This week we read about the trading system between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia with a focus on the three major trade routes (the Northeast Passage, the Persian Gulf route, and the route through the Red Sea).
I found the chapter on China’s fleeting chance at world hegemony most interesting. With its impressive technological advances, its great population, natural resources, and strategic locations, it is surprising that China did not become a world power for any extended period of time. Abu-Lughod gives a few reasons, and seems to come to the conclusion that China’s economic collapse, not unaffected by the rest of the world’s economic crises, was the final blow.
Not to be ignored, Abu-Lughod mentions that China’s withdrawal was somewhat caused by Confucian virtue. Unlike other countries, the wealthy merchant class in China was looked down upon, for Confucian ethic demeaned commercial gain, and had no access to government power. This class could not sway the government in their favor as other trading classes could, and did. With the Ming dynasty, and the rebellion against Mongolian forces, Confucianism was brought to the forefront of the government again. To distance themselves from their Mongol predecessors, the Ming wished to demonstrate their moral example.
With the Black Death, and then the great economic crisis in the mid-fifteenth century, the Ming were forced to switch from offensive to defensive rule. No longer could they sustain their impressive fleet, and continue to trade aggressively with the outside world. The last blow was the silk route across Central Asia was cut off after the Mongol empire fell, and as the world trade system started failing, China’s southern sea route was useless.
China was forced to withdrawal from the world system and concentrate on rebuilding the agrarian base. This caused an end to two hundred years of naval dominance, and China’s chance at world hegemony.
Like many of the other blogs, I too am interested in the weather’s affect on trade. Is it really that important?