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MECHANICS  OF  HISTORY  -  laws to understand the histtory

The World History Rewritten

History of China

1. Schematic map of China
4. Export by the Silk Road (221 BC - IXth century AD)
2. Ancient China (before 770 BC) 5. Relatively isolated feudal state (Xth-XVIth century)
3. Feudal fragmentation (770-221 BC) 6. Protectionism and isolation (XVIIth - XVIIIth century)
7. Summary and notes

Speaking about the history of China (and then about history of India) I will try to show you that it is not so different form European history, and historical processes and laws are basically the same.

You should also remember that China has extremely large share of the World population. For the whole history (except XVIIIth and XIXth centuries) 1/4 of the World population lived in China. The same is true for India.

Here is the short introduction the history of China (with maps).
And more systematic summary from Wikipedia (with timeline and lists of emperors).
Plus more maps.
See also Frank E. Smitha maps and his lectures on the history of China.


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For this lecture I will divide the history of China (before XIXth century) into five stages. Map below illustrates these stages, and also shows basic geography of China: rivers, deserts, mountain ranges (cities are today’s cities).

Map for China history
Cosmetic corrections: september 2006

  • First stage is the ancient China (2nd millennium BC - 770 BC) when the state that appeared in Shaanxi, Henan and Shanxi provinces (blue border) conquered the valley of River Huang He (Yellow River). Blue arrows shows this expansion.
  • Second stage is the feudal fragmentation of “Springs and Autumns” and “Warring Kingdoms” periods (770-221 BC).
  • Third stage starts from emperor Shi Hunagdi (founder of Quin dynasty), who conquered all kingdoms, built the Great Wall (navy blue zigzag) and was the real creator of China Empire. This was the age (221 BC - IXth century AD) of relative economic prosperity because of the expansion to the South China (green arrow) and profitable export thorough the Silk Road (red line).
  • Fourth stage (Xth - XVIth century) is the age of stable and relatively isolated feudal state, periodically invaded by barbarians (black arrows) or quaked with peasants revolts (yellow border shows the core of China lands).
  • Fifth stage begins in XVIIth century when China started to isolate form the European penetration. This stage was ended in XIXth century with Opium Wars.

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First stage: Ancient China

Before 770 BC. Historians have very limited knowledge about the first China’s dynasties (Xia, Shang and Zhou). Those dynasties are mentioned in China tradition, but most of the early literature and historical writings were destroyed according to orders of emperor Shi Hunagdi, when he fought with political opposition to unite China. Chronologies before the year 841 BC are constructed based only on archeological discoveries and have the fault that historians could mistake cultures (people who use the same pottery, weapons, etc.) with dynasties (families of rulers). But we can safely assume that before the year of 770 BC there was three cycles of rise-and-fall of early feudal China states (called Xia, Shang and Zhou). We also know that Zhou dynasty was real and started form barbarian invasion. 

These times early China state, probably formed in Shaanxi, Henan and Shanxi provinces, expanded East along the river Hunag-He. The Shaanxi province was originally called “The Land Between Mountain Passes” (or sometimes “west of the mountain passes”) and is really the great valley, where a few important trade routes are stressed together and cross. Maybe this was the reason the first state was formed here not in the North China Plain (East form Shaanxi close to the sea), where the local rulers cannot so easy control many trade routes. It is also useful to note that Huang He river (Yellow River) very often changes its river-bed (in Medieval for some time Huang He went to the sea thorough the River Yangtze).

Of course it is hard to say, was it more a military or peaceful economic expansion. In my opinion, because of geography of Huang He river basin, the expansion of Ancient China probably resembled the expansion of early medieval Russia from river Dniepr basin to river Volga basin: peaceful colonization of higher-technology nation was (when necessary) supported with military force by rulers.


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Second Stage: Feudal fragmentation

770-221 BC. Feudal fragmentation (divided into two periods: “Springs and Autumns” and “Warring Kingdoms”) started from barbarian invasion, but rulers of China were loosing their power gradually for some time before. For five centuries China was divided into many kingdoms fighting with each other. It was the period of wars and chaos, but also the acme of culture and philosophy.

