Ming-era junk

The Chinese armies reconquered Annam, as northern Vietnam was then known, in Southeast Asia and kept back the Mongols, while the Chinese fleet sailed the China seas and the Indian Ocean, cruising as far as the east coast of Africa. The maritime Asian nations sent envoys with tribute for the Chinese emperor. Internally, the Grand Canal was expanded to its farthest limits and proved to be a stimulus to domestic trade."Source: The Library of Congress]

“The Ming maritime expeditions stopped rather suddenly after 1433, the date of the last voyage. Historians have given as one of the reasons the great expense of large-scale expeditions at a time of preoccupation with northern defenses against the Mongols. Opposition at court also may have been a contributing factor, as conservative officials found the concept of expansion and commercial ventures alien to Chinese ideas of government. Pressure from the powerful Neo-Confucian bureaucracy led to a revival of strict agrarian-centered society. The stability of the Ming dynasty, which was without major disruptions of the population (then around 100 million), economy, arts, society, or politics, promoted a belief among the Chinese that they had achieved the most satisfactory civilization on earth and that nothing foreign was needed or welcome.

See Chinese Exploration

Zheng He and Early Chinese Exploration : Wikipedia Chinese Exploration Wikipedia ; Le Monde Diplomatique mondediplo.com ; Zheng He muslimheritage.com ; Zheng He Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Gavin Menzies’s 1421 1421.tv ; Asia Recipe asiarecipe.com ; First Europeans in Asia Wikipedia ; Matteo Ricci faculty.fairfield.edu

Website on the Ming Dynasty Wikipedia ; Ming Tombs Wikipedia Wikipedia : UNESCO World Heritage Site: UNESCO World Heritage Site Map ; Good Websites and Sources on Imperial China: List of Emperors and Other World Historical Leaders friesian.com/sangoku ; List of Emperors PaulNoll.com ; Wikipedia Long List with references to major historical events Wikipedia ; Wikipedia shorter list Wikipedia Court Life During the Time of Empress Dowager Cixi etext.virginia.edu ; Book: Chronicle of the Chinese Emperor by Ann Paludan; Cambridge History of China multiple volumes (Cambridge University Press). You can help this site a little by ordering your Amazon books through this link: Amazon.com. .

Forbidden City: Book:Forbidden City by Frances Wood, a British Sinologist. Web Sites FORBIDDEN CITY factsanddetails.com/china ; Wikipedia; China Vista ; UNESCO World Heritage Site Sites World Heritage Site ; Maps China Map Guide Links in this Website: Temple of Heaven: Wikipedia Wikipedia UNESCO World Heritage Site UNESCO World Heritage Site Map on China Map Guide China Map Guide

Good Chinese History Websites: 1) Chaos Group of University of Maryland chaos.umd.edu/history/toc ; 2) WWW VL: History China vlib.iue.it/history/asia ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia 4) China Knowledge; 5) Gutenberg.org e-book gutenberg.org/files ; Links in this Website: Main China Page factsanddetails.com/china (Click History)

Why Didn't the Chinese Discover Europe

Why was Ming China, the largest, richest, most powerful nation on earth, discovered by tiny Portugal not the other way around? Why did the Chinese not round the Cape of Good Hope and venture to Europe, when they easily could have?

Many scholars argue that the Chinese had no desire to explore or expand trade, and the West possessed nothing that the Chinese wanted. Plus Westerners were regarded as barbarians. When the Portuguese arrived on the southeast coast of China in 1513, a Hong Kong scholar told National Geographic, they were viewed as "just another bunch of pirates---people with beards, large eyes, long noses. No real threat."

