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Unformatted text preview: Ana 1]». Wuhan amlilmfli 53. 3mg. eds. Fitnslié Asia in d History: Essays CHINA AND THE WORLD, 1500—1800 William T. Rowe In conceptualizing China's position in the world during the first phase of Western expansion. it seems no longer adequate to pose a model of Western “impact" and Chinese “response." Rather, we need to think of China‘s history in this era as but one part of an increasingly interconnected process of world history. one in which China, the West. and indeed much of the rest of the globe under- went changes marked by an increasing similarity one to another. as well as by a growmg systemic interdependence. As Joseph Fletcher pointed out. it was precisely in this three-century period that previously compartmentalized “histories" gradually began to constitute a unified “history."l Politically and culturally the major civilizations were still of course quite distinctive, and diplomati- cally their links remained minimal. Yet these obvious facts should not blind us to the equally remarkable extent to which demo— graphically, economically. and even socially. the early modern era witnessed common, recognizable sets of changes around the globe. Here let me begin by stressing the links and parallels in the case of China, and then return to the question of the Middle Kingdom's persistent distinctiveness. Though the mammoth size of China's domestic economy en- sured that overseas trade would never, under conditions of pre- industrial technology. constitute more than a small fraction of the empire‘s total volume of exchange. cross—cultural trade was hardly inelgnificant for China during this period. and in fact played a critical role in a variety of ways in shaping China‘s socioeconomic development. The beginnings of seaborne trade with the West occurred in a context of a flourishing trade within East Asia itself: Crucial imports of monetary metals from Japan. and of spices and (increasingly) rice from Southeast Asia were made possible by steady demand throughout the region for Chinese silks. ceramics. carpets. and other manufactured goods.2 Indeed, one of the most 466 -r. 611‘"er cw Car‘UlCalucK (irajififliM. Wm) CHINA AND THE WORLD. 1500—1800 467 important roles that the Portuguese and Dutch carved out for themselves in East Asia during the early period of maritime ex- pansion was as more efficient carriers for this ongoing intraregio— nal trade.3 It was these same Chinese manufactures. and above all silk. that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries became the foun— dation of the maritime trade with South Asia. western Europe. and Spanish America. eventually greatly surpassing in volume the continuing overland trade to Europe via central Asia.4 But they were not alone. The growing adoption of cotton cloth as a staple of costume by elites and commoners alike constituted a worldwide early modern revolution in taste and technology. Introduced to China from the south around 500 CE, cotton gradually assumed importance as an item of regional trade during the medieval pe— riod; by the fifteenth century China had become one of the great cotton-growing areas of the world. and its weaving industry per— haps the most highly developed. Over the next three hundred years Chinese cotton textiles [including the famous “Nankeens”] were increasingly exported to Europe and the New World. By the late eighteenth century, in fact. British merchants were exporting from Canton some 90,000 bolts of cloth per year for their home market, most produced from raw cotton which these same mer— chants were bringing into China from India.5 This is a sobering consideration for anyone who would argue for a simple model of China. as a peripheral area, exchanging raw materials for finished goods of the metropolitan region. Ultimately, of course, there was tea. The East India Company's first recorded shipment of Chinese tea to England—some 222 pounds—occurred in 1669: by the 17503 it was importing nearly 4 million pounds per year, and fifty years later approximately 28 million. From an unknown beverage, tea emerged as an item of consumption claiming an estimated 5 percent of the average Brit- ish subject's annual income. As explained by KN. Chaudhuri. this “astonishingly rapid assimilation of a new economic product" was intimately related to other major shifts in global commodity circulation: The complementarity of tea and sugar probably explains the relative decline of [Southeast Asian] pepper in {British} house- hold budgets. Pepper was no longer a prestigious high-cost com- modity; money spent on it competed with other attractive alternatives. The greater availability of sugar supplies from the West Indian plantations and the decline of its cost provided the 468 WILLIAM T. ROWE coenfiext in which the mass consumption of tea