- Explain the significant role foreign trade played under Ming dynasty
- In the early Ming, after the devastation of the war that expelled the Mongols, the Hongwu Emperor imposed severe restrictions on trade, called the haijin.
- The trade ban was completely counterproductive; by the 16th century, piracy and smuggling were widespread.
- After Hongwu Emperor’s death, most of his policies were reversed by his successors.
- After the Chinese banned direct trade with Japan, the Portuguese filled this commercial vacuum as intermediaries between China and Japan.
- Although the bulk of imports to China were silver, the Chinese also purchased New World crops from the Spanish Empire, many of which became staple crops.
- The thriving of trade and commerce was aided by the construction of canals, roads, and bridges by the Ming government.
An Italian Jesuit priest and one of the founding figures of the Jesuit China missions. His 1602 map of the world in Chinese characters introduced the findings of European exploration to East Asia.
A series of related isolationist Chinese policies restricting private maritime trade and coastal settlement during most of the Ming dynasty.
In the early Ming, after the devastation of the war that expelled the Mongols, the Hongwu Emperor imposed severe restrictions on trade (the “haijin” or “sea ban”). Believing that agriculture was the basis of the economy, Hongwu favored that industry over all else, including the merchant industry. Partly imposed to deal with Japanese piracy amid the mopping up of Yuan partisans, the sea ban was completely counterproductive; by the 16th century, piracy and smuggling were endemic and mostly consisted of Chinese who had been dispossessed by the policies. China’s foreign trade was limited to irregular and expensive tribute missions, and resistance to them among the Chinese bureaucracy led to the scrapping of Zheng He’s fleets. Piracy dropped to negligible levels only upon the ending of the policy in 1567.
After Hongwu Emperor’s death, most of his policies were reversed by his successors. By the late Ming, the state was losing power to the very merchants Hongwu had wanted to restrict.
After the Chinese banned direct trade with Japan, the Portuguese filled this commercial vacuum as intermediaries between China and Japan. The Portuguese bought Chinese silk and sold it to the Japanese in return for Japanese-mined silver; since silver was more highly valued in China, the Portuguese could then use Japanese silver to buy even larger stocks of Chinese silk. However, by 1573—after the Spanish established a trading base in Manila—the Portuguese intermediary trade was trumped by the prime source of incoming silver to China from the Spanish Americas. Although it is unknown just how much silver flowed from the Philippines to China, it is known that the main port for the Mexican silver trade—Acapulco—shipped between 150,000 and 345,000 kg (4 to 9 million taels) of silver annually from 1597 to 1602.
Although the bulk of imports to China were silver, the Chinese also purchased New World crops from the Spanish Empire. This included sweet potatoes, maize, and peanuts, foods that could be cultivated in lands where traditional Chinese staple crops—wheat, millet, and rice—couldn’t grow, hence facilitating a rise in the population of China. In the Song dynasty (960–1279), rice had become the major staple crop of the poor; after sweet potatoes were introduced to China around 1560, they gradually became the traditional food of the lower classes. The Ming also imported many European firearms in order to ensure the modernness of their weapons.
The beginning of relations between the Spanish and Chinese were much warmer than when the Portuguese were first given a reception in China. In the Philippines, the Spanish defeated the fleet of the infamous Chinese pirate Limahong in 1575, an act greatly appreciated by the Ming admiral who had been sent to capture Limahong. In fact, the Chinese admiral invited the Spanish to board his vessel and travel back to China, beginning a trip that included two Spanish soldiers and two Christian friars eager to spread the faith. However, the friars returned to the Philippines after it became apparent that their preaching was unwelcome; Matteo Ricci would fare better in his trip of 1582. The Augustinian monk Juan Gonzáles de Mendoza wrote an influential work on China in 1585, remarking that the Ming dynasty was the best-governed kingdom he was aware of in the known world.
The thriving of trade and commerce was aided by the construction of canals, roads, and bridges by the Ming government. The Ming saw the rise of several merchant clans such as the Huai and Jin, who disposed of large amounts of wealth. The gentry and merchant classes started to fuse, and the merchants gained power at the expense of the state. Some merchants were reputed to have a treasure of 30 million taels.