A 17th century Chinese treatise on navigation proclaimed: "Coming into contact with barbarian peoples you have nothing more to fear than touching the left horn of a snail. The only things one should really be anxious about are the means of mastery of the waves of the sea---and, worst of all dangers, the minds of those avid for profit and greedy for gain." [Source: "The Discoverers" by Daniel Boorstin]

Unlike the Portuguese and Spanish monarchs, who launched their voyages of discovery in hopes of converting heathens to Christianity, the Chinese had no ambition to convert the outside world to their religious beliefs. An illustration of their religious tolerance is an upright stone left in the town of Galle, Sri Lanka during the 1405 Zheng He expedition. It has inscriptions in three languages---Chinese, Tamil and Persian’that pays tribute to Lord Buddha, an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu and Allah and several Muslim saints. [Source: "The Discoverers" by Daniel Boorstin]

Lack of Chinese Interest in European Products

Portuguese and Spanish monarchs also launched their voyages of discovery in hopes of making their country rich through the seizure of land and treasures and the establishment of lucrative trade routes to bring coveted items to Europe from the Orient.

The West needed products from the East much more than the East needed products from the West, which produced little for export other than woolen cloth and wine. In 1793 a Manchu emperor told a British diplomatic representative: "There is nothing we lack as your principal and others have themselves observed. We have never set much store on strange or indigenous objects, nor do we need any more of your country's manufactures." [Source: "The Discoverers" by Daniel Boorstin]

In Zheng He's time China and India together accounted for more than half of the world's gross national product. It is believed that if the Chinese were so inclined they could have controlled the spice trade and colonized places like Australia and New Zealand and even Africa and America.

The prevailing belief that anything non-Chinese was primitive held the Chinese back in terms of exploring and exploiting new worlds. Boorstin wrote, in China, "where tradition and customs ruled, the best qualities of life were viewed as products of Chinese tradition and customs. And the China-centric isolationist tradition kept the Chinese from encounters with remote and different peoples."

Ming Emperor and the Giraffe

left A big deal was made when a giraffe was delivered as a tribute from a ruler in Bengal in 1414. The Chinese believed the animal was a ch'i-lin (qilin) a Chinese unicorn with the "the body of a deer and the tail of an ox," which ate only herbs and harmed no living beings. Like the dragon, the ch'l-lin was said to be a being created by the surplus energy of the cosmos. Some historians believe that the emperor financed Zheng He's later expeditions with the understanding that he might be able to bring back equally interesting animals from Africa. [Source: "The Discoverers" by Daniel Boorstin]

In a lengthy paean the giraffe was compared with the Emperor's perfection:
Truly was produced a K'i-lin whose shape was high 15 feet
With the body of a deer and the tail of an ox, and a
fleshy boneless horn,
With luminous spots like a red cloud or a purple mist.
Its hoofs do not tread on living beings and in its wandering
it carefully selects its ground,
It walks in stately fashion and in its motion it observes a rhythm
It harmonious voice sounds like a bell or musical tube.
Gentle is this animal that in all antiquity has been since but once,
The manifestation of its divine spirit rises up to Heaven's abode.

End of the Chinese Age of Discovery and the Great Withdrawal

Zheng He's expeditions were expensive and did not bring in any wealth. According to Boorstin the “The lopsided logic of the tributary system required China to pay out more than China received. Every new tributary state worsened the imbalance of Chinese trade. The accounts of history that cast Chinese public relations in this curious frame help explain why Chinese communication with the outside world was stultified for centuries to come." [Source: "The Discoverers" by Daniel Boorstin]

The Chinese expeditions and tributary system resulted in 1,000 percent inflation. Many Confucian scholar-bureaucrats regarded Zheng He's voyages a profligate waste, arguing the money could better spent at home on things like the construction of irrigation canals, roads and granaries to head off famine. The officials also argued that it was unnecessary to waste money abroad when China was already the "all-perfect Center of the Universe." Within the Imperial court there was a battle between the eunuchs and mandarins for political power. The mandarins prevailed and anything associated with eunuchs, including Zheng He, was curtailed.

China's brief age of discovery was followed by a period of history known as the Great Withdrawal. In the decades that followed Zheng He's last voyage in 1433 edicts were passed prohibiting Chinese from traveling abroad, and offenders were often punished with decapitation.

By 1474, the Imperial fleet has shrunk from 400 warships to 140 vessels; by 1500 it was a capital crime to build a junk with more than two masts; and by 1551 espionage was redefined to include voyages on the sea in a multi-masted vessels. Eventually the technology and expertise to build large ships and navigate them was lost .

