MING-QING ECONOMY AND FOREIGN TRADE

MING-QING ECONOMY AND FOREIGN TRADE


Ming-era junk

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]

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “At the end of the Ming dynasty, just before the Manchus overthrew the Ming and established the Qing dynasty, China's economy was in a period of expansion. New markets were being founded, and merchants were extending their businesses across provincial lines and even into the South China Sea. “The economic growth so evident under the Ming dynasty continued under the Qing dynasty, up until the time of the Opium War in the 1840s. During this time China’s domestic economy was a dynamic, commercializing economy, and in some small ways, even an industrializing economy. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Madeleine Zelin, Consultant learn.columbia.edu/nanxuntu <|>]

Chinese merchants were already active in Southeast Asia during this time, and, in fact, one of the arguments then made regarding the cessation of China's state-sponsored maritime expeditions to various places in the southern seas (such as the famed "Ming Voyages") was that these expeditions were no longer necessary. Chinese merchants themselves were going out to the South China Sea and were trading with these areas themselves, so there was no longer a need to have a tributary relationship with other states or city-states in this area. In certain instances the Qing state did balk at the movement of people into overseas commerce and tried to limit rice and metallic currency from moving out of the country, but the state simply did not have the capacity to stop trade completely. The circulation of goods went on with or without state approval.

“Unlike Europe during this same period, which was composed of many small states, each with its own political system, national boundary, and tax system, Qing China was a vast continental market with no impediments to the movement of goods across provincial boundaries. In analyzing the various institutions that were in place in China at this time, it is important to keep in mind that the structure of China’s large continental empire affected economic development, economic growth, and economic structures. <|>

Also see Sections on China in the 18th, 19th and early 20th Centuries

Websites on the Qing Dynasty Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Qing Art cosmopolis.ch ; Qing Dynasty Explained drben.net/ChinaReport ; Recording of Grandeur of Qing learn.columbia.edu Ming and Qing 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 etext.virginia.edu

Forbidden City: 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)

Books: 1) Cambridge History of China multiple volumes (Cambridge University Press); 2) The Last Emperors: A Social History of the Qing Imperial Institutions by Evelyn S. Rawski (University of California Press, 1999); 3) Book:Forbidden City by Frances Wood, a British Sinologist; 4) Emperor of China: Self Portrait of Kang Xi” by Jonathon Spence; 5) Chronicle of the Chinese Emperor by Ann Paludan.. You can help this site a little by ordering your Amazon books through this link: Amazon.com.

Ming-Qing Era Porcelain Exports


Ming porcelain

The primary Ming-era export item to Europe and other places in the world was porcelain. From the beginning production at the Ming porcelain factories in Jingdezhen were oriented towards the export market. The factories produced coffee cups and beer mugs centuries before these drinks became popular in China. They also produced plates with Arabic and Persian motifs and place setting emblazoned with European coats of arms.

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “One of the most important Chinese exports to Europe in the 17th century was porcelain, which had been invented in China about 1,000 years earlier. As European demand for Chinese porcelain grew (in part because European ceramic centers at this time did not possess the technical knowledge required to manufacture porcelain), porcelain from China, and later Japan, was by the 1630s flooding the Europe market. The Dutch alone were importing more than one million pieces per year. But in the 1680s, the Kangxi Emperor reasserted imperial control over the kilns at Jingdezhen in Jiangxi (an area renowned for having the finest clay and for producing porcelain fit for an emperor), and the export of Chinese porcelain to Europe came to a halt for a period of time. This interruption in supply led in part to renewed attempts at ceramic centers across Europe to unlock the "secret" to Chinese porcelain, which did happen eventually but not until early in the 18th century. Prior to this time Europeans could only copy the look of Chinese porcelain models and keep working to duplicate the translucent quality of Chinese porcelain. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Maxwell K. Hearn, Consultant learn.columbia.edu/nanxuntu <|>]

“Today the term "Made in China" has gained a somewhat negative connotation as something that's an inexpensive imitation of "the real thing." Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, however, the situation was quite the other way around when it came to porcelain. The European ceramics centers were far less sophisticated in their manufacturing techniques, and Chinese decorative arts had a huge influence on European tastes during this time. <|>

Chinese Porcelain Production


Chinese spittoon

The porcelain trade was so lucrative that the porcelain making processes were closely guarded secrets and Jingdezhen was officially off limits to visitors to keep spies from uncovering these secrets. Over three million pieces were exported to Europe between 1604 and 1657 alone. This was around that the same time that the word "china" began being used in England to describe porcelains because the two were so closely associated with each other.