I am not going to describe different schools of Chinese philosophy here (Chinese tradition says wit some poetic emphasis that there was a 100 of schools of thought), but I have to mention two most important:
  • Confucius doctrine. Simplifying terribly Confucius (Kong Fu Zi) doctrine concentrates on life according to virtues, respect to moral authorities, respect for elders and ancestors. Finally Confucius doctrine (Confucianism) became an official doctrine of China Empire, because it promoted ideas that naturally supported the authorities of Empire.
  • Taoism (or Daoism) was a mystic doctrine which promotes self-development and some magic practices. Taoism finally became a philosophy of poor ones and common people, and was sometimes ignored, some times haunted by authorities.

It is an example of ideological polarization natural to feudal countries. Such opposite ideologies (pro-authority and anti-authority) like Confucianism and Taoism in China, were also present in medieval Middle East (sunnites and shi’ites) and in medieval Europe (official church hierarchy and beggars orders, heresies, mystic religious movements respectively).


Here is a short introduction to Hundred Shools of Taught of Springs and Autumns and Warring Kingdoms periods.


Continuous wars (the same as renaissance wars in Italy inspired Machiavelli) inspired Sun Tze (or Sun Tzu) to write a tractate about the art of waging war.

Below is an link to “The Art of War” written by Sun Tze (Sun Tzu). Well, it is a very basic tractate about strategy and tactics, and do not mention many important elements (the main weakness is that Sun Tze describes the war as an art of deception, but sometimes there is no chance to use deception tricks, and the brute clash of steel decides who will win), but in spite of this, his tractate is a mandatory lecture for everyone, who want to study tactics.

The basic rule of tactics from his tractate could be summed up as: Find what advantages (number, morale, terrain, maneuverability, firepower, intelligence, etc.) you have over your enemy, and what advantages the enemy have over you. Then don’t let him use his (or her) advantages against you, and use yours advantages against him (or her).

The Art of War

I also don’t like this translation, because Lionel Giles had problems with poetic nature of Chinese language. For example word “heaven” should be probably translated as “sky”!

Finally China was reunited by kingdom of Quin (see map). Probably the reason for Quin strength and conquests was the income from the export by the Silk Road (a trade route from China to Middle East, Europe and India) plus maybe better iron weapons and other war technologies imported from West.


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Third stage: Export by the Silk Road

221 BC - IXth century AD. Emperor Shi Huangdi (name means “The First Emperor”) - famous for his funeral terracotta army and from movie “Hero” - from Quin, who united China was the real creator of China Empire. He introduced many reforms: unified law, administration, currency, systems of measures and built roads. His methods were brute (like methods of Peter the Great or Ivan The Terrible in Russia) - many opponents were killed, many nobles were deported, many books were burnt. And he also built the Great Wall joining together many smaller walls protecting China from barbarians.

Walls. It is useful to note that great walls protecting borders are often the first symptom that the country have no strength to continue expansion beyond the protected border. It was true for the Great Wall, for Roman walls (called limes), for wall built by Chimu kingdom or for French Maginot Line.

After Shi Huangdi death, a great rebellion destroyed the Quin dynasty, but thanks to his reforms the Empire survived the civil war, and next dynasty - Han - ruled China for four centuries.. Anotherr reason for this political stability was the economic prosperity because of colonization of low-populated South China and export by the Silk Road. China (peripheral state) had lower income than Middle East and Europe (core states), so could easy export goods that China manufacturers had a technological monopoly: first silk, then china (delicate pottery), tea, etc.

Economic center of the World (core states)
Well, Immanuel Wallerstein classification of “core” and “peripheral” countries is too simplified. Actually the whole pattern is more complicated, and we should distinguish at least three types of states: high-income (core), middle-income, and low-income countries plus a special subclass for countries which have great deposits of natural resources (comparing to the number of inhabitants). And there are periods when the international trade is extremely profitable for non-core countries, and periods when non-core countries are exploited because of monopolistic prices dictated by core countries or some international trusts (ex. OPEC). A few paragraphs below I will present a picture that helps to understand reasons for both scenarios.