European Encroachment in Ming- and Qing-Era China

leftAccording to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “The Qing dynasty in the 19th century saw the undermining of the prosperity, peace, and stability of earlier times. Qing China was already suffering from an internal economic crisis at the turn of the century, but perhaps even more important to the collapse of the old was the increasingly aggressive encroachment of Europeans in the economic and cultural spheres. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia <|>]

“Significant contact between China and Europe began during the latter half of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). China officially began to trade with the Portuguese in 1557, and soon after, European Jesuits began to establish a presence in Macao and eventually entered China in the early 1580s. The Jesuits were curious about and generally respectful of Chinese culture and customs (including religious rites and Confucianism, in particular), and the imperial governments of the Ming and Qing generally regarded the presence of these Catholic missionaries favorably (though with some significant exceptions) and retained Jesuits as advisers at court. The Qing emperor Kangxi (b. 1654; reign, 1662-1722) even issued an imperial edict in 1692 supporting Chinese converts to Catholicism. <|>

“Problems arose, however, when other Catholic orders began to enter China in the 1630s, and an internal controversy developed over whether the Jesuits, in the interest of winning converts, had gone too far in their attempts to make the Catholic faith more compatible with indigenous Chinese beliefs, especially on the question of the veneration of Confucius and the ancestors. The Jesuits insisted that these were civil rites and therefore acceptable practices for Chinese converts to Catholicism. Missionaries of the Dominican and Franciscan orders thought otherwise, and this disagreement (which later came to be known as the “Rites Controversy”) set off a fierce debate amongst European Catholics that would persist for nearly 100 years, from the 1640s to 1742, when Pope Benedict XIV reaffirmed an earlier (1715) decree by Pope Clement XI that sided with the Dominican-Franciscan position. Benedict XIV then declared that this matter was no longer open to debate, effectively closing the book on the issue. A leading intellectual of his time, Kang Youwei drafted for the Qing dynasty government a drastic program of reform, now known as the “One Hundred Days of Reform.”“<|>

Matteo Ricci

Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) was the most famous of the Jesuit priests and the most influential European in China since Marco Polo. He translated the Confucian analects to Portuguese and developed the first methods for romanizing Chinese characters. He arrived in Macau in 1582; moved to Beijing in 1603; and spent 20 years with imperial court in Beijing. He wrote extensively about the things he observed and has been widely quoted by historians.

In 1577 Ricci wrote: "of all the great nations, the Chinese have had the least commerce, indeed, one might say that they have had practically no contact whatever, with other nations, and consequently they are grossly ignorant of what the world in general is like...their universe was limited to their own fifteen provinces, and in the sea painted around it they had placed a few islands to which they gave the names of different kingdoms they had heard of.

"All of these islands put together would not be as large as the smallest of the Chinese provinces," Ricci wrote. "With such a limited knowledge, it is evident why they boasted of their kingdom as being the whole world, and why they call it Thienhia, meaning everything under the heavens. When they learned that China was only part of the great east, they considered such an idea, so unlike their own, to be something utterly impossible." [Source: "The Discoverers" by Daniel Boorstin]

Ricci also mentioned that to the Chinese "the heavens are round but the earth is flat and square...They could not comprehend the demonstrations proving that the earth is a globe, made up of land and water and that a globe of its nature has neither beginning nor end...Because of their ignorance of the size of the earth and the exaggerated opinion they have of themselves, the Chinese are of the opinion that only China among the nations is deserving of admiration...They look upon all other people not only as barbarous but as unreasoning animals."

Book: Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci by Jonathan Spence (Viking Press).

European Telescopes and Clocks in China

The Ming emperors had little interest in the religion introduced to them by the European Jesuits, but they were fascinated by the European gadgets that were brought to them, namely large weight-driven- and small spring-driven clocks. When Father Ricci, after many tries, was finally granted an audience with the emperor in the late 16th century, the Chinese ruler didn't ask him about Christianity but rather asked him why the bells on his clock stopped ringing. [Source: "The Discoverers" by Daniel Boorstin]

The Emperor's Italian clock struck him "dumb with astonishment," wrote Ricci, because it was "a work the like of which had never been seen, nor heard, nor even imagined, in Chinese history." The clock, Ricci wrote, “was always kept before him, because he liked to look at it and to listen to it ringing the time." After the Emperor was exposed to European clocks Jesuits replaced the resident Muslim astrologers.