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Porcelain Production in China The manufacture of porcelain in China evolved over time into a highly specialized set of related crafts that together formed an entire industry. There were those who specialized in mining kaolin clay, others whose specialty was to mix the raw clay with other materials to create the particular mixture used for porcelain, and still others who actually shaped the objects, others who fired them, and still others whose specialty it was to paint and decorate the final pieces. As demand continued to increase, porcelain production in China began to resemble a highly specialized, mass-production-style industry. A common view of the industrial revolution as it occurred in England in the 1750s is that the burgeoning textile industry was a key contributor to the complex interaction of various socioeconomic developments that led to that phenomenon; mentioned less often is the possibility that the porcelain industry, as it evolved in China, may have also contributed to this development. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Maxwell K. Hearn, Consultant learn.columbia.edu/nanxuntu <|>]

Efforts by Europeans to Learn the Secret of Chinese Porcelain

Pere d’Entrecolles, a Jesuit missionary from France, secretly entered Jingdezhen and described porcelain making in the city in letters that made their way to Europe in the early 1700s. He described a city with a million people and 3,000 kilns that were fired up day and night and filled the night sky with an orange glow. He learned the process but confused the clays.

Around he same time that d’Entrecolles was describing porcelain-making in Jingdezhen, Germans working independently in their homeland discovered the secret to making porcelain Large scale porcelain production began in the West in 1710 in Meissen, Germany.

Chinese porcelain dominated the world until European manufacturers such as those in Messen, Germany and Wedgewood, England began producing products of equal quality but at a cheaper price. After that the Chinese porcelain industry collapsed as many industries have done today when underpriced by cheap Chinese imports.

Silver in China and the World Economy

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Those who would argue that China was not involved in the world economy by the Qing period have only to look at some of the consequences of China's use of currency -- both copper and silver. China under the Qing had an enormous unmet demand for silver. As the economy grew, the populace needed silver for transactions in the marketplace.” A scroll commemorating the Qianlong Emperor's Southern Inspection Tour “Entering Suzhou Along the Grand Canal” (Scroll Six) shows a government-designated shop where copper coins and small ingots of silver can be exchanged for larger ingots of silver to be used for paying taxes. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Madeleine Zelin, Consultant learn.columbia.edu/nanxuntu <|>]


Spanish silver coin

Ken Pomeranz and Bin Wong wrote: “From 1500 to 1800, Mexico and Peru produced something like 85 percent of the world's silver. During that same period at least a third and some people would say over 40 percent of all that silver eventually wound up in China. Now what was going on there and what does it mean? The Europeans of course were not shipping the silver to China as an act of donation or charity. They were getting goods in return, such as silk, porcelain, and later especially tea. Silver supported the staggeringly large export sector.[Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu ]

“As early as the 1720s, Mexican silver dollars were used in transactions in Southern China. Mexican silver had the advantage of already being in coin form and being reliable for its weight in silver, so that one did not have to go to a money changer to have him weigh the silver and take a fee for attaching a certificate. The Chinese government did not mint silver coins, so throughout this period people were using minted and raw silver coming into the country through the Philippines and other areas that were points of trade in the Southern China region. Western European nations during this time had very few commodities other than silver to sell to China in exchange for the tea, porcelain, and silk that were being imported to meet their own growing demand. Indeed, this inflow of silver from the West is one reason for the rapid expansion of China's economy during the 18th century.” <|>

Impact of Silver on Chinese Trade

Nayan Chanda wrote in the Far Eastern Economic Review: “The currency that flowed into Asia from the 16th to the 19th century was in the form of bars of silver and Spanish silver coins which gave an unprecedented boost to trade with China, India, and Southeast Asia. ... By the end of the 15th century, new direct sea routes to Asia allowed Europeans to discover for themselves that it was just as Marco Polo had described—a place of enormous wealth and splendor. Asia was not only spilling over with the spices they hankered after, it had Chinese tea, porcelain and fine silks to offer. “But the traders were soon disappointed by their inability to buy all they coveted. Their Asian counterparts were not interested in the trinkets that they wanted to barter: They wanted settlements to be made with gold or silver. [Source: "Early Warning," by Nayan Chanda, Far Eastern Economic Review, 162/23, June 10, 1999 |~|]