could become a re ty. For peeple in the lower income groups, tea as a beverage was appealing not only for its intrins' t also as a means of taking Sugar.5 1c aste and quality. but This was by no means a one-way rocess of a se - China exerting an impact on Europe “Ehile itself remalifnslhgficalzlclil from outs1de influence. as an overly credulous reading of Qin imperial pronouncements would suggest. Overseas linkages drasg tically reshaped the conditions of Chinese life in this era and did so in a manner bearing marked resemblances to their impact on Europe itself. The introduction and spread of hardy New World crops [the peanut. the sweet potato, maize] provided a hed e against famine in China, as it did in Europe, and contributed i] part to the distinctly modern pattern of accelerated population growth in both civilizations.7 (China's population may have risen from some 65 million in 1400. to 150 million in 1600 to around 300 million by 1800.} Chinese exports to Europe and‘the Ameri— cas were paid for in large part by enormous imports of silver from Potosi and Taxco, carried first by the Portuguese via Malacca and Macao [the Portuguese also brought into China greatly expanded Japanese silver outputs during these years). then by the Spanish Via Seville and Manila.3 The effects in China were analogous to those in Europe: an early modern “price revolution” and an accel— erating monetization of the economy. beginning in the Chinese case with the fiscal monetization of the late Ming “Single Whip” tax reforms. .In the eighteenth century. imports of New World bull1on were joined by those of currency, and the reliably stan— dardized “Mexican dollar” became a principal medium of whole— sale exchange within China’s own domestic economy. Beyond population growth and monetization. this period saw a number of other basic. transforrnative changes in China in part the result of greater integration into a global system and in art Slmply the result of a cumulative domestic process of increaging socral complexity. It was a period of great commercial intensifica— tion. in which very long-distance exchange of bulk staples such as grain and fibers first became the norm, with whole regions of the empire 1ncreasing1y specializing in certain cash crops. The mas— s1ve c1rculation of commodities was managed by overlapping dias- poras of compatriot merchant groups from Shaanxi. Huizhou. tNl‘ngbo, Guangzhou. and other localities, each of which main- ‘ained permanent colonies in the empire's major commercial cit- ies. This was accompanied by another set of changes which CHINA AND THE WORLD. 1500—1800 469 historians in the People's Republic like to call the “sprouts of capitalism”: a greater reliance on formal business contracts. inno— vations in the structure of the business firm. new forms of capital accumulation including bank loans and issues of stock, a move ment of commercial capital into production and an expansion of the scale of individual manufacturing enterprises. and a much greater reliance on contractually hired Wage labor. The trends of personal emancipation. proletarianization. heightened geographic and occupational mobility. and urbanization which characterized this early modern period led to important cultural changes—retim- ulated further by the growth of the publishing industry and an increasingly popular print culture in the empire‘s most developed regions. For its part. the elite-official culture was marked by a set of new concerns familiar from the early modern West: a turn away from cosmology and speculative philosophy to a more empirical intellectual orientation {epitomized by the kaozheng or “empirical research” movement]. a search for more pragmatic solutions to problems of social and economic management {often dubbed the jingshi or “statecraft” movement). and a subtle but broadly based reevaluation of the importance of the individual (seen. among other ways. in an increased challenging of traditionally accepted gender roles. and in a new-found moral legitimacy accorded to the profit motive]. This whole complex of changes in China was not smooth or unidirectional, but was interrupted by the severe shocks associ- ated with the dynastic transition from Ming to Qing in the 16405. Here too we see evidence of China‘s new integration into an early modern “world history.” for whatever degree of credence one places in a global “general crisis“ of the seventeenth century. China’s political turmoil of this era does bear apparent resem— blances to that in. say. Stuart England and Ottoman Turkey? Climatic chang&the “little ice age” and prolonged periods of sub- normal rainfall-—1ed to a devastating series of poor harvests in China, as they did elsewhere in the world. Drought and famine were followed by epidemics. notably of bubonic plague and small- pox. which likewise knew no national boundaries.10 