But since IIIrd century BC most important regions of the Old World (Europe Asia and Africa) was one economic organism, and we can define the economic center of the World (i.e. core states). Below I present simplified timeline:

  • IIIrd BC - IVth AD, Greece, Hellenistic States and then Roman Empire
  • VIth - VIIth, Byzantium
  • IXth - Xth, Arabian states of Middle East and Spain plus Byzantium
  • XIIth - XVth, Italian city-states
  • XVIth - XVIIth, Spain, Netherlands and Northern Italy (in decline)
  • XVIIIth till the first half of XIXth century, England
  • 1860-1940, England plus some Western European states and North-East USA
  • After 1940, USA, Western Europe plus Italy and Japan (since 1975)
Of course there were also “local cores”. For example medieval China was a core state for Japan and other neighbouring states.

China is one of the best examples of feudal state with a strong role of government and administration. The feudal hierarchy was the hierarchy of offices (like ex. in XIXth century Russia). Moreover China officials (like in the Inca Empire) were usually highly educated. We can say that in Europe generally dominated a “free-market-oriented” feudal system while in China a “state-oriented” feudal system.

Free market is generally more effective, but government regulated marked also have some advantages, which are generally the same as a monopoly or great corporation with big market share has:

  • Big firm or country have advantages of scale (or economies of scale) in some economic activities (for example a big country usually wins wars with smaller countries).
  • When a country is important exporter of some goods or resources (silk or china for China), could dictate the prices and thus maximize income from export.
  • Monopoly could protect important technologies longer than many independent producers (China was able to protect technology of silk and china for few centuries).
  • And finally, transaction costs for some economic activities are sometimes lower when there is a kind of central management (government administration, corporate managers).

Transaction costs generally speaking are the whole costs of transaction other than price: costs to get to the market place, costs to negotiate the price, costs to chose the best offer, cost of recalculating the currencies and units of measure, cost of controlling if we are not cheated by a dishonest market-player, etc. (See also New Institutional Economy glossary)

These costs can be so high that is sometimes better to implement some organization and central management than to allow a free-market game (and using math tools we can say when is better). Do you imagine that a Grand Canal (between Huang He and Yangtze rivers) could had been built by a thousands of small private enterprises employing only several workers each?

Of course a government-regulated market has some flaws. One of them is an inflation when government spendings are to high. China experienced this after the year of 133 BC as an effect of wars with barbarian tribes of Huns (the same nation that a few centuries later invaded the Roman Empire), when emperor - because of the costs of war - had to spoil money, but Huns were defeated and started a migration to the west.

It is useful to note here that China had a very limited deposits of precious metals, except copper (comparing with the demand for money created by the China’s economy). So when Chinese a several centuries later discovered paper money, they really discovered the hyperinflation, which, as you recall, is a side-effect of stagflation crisis in a government-regulated economy.

Han dynasty (the same as Tang dynasty a few centuries later) - as every feudal government supported by GPI, I call the planters-faction (i.e. group of political interests that represents feudals and merchants interested in export) - was open for new ideas. China even sent expedition of explores to the West.

Centuries from IIIrd to VIth were another period of feudal fragmentation in China. One of the reasons for this decline was the economic and political crisis in the Roman Empire, which reduced the demand for Chinesee export and thus weakened China’s government which had monopolistic control over the export. With the economic recovery of populistic Byzantine Empire, China recovered also. Of course there is some latency in economic cycles in both regions.

Here is a simplified model explaining economic relations between countries and thus economic cycles. Although very simple, this model is quite strong, because is based on the second law of thermodynamics and the Solow’s model.
A basic version of hydroeconomic model.
This model would probably look better if animated: countries should go up and down, diffusion channels (pipes between bottles) should become wider or narrower, and red valves could be opened or closed by governments. Of course there are some simplifications here:

  • There are no “backflows” (blue streams going up) from the export of capital.
  • There are no income from international trade (income collected from diffusion channels).
  • There are no tributes from conquered countries.
  • There are no extra income when a country have a monopoly on a particular good.