“The biggest boost to trading with Asia came with Spain's discovery of silver in newly conquered Mexico, Bolivia, and Peru in the early 16th century. When the galleon trade across the Pacific between Acapulco and Manila started in 1572, Spanish silver began flowing into Asia in huge quantities. ... It's said that at least half the silver mined in America between 1527 and 1821 found its way to China. [Fernand] Braudel [1902-1985], the historian, believed the claim plausible because in China there was an attractive profit to be made exchanging silver for gold. For example, in 1570 the ratio of silver to gold was 6:1 in China, as against 12:1 in Spain, which opened up great possibilities for arbitrage. |~|

“By the end of the 18th century, the balance of trade became a major issue as the Chinese had not yet developed a taste for European cotton or woollen cloth or Europe's mechanical products like clocks. Between 1760 and 1780, Qing China's import of silver rose from 3 million taels to 16 million taels...In the 1820s, the crisis over silver was heightened by a worldwide silver shortage and an increasing amount began to flow out of China. The amount of silver leaving China rose from 2 million taels a year in 1820 to 9 million taels in 1830. The country's lack of silver resulted in a major new problem—inflation. Merchants and farmers alike used copper coins to buy silver to pay their taxes and the soaring price of the metal was a crushing burden...But it was the opium trade which was seen to be at the root of China's financial problems. And it was the opium trade, plus the Daoguang emperor's efforts to stamp out the scourge, which eventually triggered the Opium War—and that changed China for ever." |~|

Paper Money, Silver and Opium in Ming- and Qing-Era Economies


raw opium

Ken Pomeranz and Bin Wong wrote: “For more or less coincidental geological reasons, China simply has very little in the way of precious metals: not much gold, virtually no silver, reasonable amounts of copper but not massive amounts. However, the huge Chinese population, something on the order of a quarter of humanity for most of the time since we've had decent records, developed an unusually dynamic, commercially sophisticated economy, which needed a medium of exchange: money. And that posed an enormous problem, which the Chinese solved in the Song dynasty by inventing the world's first paper money. Paper money cost very little, but it required a certain technological sophistication, such as good printing. And again, it required social institutions: paper money is only as good as people's willingness to trust it. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu ]

“For a couple hundred years, China had a paper currency that worked quite well, centuries before anybody else had it. This didn't last, however, because when later dynasties, the Yuan and then especially the early Ming, got into fiscal crises, they did what many governments in many moments have done: they tried to solve the problem by printing money, and they undermined confidence in it. And once burned, people are shy for a long time. It will be centuries before they trust paper money again. It meant that this huge commercial economy had to be supplied with something else, with coinage. And what China turns to, for a whole series of reasons that are imperfectly understood, is silver. <|>

“During this period when silver was flowing to China, the Mexican peso became the standard coin throughout much of the world. In some ways, it was the first global product with a brand name—"Mexican pesos," not "silver," was the preferred term for currency among many peoples. Silver coin from Mexico with bust of Carlos IV, minted 1798 Silver coin from Mexico with bust of Carlos IV, minted 1798 asiannumismatic.com Pesos were so familiar in China that they had cute little names for them. One of the kings of Spain, whose image was on the peso during his reign, looked to the Chinese like Buddha, so they referred to this as the "Fat Buddha" coin or the "Buddha Head" coin. And they were so used to this that, in fact, they drove world demand for this particular coin. Long after this particular Spanish king was dead, other people discovered that the Chinese wanted coins with this particular image on them, so the price of the coins rose. <|>

“As a result, people such as the Dutch were making coins with the face of a particular long-dead Spanish king on them because the Chinese wanted them. (Much as people today make fake Prada handbags to satisfy consumer demand.) The Chinese market for coins, essentially, set the global standard. These coins were also so common in China that land contracts normally had a price in copper or some local medium, and then in a little handwritten note on the side next to the standard price, they told you how much that was in Spanish or Mexican pesos. It was just a part of life there. <|>

“Eventually the Europeans, for reasons of their own, became reluctant to continue shipping so much silver to East Asia. This is largely because they preferred to hoard the silver so that they could use it to pay mercenaries in their ongoing wars. They started looking for something else to export to China and found that they were in a real bind because there were very few things that they produce more efficiently than the Chinese could. The thing that eventually filled the gap left when the Europeans tried to cut back on their silver shipments was opium.

