Economy of the Ming Dynasty

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Economy of the Ming Dynasty
The economy of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) of China was the largest in the world during that period. It is regarded as one of China's three golden ages (the other two being the Han and Song periods). The period was marked by the increasing political influence of the merch ants, the gradual weakening of imperial rule, and technological advances. Monetary system

Despite issuing paper money in the early part of the dynasty, the Ming ended up using silver as a means of exchange in their economy; this is due to the massive inflow of silver into the Ming economy throughout the dynasty. The amount of silver used by the Ming economy was extraordinary,both coin and paper money were used throughout the Ming dynasty.



Another key feature of the Ming manufacturing industry was privatization. Unlike the Song, in which state-owned enterprises played a large role, the Ming reverted to the old laissez faire policies of the Han by privatizing the salt and tea industries. By the middle of the Ming Dynasty, powerful groups of wealthy merchants had replaced the state as the dominant movers behind Chinese industry.

Emergence of wage labor

The Ming government abolished the mandatory forced labor by peasants used in early dynasties and replaced it with wage labor. A new class of wage laborers sprung up where none had existed before. In Jingde alone, it was reported that there were no less than 300 pottery factories, all operated by wage laborers.


Early encouragement of agriculture under Hongwu

Historians consider the Hongwu emperor to be a cruel but able ruler. From the start of his rule, he took great care to distribute land to small farmers. It seems to have been his policy to favor the poor, whom he tried to help to support themselves and their families. In order to recover from rule of the Mongols and the wars that followed them, the Hongwu Emperor enacted pro-agricultural policies. The state invested extensively in agricultural canals, reduced taxes on agriculture to 1/30 of the output, and later to 1.5% of agricultural output. Ming farmers also introduced many innovations such as water-powered plows, and new agricultural methods such as crop rotation. This led to a massive agricultural surplus that became the basis of a market economy. The Hong Wu emperor paid special attention to the irrigation of farms all over the empire, and in 1394 a number of students from Kuo-tzu-chien were sent to all of the provinces to help develop irrigation systems. It is recorded that 40,987 ponds and dikes were dug.

Emergence of commercial plantations

The Ming saw the rise of commercial plantations who produced crops suitable to their regions. Tea, fruits, paint and other goods were produced on a massive scale by these agricultural plantations. Regional patterns of production established during this period continued into the Qing dynasty. The Columbian exchange brought crops such as corn with these foreign crops. During the Ming, specialized areas also popped up planting large numbers of cash crops that could be sold at markets. Large numbers of peasants abandoned the land to become artisans. The population of the Ming boomed; estimates for the population of the Ming range from 160 to 200 million.

Rural markets during the Ming

Ming agriculture was much changed from the earlier areas; firstly, gigantic areas, devoting and specializing in cash crops, sprung up to demand from the new market economy. Secondly, agricultural tools and carts, some water-powered, help to create a gigantic agricultural surplus which formed the basis of the rural economy. Besides rice, other crops were grown on a large scale.

Although images of autarkic farmers who had no connection to the rest of China may have some merit for the earlier Han and T'ang dynasties, this was certainly not the case for the Ming dynasty. During the Ming dynasty, the increase in population and...
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