Ming Dynasty Trade

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Andrew Paul Stokes

June 5, 2011

Ming Dynasty Economy
It’s growth and it’s decline.

By Andrew Paul Stokes
Beijing Union University

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Andrew Paul Stokes

June 5, 2011

Ming Dynasty Economy
The Ming Dynasty
The economy of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) of China was the largest in the world at the time. It is regarded as one of China's three golden ages (the other two being the Han and Tang dynasties), the Ming is also the dynasty where the first sprouts of Chinese capitalism can be seen. The economic growth so evident under the Ming Dynasty continued under the Qing Dynasty, up until the time of the Opium War in the 1840s. During this time, China’s domestic economy was a dynamic, commercialising economy, and in some ways, even an industrialising economy. The Ming Dynasty, “one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history” 1, was the last native imperial dynasty in Chinese history, sandwiched between the two dynasties of foreign origin, Yuan and Qing. The Ming stand as the last attempt to hold Chinese government in native hands and the last dynasty run by ethnic Hans. As China was humiliated and oppressed by the rule of the Mongols, the Ming Dynasty rose up out of a peasant rebellion led by Zhu Yuanzhang to preside over the greatest economic and social revolution in China before the modern period. Trade was allowed between China and nations in the west, cash crops were more frequently grown, specialised industries were founded, and the economic growth caused by the privatisation of state industries resulted in a prosperous period that exceeded that of the earlier Song Dynasty. At the end of the Ming Dynasty, shortly before the Manchus overthrew the Ming and established the Qing Dynasty, China’s economy was a period of expansion. New markets were being founded, and merchants were extending their businesses across provincial lines and even into the South China Sea.

Establishment of the Ming under the Hongwu Emperor
It had become very apparent that the Yuan Dynasty’s ability to govern, to maintain order in society, to administer principal and local government, and to collect taxes – was eroding well before the middle of the fourteenth century.2 Agriculture and the economy were in a shambles and rebellion broke out among the hundreds of Reischauer, Edwin Oldfather; Fairbank, John King; Craig, Albert M. (1960) A History of East Asian Civilisation, Vol 1. East Asia: The Great Tradition, George Allen & Unwin Ltd. 2 Mote, Frederick W. (1988) The Rise of the Ming Dynasty 1330 – 1367 in Twitchett, Denis; Fairbank, John K. (eds.) The Cambridge History of China, Vol 7, The Ming Dynasty, 1368 – 1644, Part 1. Cambridge University Press, p.11 1

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Andrew Paul Stokes

thousands of peasants called upon to work on repairing the dykes of the Yellow River. In the 1350s, several rebel leaders, almost all of whom came from the merchant or lower classes, seized cities and set themselves up as kings or even, with just a small amount of territory, proclaimed themselves to be Emperor. The Yuan Emperor no longer seemed to be in control of the situation, and indeed the country, it had been carved up into pieces by rebel warlords. The Ming Dynasty was an age of breakdown in which throughout most of the country the conduct of daily life depended on and ended up on direct recourse to violence. It provides a classic example of the gradual militarisation of Chinese society and, because of that, the struggle among potent rivals to succeed the Mongol (Yuan) regime by imposing, through military force, a successor regime that could claim the Mandate of Heaven. 3 Zhu Yuanzhang, who would later become the founder of the Ming Dynasty, was a peasant. He was the only person from such poor and humble origins ever to found a ruling Chinese dynasty. It is said that a scholar told him he would succeed if he followed three simple rules: a.) build strong city walls; b.) gather as much grain in...
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