Creation of the "Canton System" in 1760


Qing banknote

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “The notion that the Chinese government feared foreign traders and did not want foreign traders on its shores is a major misconception. Although foreign trade was not a dominant source of revenue for the imperial household, it was taxed at a number of ports along the Chinese coast and was an important source of revenue for the central government. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Madeleine Zelin, Consultant learn.columbia.edu/nanxuntu <|>]

“It was not until the 1760s that China really began to limit foreign trade to the single port of Canton, and there is much speculation about why this happened. Some scholars have related this to Chinese awareness of the activities of the British East India Company in India in the 1750s, when Britain was effectively colonizing India, and the Chinese government's fear of similar foreign encroachment on its own soil. <|>

“Other scholars see the creation of the single port of call for European ships at Canton as being a mutual decision, because, in fact, Canton was the only port that really could provide the kind of facilities that foreign traders needed. Canton had a sufficient number of merchants, sufficient capital to be able to bring goods from the interior in sufficient amounts to make it worthwhile for foreigners to come all the way from England to China. The trip from England to China during this time was indeed very long, and ships only came once a year. The merchants bought everything they could to fill up the ships and soon set sail again.” <|>

Tea Exports from China

20080316-tea picking in Zhejian u wash.jpg
Tea picking in China
Tea was also a major export item in the Qing Dynasty. According to Hong Kong Museum of Tea Ware: Between 1840 ~and 1886 the production and trades of Chinese tea rose, the area for tea production was enlarged, and the amount of production increased. From statistical records, the total amount in production for the whole of China was around 50,000 tons and the total amount of tea exported was 19,000 tons in the 1840s. By 1886, the total amount of tea produced and exported reached 250,000 tons and 134,000 tons respectively - a 500 percent and 700 percent increase in four decades. At the time the total amount of tea exported accounted for 62 percent of all of China's exports. [Source: Hong Kong Museum of Tea Ware +++]

The rise in tea trade was mainly due to the rapidly growing demand for tea by foreigners. The signing of the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842 forced the Qing government to open five ports for trade, which, together with the advent of fast transport boats, increased the development of sea trade. But the rise in tea trade was also because China needed to balance its trade deficit. By around 1842, China was importing opium in vast amounts. In order to pay for the imports, the Qing government enlarged its export of silk and tea to bring money into China. These actions in turn increased tea selling. +++

Between 1887 and 1949, the Chinese tea trade declined. After the Dutch and the British began planting tea in their colonies (around 1886), China's leading position in tea trading was eroded and later replaced. During that time, places such as Indonesia, India, and Sri Lanka became major tea producers. This was partly because these new tea makers were using machines to make tea. They were more efficient and more competitive than China, not just in quantity but also in quality. China was still producing tea with old methods at the time. Gradually, the British and Americans took away the black tea market from China; Japan took away the green tea market. All these factors minimized Chinese tea's competitiveness in the world and squeezed China out of the world market. +++

Chinese Economy Versus European Economy in the Qing Era

Ken Pomeranz and Bin Wong wrote” “From 1000-1500, China led the world in economic development. As trade between China and Europe begins to expand from 1550 onwards, the Chinese economy is, by many measures, more productive than Europe's.Comparing the leading economic region in Europe (England) and in China (the Yangzi delta) in the period from 1500 to 1800, we find that these two regions perform quite similarly. The population of the Lower Yangzi Region in China is roughly as well off as the population of England at this time.[Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu ]<|>

“Until about twenty years ago, the studies of most historians on different parts of the world were largely kept separate. This made it possible for us to think that the making of the modern world was principally a European story, the story of Europeans going out and exploring the rest of the world. We have understood the dynamism and the construction of the modern world to be the product of European motives, efforts, and intentions. In the last twenty years, people working on other parts of the world—East Asia being a crucial area—have begun to recognize that the dynamics that take place in their parts of the world have certain similarities to those that take place in Europe. And it is from those initial insights of specialists that we begin to see in the last decade the integration of that knowledge with the knowledge about European history to produce a more informed world history. <|>


