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Early modern Chinas connections with the rest of the world grew from relationships with only the surrounding Asian countries to trade-based ones with rising western powers. This growth in connection coincided with the advancement of western civilizations to the empires they became in the 19th & 20th century. Aspects of early modern China which demonstrate Chinas connectivity to the rest of the world over time are socially, culturally, militarily and trade based.
When the Ming dynasty came about in 1368, it was the first native Chinese dynasty in 250 years. Due to this, the leaders of the Ming reign looked to other native dynasties before the Mongolian regime to emulate. For example, the Ming attempted to imitate the Tang empire as seen in the adoption of ideologies which were based on Tang precedent. This includes the Tang focus on artistic accomplishments and expansion within Asia. This mimicking is also seen in the replication of Tang hairstyles and clothing with a focus on native styles as opposed to foreign, extricating Mongolian flavour from general Ming citizens. This shows the focused removal of foreign influence on Chinese citizens. However, the Mongolian way of governance was adopted revamping the 250-year-old Tang ruling style with the inclusion of the Mongolian Neo-Confucian based civil service exams in 1384 and the administrative structure of the Mongolians. The addition of this being due to the superiority of the then modern system, owing to the developmental time the Tang system lacked. The presence of Mongolian ideas within the system shows that society being built upon this has a subtle aspect to its inclusion due to the focus on the removal of Mongol materialistic influence within China. Therefore, in the public eye, there is a clear focus on traditionalism despite there being a large amount of Mongolian impact on the running of the country. This subtlety sends a message of unacceptance of foreign people to the citizens. F.W. Mote wrote:
“China in the last century and a half of the Ming undoubtedly had the highest levels of literacy in the world, in a population generally devoted to getting ahead, to achieving a better life.”
This shows the importance of the Ming adopting the Mongolian exam service as it led to the Ming having a significant focus on literacy and knowledge. This led to a thriving dynasty with a population that was mostly literate. The emphasis on literacy only aided by having these exams, due to how significantly they can change one’s position in society. This led to a culture fixated on obtaining as much education as possible.
During the Qing Dynasty in the 17th century, the first European missionaries known as the Jesuits approached China. The Chinese treated these missionaries with suspicion, due to little interaction with foreigners in the past. The Chinese had the mentality that they were far superior to the Europeans due to Chinas literacy as a civilisation because of the immense focus on education. Both Chinese and European artists worked on the Emperor K’ang – Hsi palace during his reign (1661 – 1722). The inclusion of European art is essential as it shows a high level of trust in having this art within the palace. The art given follows the tradition of a tribute trade where foreigners give to the Emperor as a show of respect. Subsequently, the Hall of Satisfaction is also said to be filled with art from Europeans painted for the Emperor. The relationship with the Europeans went from one of distrust to one of acceptance of what. A trade of trust for work or items. The inclusion of the art was due to it being one of the few unique things that could be offered that China was not already in Chinas possession. Matteo Ricci a Jesuit priest and other missionaries intensified the already prominent expansion of literacy throughout China through the form of the Bible. The spread of the Bible and the adoption of it in Chinese culture leveled China with western cultures due to both understanding the Bible and the promoted belief and value systems. Despite not all of China adopting Christianity, it allowed an understanding of the European values which was crucial in building a relationship. This push of the missionaries is an early form of Euro-centrism. The Europeans believed their value system was better than the Chinese. Also, the importance of the use of the Bible around the world. This expansionist view carried out by missionaries is both based on and sanctioned by Christianity. Religion was used as a bridge for understanding between the value systems making interaction far easier. Christianity and its controlled value system was admired by the Chinese and led to less suspicion of the westerners. China also, with the emphasis on trade became a commercialised culture leading to populated cities often used as trade posts. This deflected China from the agrarian mindset, altered over time through the influence of outside interaction.
Early modern China began as an agricultural economy, focusing on the immediately surrounding land rather than relying on imports from other countries. In China’s case, this was due to the firm anti-foreign policy which was prevalent in the Ming dynasty. This was due to China once being invaded and ruled by the Mongolians. However, later in the Ming rule, the distrust of foreigners became less, and China began to have silver outsourced in exchange for goods that China could export in bulk such as silk or spices. Initially trade with other countries happened through tribute trade. This happened with Japan who bought in a lot of silver for other goods. This silver immediately went into the Chinese economy as silver was a coveted resource which showed wealth. China began to become the world’s storehouse for silver. Due to the massive amounts of silver within the economy, the currency started to lose its value in comparison to copper. Despite the drop, silver was still a popular currency and by 1600 many farmers and merchants paid their taxes in silver. Because of the ‘exotic’ items that China could offer the rest of the New World, China partook in a lot of trade previously not approached which led to China becoming a significant participant in the worlds trading system.
