China in the late 14th and 15th century was by far the most extensive, populous, and technologically advanced region of the medieval world. China’s role as a core in the old world system would have led many to believe that China would become the new core of the world system. Why then did China’s reversal of roles in the world system occur? There is a multitude of reasons but a few key ones are external issues, religious ideology, economic collapse, and collapsing parts of the world system.
China led the world to believe they were not interested trade, yet they most actively participated. Instead, the best way to view one of China’s reasons for withdrawal is their changing views in trade. This is directly linked to Confucianism, which did not have an importance for entrepreneurship. Thus, when China views did favor trade their technological advances such as the sluice gate, paper, siderurgy, put them far ahead in the world system. China falls in and out of public trading due to their religious ideology, then resumes in the fourteenth century by taking over the Indian Ocean. They built an unrivaled navy at the time and had no problem controlling the Indian Ocean.
The conquering of the Indian Ocean, with an unrivaled navy, seemed to make China almost in complete hegemonic control. Their policy quickly changed and they withdrew and terminated their relations with the world. It is clear at this point China has everything it needs to be the hegemonic power in the new world system. China’s withdrawal in the Indian Ocean left a “vacuum” of power to be filled, not to mention its merchants with no state support. This most likely led to economic problem as the merchants could no longer privately further their interests. The key reason behind this is Ming sought to reestablish symbols of authenticity from the past Mongol invaders, to do this they strayed away from the Mongols open trade and pursued confunsianism.
The reversal of China’s position is also related to external factors like the Black Death that decimated China and the war to rebel against the weaken Mongols led China to diminish in power. After, their power was restored from the Black Death; the massive fleet eventually could no longer be supported, mainly due to economic collapse, but also due to the collapse of other parts of the world system. Their economic downfall can also be contributed to corruption, political factions, and larger expenditures then revenue. This ultimately led to the collapse of China’s nearly hegemonic state into fifteen smaller regions.
Again, the question of why did China’s reversal of roles in the world system occur? Economic Collapse, Confucian ethic, desires to separate themselves from the Mongols, and the collapsing parts of the world system led to their reversal. Once powerful and united, China opened up the door for the emergence of a new power, the West. The Portuguese men of war easily took over the Indian Ocean after vacation of the Chinese, and offered all that the Chinese could not to the Arab merchants solidifying the West’s emergence in the new world system. China’s reversal in roles, I feel, did not have to occur, but then again history is said to repeat itself. Any thoughts?