British trade ships

“Nineteenth-and twentieth-century East Asia is often viewed in terms of the responses that people made in these countries to opportunities presented by the West and to pressures put upon these countries by Western political and economic forces. So we tend to think of what is modern in these countries in terms of the traits that they either learned from Western countries or had forced upon them through their connections to the West. There is a serious problem with this perspective because there are traits that developed in these countries that we can think of as modern. The problem is that we tend to ignore, and indeed to not even see, the traits that existed in these countries that have a longer history. And if we notice them, we tend to think of them as anomalies or as something problematic, as an obstacle to people becoming more modern. <|>

Some things happened in China first...In Europe and America, we think of social welfare as a national problem, as a modern national problem, which emerged in the nineteenth century, but it's not until the second half of the nineteenth century that we start to see European states caring about education.However, in China, it's quite clear that governments have cared about the subsistence conditions—the food supply conditions of its people—for many, many centuries. And they have done so not merely on a local level, but spanning the entire country, which again, in the Chinese case, because it was an empire, is the equivalent of many European countries put together. <|>

Was China More Productive Than Europe?

Ken Pomeranz and Bin Wong wrote: “When we think about the kind of trade taking place across the world in the 1600s and 1700s, and we recognize that Chinese finished goods are going to Europe in return for silver, this shouldn't be too great a surprise, since we know that if we go back several centuries to the Song dynasty that the first real urban commercial dynamism within Eurasia took place there. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu ]<|>

“There was an expansion of trade, the development of larger cities, the improvement of agricultural technologies to raise the yields of rice and other grains and crops on the land. And there was the development of transportation technologies to take advantage of river transport. Those developments start in China much earlier on a broader spatial scale than they do anywhere else in the world. And therefore in the year 1100, the most developed economy in the world was certainly in China. <|>

“And it's that lead, as it were, that China developed, beginning in roughly 1000, that remained in place for several centuries. Eurasian economies grew and contracted in this preindustrial area, but in essence, the Chinese economy remained a very productive economy for the following 500 years, so that when trade started to take place between China and Europe, fueled by the American silver that the Europeans were bringing to China, it was not surprising that the Chinese economy was, in certain ways at least, a more productive economy. <|>

Lower Yangtze Versus Industrial England in the the 1750s


Chinese waterwheel

Ken Pomeranz and Bin Wong wrote: If you compare the Lower Yangzi, circa 1750, with the industrial heartland of England around the same time, “food supply per capita is roughly comparable. In fact the Lower Yangzi may even have been a little bit ahead. Cloth production per capita would again be very close. And those were the two most important sectors of the economy: food and textiles. They were the two largest sectors. Wages seem to be roughly comparable, though it's a little bit deceptive because in England what we're talking about as we get towards the end of the eighteenth century is really wages. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu ]<|>

“It's people who work for somebody else and get a pay envelope at the end of the week. Whereas in China you're mostly talking about peasants. People who owned their own little farm and maybe had a loom in the house somewhere where the wife or wife and daughter worked. So it's earnings from their own self-employment compared to English wages, which is a little bit deceptive. But still real income seems to be pretty comparable. <|>

Synthesizing much of the gradual story of European development, Jan De Vries has embedded the Industrial Revolution in a larger "industrious revolution," a concept which among other things, helps dissolve a paradox. The grain-buying power of European day wages fell very sharply between about 1430 and 1550, and it didn't return to 1430 levels until 1840 or later, depending on the place.This could have occurred because people spent more hours per year working for the market, earning cash to pay for new possessions, as well as for stable amounts of their increasingly expensive bread. People probably had less leisure time, though there are complications here with how one defines "leisure." They certainly spent less time making goods for their own households.They specialized more, and they bought goods made by strangers. They began to buy bread that other people baked, candles that other people made, so on and so forth, and so many of their purchases "saved time," in modern parlance, on domestic chores. <|>