“Through the exchange of New Worlds precious metals for Chinese products, in volumes that far exceeded China’s previous foreign trade, Ming China was becoming part of an economically interactive if not yet economically unified world”
China had a lot of trading due to the high demand of the products provided. The importance of China to the New Worlds economy became clearer as western societies became more powerful and wealthy. This is because as these Empires blossomed more interaction with China occurred. Not only trades for silk or porcelain but also the interest from China for the Europeans to enter its land and share knowledge. This bought Christianity, which had a substantial effect on the culture toward Europeans and assisted in increasing the trust toward them. This led to trading posts within China and the Silk Road being established. Because of the importance of trade in China, the state and society went from an agrarian mindset to mostly a commercialised market system, which profited significantly from trade. This occurred despite Leader Zhu creating a monetary tax system encouraging an agricultural economy, which at the time China no longer was and was too far from being.
During the Ming dynasty in the 15th century, trade was limited to stop the outflow of firearms. This was due to the development of these firearms progressing further in China, and there was a fear of giving these weapons to anyone who was not Chinese. This was due to the distrust of outsiders. This suspicion is seen in the building of the Great Wall of China (GWOC). This was built with stout defenses and fortifications to keep Mongolians out of China and as a symbol for China’s pursuit of their foreign policy; the foreign policy is one of no trade. Throughout the 16th and 17th century, China was invaded by the Portuguese and the Manchus. The Portuguese took Macao (1517), and the Manchus invaded China in 1644, establishing the Qing dynasty. This new dynasty could be due to the Ming’s becoming more lenient on trade and foreign relations later in the reign. This leniency is seen as by the end of the 16th Century; Zhang Juzheng reached peace with the Mongolians. This caused a “softening of Ming suspicion of foreign trade.” Meaning fewer military checks and enforcement toward foreigners. This could have made an invasion by the Manchus easier due to the acceptance by Chinese people of foreigners. When the Manchus invaded the Chinese, the Chinese had the world bought directly to them that they had spent so long avoiding. This was due to the Manchus being a culture which had mixed with other foreign groups. This bought a new variation of beliefs to China, which had not been seen or followed due to the no international relations policy.
In conclusion, early modern China’s relationship with the rest of the world was one that grew organically as other powers grew into expansionist empires. Beginning with connections throughout Asia, China only expanded its relationships west when these empires made themselves present within China. Trade was the most critical factor in the relationship between China and its connections. This trade led to the cultural impact affecting people’s morals and ideas through the introduction of Christianity. Also, societal implications when a western commercialised market way of living took over Agrarian China. China despite once being closed off from the rest of the world, only involved in business within Asia. Only expanding its connections once befitting trade opportunities presented themselves.
- Elvin, Mark, The Pattern of the Chinese Past, Stanford, 1973, pp.91-110
- Hansen, Valerie, The Open Empire: A History of China to 1600, New York and London, 2000, pp.369-405
- Hsü, Immanuel C.Y., The Rise of Modern China, 6th edn, Oxford, 2000, pp.19-131
- Mote, F.W., Imperial China 900-1800, Cambridge MA, 1999, espec. pp. 743–75
- Spence, Jonathan D., The Search for Modern China, 2nd edn, New York and London, 1999, espec. pp.7-26
- Wong, Roy Bin, China Transformed: Historical Change and the Limits of European Experience, Ithaca, 1997 Part 1
 Valerie Hansen, The Open Empire: A History of China to 1600, New York and London, 2000, p.372.
 Valerie Hansen, The Open Empire: A History of China to 1600, New York and London, 2000, p.373.
 F.W. Mote, Imperial China 900-1800, Cambridge MA, 1999, p.774.
Valerie Hansen, The Open Empire: A History of China to 1600, New York and London, 2000, p.371.
 Immanuel C.Y. Hsü, The Rise of Modern China, 6th edn, Oxford, 2000, p.31.
 Valerie Hansen, The Open Empire: A History of China to 1600, New York and London, 2000, p.374.
 Jonathan D. Spence, The Search for Modern China, 2nd ed, New York and London, 1999, p.8.
 Roy Bin Wong, China Transformed: Historical Change and the Limits of European Experience, Ithaca, 1997, Part 1, p.65.
 Valerie Hansen, The Open Empire: A History of China to 1600, New York and London, 2000, p.372.
 Valerie Hansen, The Open Empire: A History of China to 1600, New York and London, 2000, p.389.
 F.W. Mote, Imperial China 900-1800, Cambridge MA, 1999, p.766.
 Immanuel C.Y. Hsü, The Rise of Modern China, 6th edn, Oxford, 2000, p.19.
 F.W. Mote, Imperial China 900-1800, Cambridge MA, 1999, p.767.
 F.W. Mote, Imperial China 900-1800, Cambridge MA, 1999, p.770.
 Roy Bin Wong, China Transformed: Historical Change and the Limits of European Experience, Ithaca, 1997, Part 1, p.67.
 Valerie Hansen, The Open Empire: A History of China to 1600, New York and London, 2000, p.371.
 Mark Elvin, The Pattern of the Chinese Past, Stanford, 1973, p.91.
 Valerie Hansen, The Open Empire: A History of China to 1600, New York and London, 2000, p.369.
 Valerie Hansen, The Open Empire: A History of China to 1600, New York and London, 2000, p.387.
 Immanuel C.Y. Hsü, The Rise of Modern China, 6th edn, Oxford, 2000, p.28.
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