And the most important: economic policy is usually (except maybe the highest political system in my classification) constructed in such a way to protect the economic interests of the ruling GPI (group of political interests). So sometimes government policy could be protectionistic when a free trade is profitable for the whole country, and vice versa. As you recall, this is one of basic explanations, why the higher political system is usually more economically effective (a country with higher political system usually has a higher rate of “natural growth”) - government represents interests of wider group of citizens.

But even playing with such a simple model, you can understand reasons for most of the economic processes in history. Including reasons for feudal fragmentation of China when the demand in Europe and Middle West shrunk.

In the times of another great dynasty, Tang (VIIth-IXth century AD), the process of colonization of South China ended, and populations of both regions equalized. The trade between Southern and Northern China became more important than the trade with the West. In result the capital of China was moved from the Shaanxi province (Xi’an) closer to the Grand Canal. (It is not unusual for the capital of the state to be moved, when trade routes shifts or government changes the economic policy. Great examples are removals Roman Empire capital from Rome to Constantinople or the Russia capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg and back).

Tang dynasty is also the age, when Buddhism imported from India (generally in Vth century AD) gained popularity in China. Interestingly in China the religion did not played so important role here as in Europe, India or Middle West. Well, here is a simplified explanation:
  • When a feudal country prospers because of profitable export, there are no serious social conflicts (see frame below), and thus elites are tolerant and open for new ideas (including other religions) - thiis is the case of early China (Han dynasty).
  • China conquered many lands with local beliefs and local religions, so the ideology that united the Empire had to be irreligious and tolerant for local traditions.
  • And there was little or no economic need for ideology like religion.

Economic function of religion
Generally most of the religion ideologies have one common element: promise the happiness after death on in the future, if the believer lived honestly, sparingly and not fought for his (or her) rights. So, religions have an economic effect of promoting the capital accumulation and suppressing the power of labor workers. Simply speaking: in the early history of the China Empire, when the export was very profitable and there was a high demand for peasants (people were more valuable than the capital) to colonize South, there was no natural economic conditions and reasons for a religion system to evolve.

Of course, when I speak “capital” I really mean “land”  which is the main form of capital in feudal countries. There is a little difference between them: land can’t “run away”, when is confiscated by government or external invaders. Capital can also be confiscated or nationalized, but because it should be continuously renewed, is much harder to hobble (imprison).

And again, I do not want to say there is a conspiracy mechanism here. There is no secret meeting of aristocrats or government officials, who decide that introducing the religion ideology will be profitable, because will help to exploit peasants or to rule the common people. No, new ideologies emerge in an evolutionary way - simply speaking: people who promote new ideology gradually gains more money, larger audience or influential friends in administration structures of the state.


After a few centuries when conditions changed, Confucianism ideology was so strongly rooted in China tradition that could substitute the religion. But in the times of Tang and Song dynasties (VIIth-XIIth) there was some times periods or serious religious conflicts between main religious and ideological movements: Buddhism, Taoism (in many aspect very similar to religion but not so formalized), Confucianism, Islam and Christianity. And government periodically organized haunts for followers of non-China religions. As you can see, China was not really so different from Europe - when different factions fought to gain control over country’s politics, ideological conflicts were intense. 

With the shrinking demand for Chinese export in the Middle East and with the less profitable trade exchange between South and North China when economic levels of both regions equalized, the power of central government declined, and Tang dynasty failed (at the beginning of Xth century). And another period of feudal fragmentation started.



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Fourth stage: Relatively isolated feudal state

Xth-XVIth century. Since Xth century China was a relatively isolated feudal state that had its own cycles of rise an fall (more or less as the Ancient Egypt). Economic policy of the Emperor’s court changed many times and because of many reasons. Originally I have planed to use China as an example to show the reasons for transitions of government policy in a feudal state (to explain when different feudal factions take over the leadership). But then I realized that the whole lecture is too long for this short introduction to the Mechanics of History. I present short explanation in the frame below. 