“The Chinese story, I'd argue, is surprisingly similar. The rice-buying power of a day's wages mostly fell, though with some interruptions, after about 1100. But nutrition did not seem to have worsened, nor was it inferior to that in Europe during this time. Meanwhile, grain-deflated earnings in textile work and agriculture in the Yangzi delta matched up well against England. Chinese life expectancies were comparable to England's and thus above those for most of the European continent, until almost 1800. And Chinese birth rates, contrary to mythology, appear to have been no higher than those of Europeans between 1550 and 1850, and while population grew faster, this suggests that Chinese death rates were no higher either. <|>

“And for a long time China also kept pace with Europe in nonessential kinds of consumption. Reconstructing some measurements of consumption, China circa 1750 stacks up reasonably well against Europe, and the Yangzi delta region reasonably well against England. This is the case for two non-grain foods we can make reasonably good guesses about: tea and sugar. The Chinese edge in tea consumption is perhaps not surprising. Where does the stuff come from after all? The Chinese parity, or in fact better-than-parity in sugar consumption circa 1750, is quite surprising though, and in cloth—probably the second biggest item of expenditure—we see a similar pattern circa 1750. China as a whole seems comparable to Europe, and the Yangzi delta to England.”<|>

European Economic Standards Improve in the 19th Century

Ken Pomeranz and Bin Wong wrote: “Between 1750 and 1900, European production and living standards were transformed, while Chinese non-grain consumption actually seemed to decline a bit. Nineteen hundred figures for cloth and sugar, for instance, come out below even my lower-bound estimates for 1750. Why would that be? What happened? “Much of the difference was ecological, but not in the simple sense that population pressure produced any more serious problems within Chinese cores than in core areas of Europe. That view— that there were simply too many people in China, et cetera—is a standard warhorse of the literature. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu ]<|>

“I've reconstructed just for one example, nitrogen fluxes from dry farming areas of North China and England. Nitrogen is the limiting nutrient in most early modern farming, and fortunately it's also somewhat easier to reconstruct what happens with that than with most other nutrients. Again, even more than with most numbers, these have to be taken with grains of salt. We can talk about where they came from, but they show circa 1800 that there's no reason to assume more severe soil depletion in China than in England. Archaeology, agricultural-yield data, and increasing reports of sandstorms all point to serious soil degradation in various Western European regions during the eighteenth century. Forest cover declined dramatically in the early modern period, and so on. But then, many of these indicators actually stabilize in the nineteenth century, amid the much-faster population and economic growth of that period, which is, at first blush, exactly what you would not expect. <|>

“If there are more people, and they are each consuming more resources, you would expect things to get considerably worse. Of course, in certain ways like air pollution, they did, but other crucial indicators stabilized. A contrast both to what we would expect, and as we'll see, to what happened in East Asia, where far less impressive growth leads to far worse ecological decline in the nineteenth century. <|>


early Chinese steam engines

“Part of the answer is the transition in Western Europe to fossil fuels. Above all, there was coal, each ton of which equaled the sustainable timber yield from 1 to 1.5 acres of prime mid-latitude forest. But Chinese coal deposits were just too many landlocked miles away from its core regions to be economical before railways, no matter what breakthroughs in extraction use occurred. And mines so far from concentrations of skilled artisans were not well positioned for technological change anyway. Also, inconsistent government policies toward mining based on fear of groups of single males didn't help either. The Chinese still preferred that mines be small. <|>

“Of course, there's nothing new about noting the importance of coal and the steam engine. If anything, older accounts of industrialization stress them even more than most current ones do. What is less often remarked is how dependent they were on each other. Without steam engines to pump water out of the mines, it's quite likely that English coal production would have stagnated at 1700 levels—which were high by world historical standards, but only about one-tenth of what production would reach by 1830. And while early steam engines were very good for performing this job, they weren't good for much else. They were bulky, dangerous, and extremely inefficient, turning only one to two percent of the energy they used into actual power. They were so inefficient that they were really only worth using at the mine itself, where fuel was virtually free. (Most of the cost of coal was the cost of transporting it, which was extremely high unless you happened to be right on the water.)

