Sunday, December 13, 2009

Blog 4 - China

This section of readings involved the end of Abu Lughod's book. At the conclusion of Before European Hegemony, we take a look at the easternmost part of the world system in the 13th century and the how the west came to dominate. According to Abu-Lughod, China was "the most extensive, populous, and technologically advanced region of the medieval world." (p.316) China participated in two kinds of trade: public and private, which makes the official documents appear as if CHina held a non-chalant and passive attitude toward trading and the world system. However, China's role in private trade was huge and illustrates China's active and immensely important role in 13th century world economics. There are four phases of Chinese history identified which have been related to the economic and trading ventures of China. The first of these were before the 5th century A.D. During this period, maritime trade was not imprtant and most traders connected along the Silk Road which was an overland route. The second period spanned the 5-8th centuries. This was a time of population expansion and growth, particularly in the southern region and the advancement of new wet rice cultivation techniques which both helped to enhance trade. There was also an emphasis placed on infrastructure. One of the most important endeavors was the building of the canal which increased efficiency and reduced the cost to transport goods. The third period was marked by an exponential growth in China's economy. China's advancements in agriculture, industrial technology, population and engagement in maritime trade, were hugely important to its success. With the importance of China's sophisticated industrial and agricultural developments, it seemed that China was destined to become the world hegemon.

However, in the fourth period, which is identified as beginning with the fall of the Yuan dynasty in 1368, the Chinese withdrew from the world system. China's withdrawal was due to a number of factors. The most important of which would be the rise to power of the Ming dynasty. Under this rule, maritime trade was restricted, the powerful navy was disassembled and China's connections to foreign powers were cut off. Although it seems as though there was a change in philosophy that occurred, it is more likely that there were internal problems that needed to be dealt with which prompted the Ming dynasty to take a hiatus from the world system. The new ruling class needed to consolidate their new power over China's expansive mass, regroup from the warfare and recover from the debilitating effects of the Black Plague, so China shut its doors to world trade. This left a power vaccum in the world system. This area of the world became free for the taking, which ultimately became the way in which Europeans took over as the world's hegemony.

What I found interesting in this section was the fact that China seemed to withdrawas from teh world system, but a closer look kshows that China had a number of interal issues that needed to be tended to by the new dynasty. I think the "withdrawal" was more of a stabilization and regrouping initiative than a refutation of old policy and/or disdain for the world system. How do you think the world would have shaped up if China had become the dominant hegemon? Do you think the world would be better, that is technologically more advanced, more morally sound, or do you think it would be worse? Hard to picture or speculate about these kinds of things I know, but its just something I was thinking about.

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