My simplifications
I said before that in feudal country there are basically three feudal factions: soldiers faction, priests faction, feudal faction. But you have to remember that this is only a kind of simplification. For example in China there were a subfactions interested in expansion West, South and North-East (Korea) in the soldiers faction (expansive faction). Also the transitions of the state policy was (depending on economic circumstances) an effect of military coup d’etat, court intrigue, peasants revolt, barbarian invasion, or simply effect of changing advisors by the Emperor. Moreover, transition could be brutal or quite peaceful depending on a few factors like:

  • Is the country’s economy in decline or in growth
  • How rich is the country comparing with its economic partners
  • How deep are conflicts of goals and interests between different factions

Also the personal decisions of the Emperor mattered. Intelligent ruler could slow the decline a few decades, while stupid one may cause the catastrophe of the Empire come sooner. So, my classification of political factions in the feudal country should be used to explain only the basic processes.

The Empire of Song dynasty - which united China again (and ruled the Empire till the Mongol invasion 960-1225 and till 1279 in South China) - was rather peaceful comparing with Han and Tang dynasties. This time the Empire was smaller and strong half-barbarian kingdoms controlled the Great Wall, northern mountain passes and the Silk Road. Simply speaking, China was a quite rich country these times and has no profitable lands to conquer in close vicinity, so the pacifism was the most reasonable economic policy.

Here is a short article about steppe states of Asia.

Also there was no reason to control trade route to the West because the economic gap between China and the West (i.e. Europe and Middle East) almost disappeared and therefore export to the West was not so profitable as before. China Empire was one of the richest countries these times. Also the technological gap between China and the West was smaller. Chinese made many important discoveries like: gunpowder, print, compass, paper.

But we have to remember that China was still less technologically developed than the West. These discoveries were spectacular, but there were only a few of them while Europeans and Arabians had known many technologies which Chinese did not know (in metallurgy, warfare, constructing, engineering, math, writing, mining, ships building). Here are only a few examples:

  • Chinese discovered printing but did not know the alphabet, so the technology of printing was not very profitable.
  • Chinese discovered gunpowder, but were behind in metallurgy, so did not invented canons.
  • Chinese had no technology of stove, so could not colonize Siberia forests (and even Manchuria) north of them.

It is the irony of history that the country ruled by civil service of very educated officials - because education was the main criteria to become a state official and then to go up in administration hierarchy (as you recall feudal class in China was the class of state officials) - had slower technological growth than countries of the West, often ruled by uneducated rulers. The main reason is, the scientific development is chaotic of nature and its rate slows down when the government controls and regulates the country’s economy.

Chaotic nature of scientific development
The rate of science development is slower in states with government-regulated economy. There are a few reasons for this:

  • First, and the most important: new scientific discoveries and new technology ideas are most often a result of cross-branches studies and implementation of new ideas stolen from neighbouring branches (for example economics was originally developed when Adam Smith used the idea of predictable clock-like nature taken from Isaac Newton’s phisics). When there are a very formalised castes of researchers with very limited areas of interests, the scientific development slows down.
  • Second, development of new technologies is much more effective when there is an economic pressure that eliminates the most ineffective research efforts. When there is no wasting money on large, ineffective government-sponsored projects and when scientists are forced do search the cheapest solutions and are forced to use their brains first. And when there are many private sponsors without prejudices, who are open for new ideas, which may be considered as “stupid” or “magic” in academic community (great example is the gunpowder and alchemic researches, which was considered by Confucianists as “magic tricks for plebeians who uses to believe in Taoistic superstitions”).
  • Third, when economy is free-market oriented, new ideas and discoveries are almost immediately implemented and used in economic enterprises. Practical implementation of technologies gives scientists a great volume of new data, and much more of observations than any academic in its ivory tower could ever produce in laboratory experiments. These times a scientist need only a talent for observation, and a few tools to verify his (or her) new theories. Plus of course a faster implementation means that the economy grows faster and thus there is more money for scientific researches in a long run.

