actor." which is a contradiction because we know it does make rational decisions. Which brings us back to why rationality matters even if the decisions made aren't correct ones... Obviously we're not doing rigorous logic here, just demonstrating that assuming irrational actors doesn't make sense.]

*Reverse meaning not just undoing some random edict, but taking it upon themselves to go "Shit's on!" and endeavoring themselves to compete with the newly arrived westerners and take ownership of the trade routes, aggressively so backed up by military force.

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Re: Ming dynasty mercentile/naval trade post Zheng He

Postby Zinegata » 2012-11-11 09:40pm

The Reformation was primarily a threat against the Vatican and the Catholic Church, not the Hapsburg power base. Again, the whole conflict ended with the Hapsburgs basically granting religious toleration for the Protestants anyway (which could have been achieved peacefully), but instead it was achieved only after decades of bloodshed that drained the Hapsburgs of much of their wealth and power.

And like Pain Rack I am really not getting your point about the Ming.


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