Along with the fossil-fuel revolution, northwestern Europe also benefited from soaring imports from land-rich regions, especially in the New World. As their demand for food, clothing fiber, building materials, and fuel—Malthus' famous four necessities—mounted, cores everywhere found themselves needing to acquire these land-intensive products by trading with a periphery that would buy the core's manufacturers. <|>

“But that had its limits. In eastern Europe for instance, with many barriers to factor mobility and much of the population outside the cash economy, the response to external demand was comparatively muted. And though much is made of the Baltic trade and the beginnings of an international division of labor, it actually had plateaued by 1650, at a fraction of the size of China's long-distance staple trades.The New World, however, was a different kind of periphery from any of those that I've sketched, within Eurasia at either end. Smallpox and other disasters depopulated it. And much of the labor force was replaced by slaves, who were purchased from abroad....And so, unlike Old World peripheries, the New World kept expanding as a source of land-intensive exports for Europe. Together, mining in the New World allowed big chunks of northwestern Europe to have a population boom, specialize more in manufacturing, and consume more per capita, without facing either primary-product shortages or further ecological deterioration of farmland. <|>

China’ Economic Standards Stagnate in the 19th Century

Ken Pomeranz and Bin Wong wrote: “ Meanwhile, in at least some of the Chinese hinterlands, the standard of living may still have been creeping up a bit, as handicrafts spread. But it was far short of Yangzi delta standards, and it now had much more weight in Chinese aggregates, causing the aggregates to sink. And ecologically, things did worsen in nineteenth-century China. But interestingly, not so much in the densely populated cores that you might have thought would be the most stressed areas, but in peripheral areas. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu ]<|>

“The northwest and southwest were seriously over-logged. Excessive reclamation in the middle Yangzi was increasing its vulnerability to flooding. And the water table fell sharply in the non-monsoonal hinterlands of the north and west, as their populations grew. Late-eighteenth-century reports began noting that wells needed to be re-dug to make them deeper, a good sign of a falling water table. And by the early twentieth century, lake areas in these regions had shrunk dramatically. <|>

“I think most people know that the mid-nineteenth century is a period of considerable trauma and upheaval in East and Southeast Asia with the "opening" of Japan and later Korea, the French conquest of Indochina, and so on. And this is probably truest of all in China, where the mounting environmental problems we just discussed combine with a serious decline in the government's ability to manage problems—the opium trade, and other problems—to unleash four massive rebellions in the mid-nineteenth century, leaving tens of millions dead.

Significant parts of China—mostly along the coast—did much better, in part because they became part of a post-1870 trade boom that involved large portions of maritime Asia, from Manchuria all the way down to Singapore...Rice from Southeast Asia, for instance, replaced rice from Hunan in feeding Shanghai after 1870, and in feeding Canton after 1890. Timber from Manchuria and later from overseas replaced shipment that used to come along the Yangzi and so on. Both the Manchurian and Southeast Asian trade booms are trends that predated 1840, but they continued thereafter at greatly accelerated rates. Advanced coastal regions sent miners, merchants, and for the first time, really huge numbers of farmers abroad, who sent back both earnings and land-intensive goods, gaining an informal empire of a sort at the same time that the Chinese empire, as conventionally understood, was cracking up. It's not the coast, but other regions that enter really prolonged crises. <|>

“Some, like the middle Yangzi, filled up and then plateaued, while others, such as north China, had real catastrophes, in part because ecological and political crises built on each other. The state was battered by rebellion, foreigners, and as it recovered, it also reoriented itself, beginning to emphasize coastal development, the building of a modern military, and other things needed to survive in a world of predatory nation-states. Money was often diverted from older priorities, with extremely painful results. For instance, the government stopped devoting massive resources to maintaining the Yellow River-Grand Canal junction after the mid-nineteenth century, shifting the money once used for this to paying indemnities, military modernization, and various projects in coastal areas that were both wealthier and more vulnerable to foreigners. The result was a massive increase in flooding in newly marginalized interior regions. The Qing government also stopped subsidizing well-digging in many dry areas, just as population growth and deforestation were lowering the water table in those areas, and so on. Thus, these interior areas suffered from the decreased interregional trade that had begun as they filled up in the late eighteenth century, and also suffered from losing state services that had once made population growth in ecologically fragile areas sustainable. <|>

The disorder in impoverished regions naturally spilled over into the rest of China, delaying any reconsolidation of the state. As one consequence of this, even the regional economies that did well in quantitative terms—and some like the lower Yangzi may actually have rivaled Japanese growth rates—did not make the kind of qualitative shifts into new kinds of industry that Japanese industry began making in the early twentieth century, often with heavy state assistance. <|>

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 September 2016

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