We should also remember that many of Chinese inventions were really the toys for the Imperial Court and for rich officials, and were not implemented in every day life or were not implemented in the most efficient way. On the other hand, European inventions were usually not so spectacular, but had greater impact on economy. It is like comparing the technology of Soviet Union and USA in 50-ties and 60-ties. Launch of Sputnik (first satellite launched by USSR) was spectacular, opposite to computers, genetics, plastics, television, and many other US technologies, which however had greater practical value. But to stay honest: in early Medieval (VIth-Xth centuries AD) China had probably higher technology level than Western Europe (but probably not higher than the Byzantine Empire and Arabian Middle East). Then with the emergence of populistic city-states in Italy in XIth century, the rate of technology development in Europe speeded up and China technologies were slowly becoming more and more obsolete.

Before the XIXth century one of the basic economic evidences, which country was richer is the direction of coins (money) flows. We just need to see which country was an exporter of goods (China), and which one had to export money (Middle East, Europe). Country that had to export money, usually is richer - demand for the goods imported from abroad is so high that the country have not enough exportable goods to balance the import and thus have a permanent negative trade balance (warning: it is true only when economies of most countries are government-regulated). As I said before: rich country have a comparative advantage at money.

An effect of economic stagnation in China was the neighbouring barbarian tribes grew in strength. Song dynasty lost the north of China for the half-barbaric rulers in 1126 - Ruzhens (or Jurchens), founders of Jin dynasty. And finally China experienced the Mongol invasion. Mongols leaded by great chieftain Gengis Khan conquered Northern China at the beginning of XIIIth century. (Song dynasty survived in Southern China till 1279 AD, when the grandson of Gengis Khan, Kublai Khan conquered the rest of the China.) The Mongol Empire of Ghengis Khan and his descendants (called Yuan dynasty) was probably one of the greatest empires in the history. (See map) As I said before, one-fourth of human population lived in China, so Mongol barbarian conquests launched by the fall of China have to be extraordinary. Especially because steppes and grasslands of Eurasia (from Hungary to Manchuria) are a very easy travel route for nomad tribes.

Climatic changes
There is also a theory that barbarians invasions on China were caused by climatic changes. Of course in feudal states and primitive barbaric societies climatic changes (periods of cold or drought) can expedite the crisis and have the influence on economic cycles that are responsible for the falls of feudal states and barbarian invasions.

Armies of Mongols conquered and subordinated China, Siberia, Central Asia, the great part of Middle East and Russia. (Of course most of the feudal countries conquered by Mongols were more or less decomposed.) They even plundered Poland and Hungary in Central Europe. But aside from the destruction and fire that Mongol conquests brought to many cities and states, had also some positive effect: uniting the Asia opened again the trade route from Europe to China. Before Mongols the Silk Road was controlled by several countries and the costs of trade exchange were very high, because of many taxes merchants had to pay - now it was much easier to travel and trade.

Opening of new trade routes brought extra profits to Italian populistic merchant republics of Genoa and Venice. With the travels of Venetian merchant Marco Polo. Europeans gained knowledge about China and the Court of Kublai Khan. But for China export to the West was these times not such profitable as before. The main source of government income for Mongol Emperor - who resided in Bejing - was the salt monopoly.

Under the rule of Kublai Khan the empire of Yuan dynasty reached the peak of its power. Mongols as every barbarian tribe which conquered China were absorbed by the higher civilization of conquered country. Emperor even tried to conquer Japan, but the strong resistance of Japanese and the fortunate storm called Kamikaze (divine wind), which destroyed the invasion fleet, saved Japan from Chinese conquest. It is useful to mention that even the invasion was successful, the large population of Japan (plus the logistic problems) would made the long occupation of Japan isles impossible.

Here is a short introduction to the History of Japan.
Plus the short History of Korea.
Detailed lectures on Japan and Korea history, you can also find in Wikipedia.

The rule of Yuan dynasty was ended with national rebellion against Mongol Emperors and that was the start of Ming (1368-1644) dynasty famous in Europe from precious china. In the times of Ming dynasty European sailors (Portuguese) arrived in China, and since then trade exchange with Europe was not longer conducted by the Silk road but by the sea.