Compounding this problem was a sudden (though short-term) contraction of the volume of international trade. Spanish shipments of American Silver to Manila. which had fueled China‘s burgeoning commercial economy, dropped in the 16303 to about one-third of what they had been in the preceding decade. while Japanese silver exports to China were halted altogether in 1635. The result was both eco— nomic depression and fiscal strangulation. The Ming government's 470 WILLIAM T. ROWE maladroit response to the latter, combined with its declining mili- tary effectiveness and general demoralization. prompted devasta- ting internal rebellions and foreign invasion. Between warfare. famine. and disease, China‘s population underwent a sudden and dramatic (though again short-term] decline. perhaps as much as 40 percent in the first half of the seventeenth century.11 What the seventeenth—century crisis did not lead to in China. in marked contrast to Europe. was a reconstitution of either the elite or the polity; China experienced neither a “crisis of the aristoc— racy” nor the rise of a system of mutually competitive nation— states.12 A centralized bureaucratic empire. resting on the social base of a broad landlord-literatus stratum, was quickly and effec- tively reconstituted under the Manchu court. At least through the end of the eighteenth century. however. the revival of the ancient imperial system in China can in no way be taken as evidence of the degradation of an indigenous political regime under the influ- ence of a domineering “capitalist world—system."13 On the con- trary. China under the early and mid—Qing experienced a period of unprecedented expansion. nearly doubling the amount of territory under its direct or indirect administration. This actual expansion was legitimated by an aggressively redefined political ideology of universal empire.14 Thus. both in rhetoric and in practice, China's attitude toward the outside world in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was anything but passive and defensive. What then of the Middle Kingdom's much—vaunted isolationism in the period prior to its enforced "opening” by the West? I do not here need to recount the well—known history of the “sea bans” (hayin). periodically imposed by successive imperial courts after the fourteenth century on Chinese traveling overseas or engaging in maritime commerce. It should already be clear that these did not constitute any insurmountable barrier to the conduct of sig— nificant foreign trade. I might add that the second half of the eighteenth century, an era in which the bans were being pro» claimed in progressively harsher form. was also one in which the volume of that trade was reaching unprecedented levels. As Mark Elvin has noted, the sea bans were never primarily intended for control or isolation of foreigners. but rather to prevent the rise of autonomous centers of political economic power along the coast and away from the court.15 As such. they reflected not China's wealmess but on the contrary the special difficulties associated With maintaining an empire of so great a scale. Nor were the sea bans more than essentially ad hoc measures. As John Wills has demonstrated, the Chinese court had come to react to any distur— CHINA AND THE WORLD. 1500-1800 471 bance in foreign relations first by cutting off contact. and then by attempting to bring such contact under bureaucratic control. The sea bans thus represented a conditioned pattern of pragmatic policy. rather than a basic aversion to foreign contact. Wills also usefully cautions against making too much of “the Chinese sense of superiority to all other peoples,” noting that “some kind of sense of cultural and political superiority is com- mon to high cultures. and it remains to be shown how such a common characteristic can be used to explain the distinctiveness of the Chinese system."16 What imperial authorities really sought to defend. he suggests. was a basic conception of ritual order and propriety. So long as this order was not challenged, “a variety of practical arrangements” could be worked out for foreign contact. such as those devised to accommodate the Portuguese and Dutch in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. and the English in the eighteenth. The early Qing rulers were especially adept at such improvisation, as their management of relations with Inner Asia and with the expanding Russian Empire demonstrated. Their lesser degree of creative innovation in dealing with the maritime nations was largely the product of “boredom and neglect.” stem- ming from the fact that those nations before the nineteenth cen- tury offered China neither a significant threat nor an attractive target of opportunity. a universal empire such as Qing having less need than competitive nation—states for diplomatic alliances.” Historical thinking is