Ricci, perhaps more than any other European, was responsible for introducing Western science to China. After helping to fix the emperor's clock, he and a team of mathematicians, Jesuits fathers and eunuchs were "permitted to enter the presence of the King, to wind a small clock." The Jesuits earned an even higher place in the emperor's court when they correctly forecast the correct time and duration of a solar eclipse on June 21, 1629, which Chinese astronomers predicted would take place an hour before it actually did. [Source: "The Discoverers" by Daniel Boorstin]

Among the other things introduced by Europeans were the equatorial armilla, celestial globe and altazimuth. When a telescope made with the help of Jesuit missionaries was presented to the Emperor in 1634, Confucian scholars worried about teh consequences of such a devise ended up in enemy hands. "If there should break out unexpectedly a military revolution," one scholar wrote, "one can look at it from a distance, the place of the enemy, the encampments, the men, the horses, whether armed more or less, and to know thus whether one is ready or not, whether it is fitting to attack or to defend oneself, and also whether it is fitting to discharge the cannon. Nothing is more useful than this instrument." [Source: "The Discoverers" by Daniel Boorstin]

Emperor's Approach in the Xuande period

Matteo Ricci's Account of the Ming Court

Benjamin Lim of Reuters wrote: “Matteo Ricci (1582-1610), the Italian Jesuit who brought Christianity to China. Ricci — known as Li Madou in Chinese — is remembered fondly as a unique bridge between East and West. He dressed as a Confucian scholar and spent the last nine years of his life in Beijing before dying in 1610. Fluent in spoken and written Chinese, Ricci introduced China to astronomy, mathematics and geography. He was the first person to draw a map of the world for the Chinese and to translate books on Western science, logic and philosophy into Chinese. His translations of Chinese classics into Latin and colourful accounts of his own work gave Europeans unprecedented insight into Chinese culture and society. He expressed open admiration for China's highly ordered society." [Source: Benjamin Lim, Reuters, August 20, 2010 <=>]

Matteo Ricci spent a lot of time in the Ming court. He wrote: "Just as this people is grossly subject to superstition, so, too they have very little regard for the truth, acting always with great circumspection, and very cautious about trusting anyone. Subject to this same fear,the king of modern times abandoned the custom of going out in public. Even formerly, when they did leave the royal enclosure, they would never dare to do so without a thousand preliminary precautions. <=>

"The kings... abandoned the custom of going out in public...When they did leave the royal enclosure, they would never dare to do so without a thousand preliminary precautions. On such occasions the whole court was placed under military guard. Secret servicemen were placed along the route over which the King was to travel and on all roads leading into it. He was not only hidden from view, but the public never knew in which of the palanquins of the cortege he was actually riding. One would think he was making a journey through enemy country rather than among multitudes of his own subjects." <=>

Increasing European Aggression and China’s Defeat

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Following the 1742 degree of Benedict XIV the Qing government regarded Catholics, with the possible exception of some Jesuits who were already favored by the imperial court, with suspicion and strictly contained their activities. Meanwhile the Qing’s economic relationship with Europe did not abate, though here also the Qing made every effort to contain their encroachment. When opium entered the picture in the early 1800s, however, the situation deteriorated significantly for the Qing. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu/cosmos <|>]

Ming cavalry

“By the mid-1800s, following Qing China’s defeat in the so-called “Opium War” (1840-42) against the British and the resulting Treaty of Nanjing, European soldiers, merchants, and missionaries (both Catholic and Protestant) were establishing a presence in China and moving into cities all along China’s coastline and into interior regions of the country. This influx of Europeans represented an absolute and dramatic threat to China in many ways. The Westerners’ beliefs and customs were vastly different from that of the Chinese, and their ongoing presence represented not only a military disaster but a cultural disaster as well, for it undermined the centrality of the Chinese emperor, as well as the centrality of the Chinese civilization itself. “<|>

See Separate Articles on the Opium Wars and Europeans in China in the 19th Century.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei npm.gov.tw \=/ Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated November 2016

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