It is also worth to mention here that in times of Ming dynasty - and a few decades before the Great Europpean discoveries - between the years of 1405-1433 Chinese admiral Zheng He (Muslim eunuch) made a number successful expeditions to India Ocean (here is a map). His fleet reached even the eastern coast of Africa, but then his journeys were prohibited by the Emperor. Zheng He expeditions reached only the well lands known for a few centuries to the Arabian sailors, which had for some time trade outpost in South China (and also Chinese merchant sailors according to Arabic chronicles). But the strange decision of China Emperor is a good example that in feudal countries with government-regulated economy there is very little economic pressure to explore of new lands and made geographic discoveries, because political interests of merchant class are poorly represented.


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Fifth Stage: Protectionism and isolation

XVIIth - XVIIIth century.  First contacts with Europeans were not encouraging. European sailors (especially Portuguese, who first reached China) used to practice piracy taking advantage of superior firepower of their ships. It was the normal practice among European sailors of all nations. European countries were much richer (per capita) than China, so there was a high demand for Chinese goods in Europe and almost no demand for European goods in China. European traders had three options:
  1. To pay with precious metals (coins) - again: rich country has comparative advantage at money.
  2. To monopolize the sea trade in the region, and get extra income as trade middlemen, which will help to pay for Chinese goods.
  3. To rob traders of other nations, getting Chinese goods for free.
Strategy 1. would effect in money leak from Europe, and strategies 2. and 3. forced Europeans to practise the piracy as a way of economic activity.

However sea export to Europe was extremely profitable for local Chinese officials (often corrupted by European merchants), so for some time China government did not react. But in XVIIth century China Emperors started to take some protectionist measures - more or less the same time as shoguns of Japan did. To be honest, the reason for this change in policy was rather to protect the Emperor income from taxes and monopolies than to protect Chinese traders.

The last dynasty of the Emperial China was the Quing dynasty (1644-1912). Emperors of Quing dynasty came from Manchuria (region north of Bejing and Korea east from Mongolia), which conquered the China when Ming dynasty was ended with civil unrest. After the years of unrest rule of external invaders were reasonable option for Chinese elites. Manchuria (Manchu state) was a half-nomadic tribe, but Manchu were not really barbarians, because there was many Chinese cities in Manchuria these times. As I said before, when a feudal state falls, it is usually invaded by barbarians, but invaders could also come from a neighbouring middle-income country.

The rule of Quing dynasty was the age of economic protectionism. So, the ideology promoting that policy evolved, supporting official policy of isolation. Here are some basic foundation of this ideology:
  • China Empire is the center of the World, and have the oldest tradition. Other nations (especially Europeans) are barbarians.
  • Other nations did not developed anything important - our culture, goods and technology are the best.
  • There is nothing interest in ideas imported from other nations, they (their ideas) could bring only corruption to our traditions (which are no doubt the best).
This isolationistic ideology was very different from the curiosity of the world and openness in times of Han or Tang dynasties, but Europeans, who did not know the China before, perceived this ideology as a natural philosophy of Chinese. It is useful to note here that similar ideology could evolve in any state which is in protectionist phase of economic cycle, for example: in Spain in XVIth century, in Poland in 1650-1750 (called Sarmatism), in Soviet Union, or even in France in last decades of XXth century.

Isolationism made China terribly technologically underdeveloped, so British Fleet had no problem to defeat China ships and army in two Opium Wars. These wars ended the China’s isolation and opened the Empire for European trade and investments.

Great Britain started the Opium Wars, because the lack of money to pay for import from China. As a rich country England would had to pay for Chinese goods with gold (again rich country has comparative advantage at money, see see the polarization effect). To protect English trade balance, British wanted to export opium to China (a drug cultivated in British colonies in India). Since then English could buy Chinese goods paying not with British gold, but with money earned from exporting a drug, which was cheaply produced in India. China government tried to stop British smuggling of opium - but rather to protect state income from export taxes and tolls than to protect drug-addicted commoners - so the war was inevitable.

As you can see, the country with the highest political system (third in my classification) also could wage “dirty” and morally doubtful war if such war is profitable. And reasons behind the promotion of free trade are not always honest.

Warsaw, 22 September 2004
Last revision: September-November 2006
Slawomir Dzieniszewski

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