clearly not Well served by characteriza- tions of Qing China as an empire immobile {the title and theme of a well-received recent study of the famous 1793 Macartney mis— sion).'8 Such romantic. orientalist images betray far more the ethnocentrisrn of their authors than that of their subjects. Nor can we be comfortable with generalizations about a growing “xe— nophobia” and cultural isolation, or an alleged civilization decline. of the Ming and Qing empires. As we have seen. China's integra- tion into world history was growing, not declining, over the course of the early modern period. And into the second half of the eigh- teenth century one can still make a case for China as the single preeminent political entity in the world. This changed quite rapidly during that half-century. due to a combination of factors. The first was secular: the years after 1750 saw China experiencing an increasingly adverse ratio of popula- tion to land and food supply. despite a conscientious program of agricultural expansion and intensification. The second was Cyclical: the indisputably recurrent process of dynastic adminis- trative decline. And the third was external: the unique phenome- 472 WILLIAM T. ROWE non of the industrial revolution, which with remarkable suddenness shifted the balance of global power away from universal empires in favor of a small island nation in the North Atlantic called England. NOTES 1. Joseph Fletcher. “Integrative History: Parallels and Interconnec- tions in the Early Modern Period, 1500—1800.“ Journal of Turkish Studies 9.1 (1985): 37—57. 2. See for example John W. Hall. “Notes on the Early Ch‘ing Copper Trade with Japan.” Harvard Jownai of Asiatic Studies 12 (1949): 44%).: Sarasin Viraphol, Tribute and Profit: Saw-Siamese Rice Trade, 1652—1853 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 1977): Philip D. Curtin. Cross-Cultural Trade in World History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1984]. chap. 8. 3. CR. Boxer, Firialgos in the Far East, 1550—1770 (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1948]. 4. See especially William Lyle Schurz, The Manila Galleon (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1939), chap. 1. 5. Peng Zeyi, “Yapian zhanzheng qian Guangzhou xinxing dc qingfang goneye” (The developing textile industry of Canton before the Opium War]. Lishi yary’iu 1983.3: 109-30. 6. RN. Chaudhuri. The Trading World of Asia and the English East India Company. 1660—1760 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1978]. p. 385. 7. Ping-ti Ho. “The Introduction of American Food Plants into China,” American Anthropologist 57.2 (1955]: 191—201. 8. Quan Hansheng. “Ming-Qing jian Meizhou baiyin de lunru Zhongguo“ (Imports of American silver into China during the Ming and Qing}. in his Zhongguo ngfishi tuncong (Studies in Chinese economic history] (Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong. 1972}, pp. 435- 50: William Atwell, “International Bullion Flows and the Chinese Econ- omy: circa 1530—1650," Past and Present 95 [May 1982): 68—95. 9. Jack A. Goldstone, “East and West in the Seventeenth Century: Political Crises in StuaJt England. Ottoman Turkey, and Ming China," Comparative Studies in Society and History 30 (1988): 103-42: William Atwell. “A Seventeenth-Century 'General Crisis' in East Asia?” Modem Asian Studies 24.4 (1990): 661-82. 10. Anthony Reid, “The Seventeenth-Century Crisis in Southeast Asia.” Modem Asian Studies 24.4 (1990): 639—59; Helen Dunstan. “The late Ming Epidemics: A Preliminary Survey,“ Ch'ing-shih wen-t’i 3.3 (No- vember 1975): 9—18. 1 I. Mark Elvin. The Pattern of the Chinese Past (Stanford: Stanford Uni- versity Press. 1973}, p. 311; Frederic E. Wakeman, Jr.. “China and the Seventeenth-Century Crisis," Late Imperial China 7.1 Home 1986}: 5—7. 12. S.A.M. Adshead. “The Seventeenth-Century General Crisis in China," Asian Profile 1.2 (October 1973]: 271-80. 13. This general model is a central argument of Immanual Wailer- stein. The Modern WorldSystem (New York: Academic Press, 1976}. though Wallerstein does not specifically apply it to the China of this period. CHINA AND THE WORLD. 15004800 473 14. This position is argued in the work of Pamela Crossley. for exam- ple in her Orphan Warriors: Three Manchu Generations and the End of the Qing World (Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1990), pp. 21—22. 15. Elvin. pp. 221—25. ‘ 16. John E. Wills, Jr.. Pepper, Guns, and Parleys: the Dutch East Indic Company and China. 1622—1681 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 1974]. p. 205. 1?. Wills. Embassies and Illusions: Dutch and Portuguese Enuoys ti K'ang«hsi, 1666-1687 (Cambridge. MA: Harvard University Press. 1984) . 179—82. pp 18. Alain Peyrefitte, L'empire immobile, ou, le choc des mondes (Paris Fayard. 1989}. ...
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