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Early Economic Prosperity: Fine China

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Early Economic Prosperity: Fine China
For centuries, the common theme of global politics and economics has been focused on the relative prosperity of the West compared to the rest of the world. It’s a trend with roots as early as the 15th century and that has characterized the world we live in today. In the 9th through the 14th century, however, China was starting to become one of the more prominent powerhouses in the world and played a major role on the international level in both politics and economics. China’s impressive strength during this time period insists that certain policies must have been put into place at the governmental level in order to spearhead the country into prosperity. To just credit this success to a more centralized approach than the rest of the world would be an unjust oversimplification of China’s illustrious history. Instead, we must look at China’s emphasis on both technological advancements and centralized business practices as the sources of their ensuing dominance in the several centuries prior to the arrival of Europeans in the Americas.
While some say that just a general policy of centralization helped to spur Chinese advancement during this time period, it is actually more accurate to hone in on their reformative business practices as the most probable cause. As Abu-Lughod (1989) stresses, China’s reforms occurred both on a national and a global scale. Within borderlines, one of China’s first steps was to adopt paper money (especially in North China) by the end of the 11th century. Amidst a global economy centered on the exchange of various metals, this business procedure lent itself to a more modern form of international trade. With this policy shift, China was able to homogenize their internal currency and set up a front for the rest of the world to deal with. Paper money became the only form of foreign currency, forcing foreign merchants with gold and coins to exchange those goods for China’s form of currency (1989). As a result, China developed into a medium between foreign and local merchants and could ensure that fortunes would not just arbitrarily amass elsewhere.
Alongside their innovations on the business front, China made significant advances in technology that propelled them into dominant success in the pre-Columbian era. An obvious benefit was discovered in their production of silk during this time period. Due to its rarity in other parts of the world, silk became a luxury good with high demand from high-end customers. It meant that Chinese merchants were welcomed with their product into many foreign cities, especially across Southeast Asia. This inevitably led to a broadening of the market and a growing dependency on China for specific goods. With their low bulk production on top of this (1989), even transport was cost-effective. Dunn and Mitchell (2015) also extend this idea of advancement by pointing out the highly developed system of roads and canals within the country itself. What cannot be forgotten are the innovations that led to China’s integration into trade across the seas. With the invention of the compass as New World Encyclopedia (2014) brings up and the development of the first oceangoing ships as Hadingham (2001) discusses, sea trade became much safer and more practical. Consequently, China’s economic empire stretched along its well-designed roads to other empires and found just as much, if not more, success in bringing those same goods to even more countries via water.
The question of how China came to be prosperous is not a small one. It actually leads us to uncover both what made China prosper and what made them lag behind European progress in later years. What is clear is the significance of business and technology both back then and now. Although China is now among the prosperous once more, there is something to be said about its unmatched magnificence in its prime. Perhaps the beauty of its history, then, is in its claim to innovative practices that parallel much of our international interactions today.
References
Abu-Lughod, Janet (1989). Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250-1350.
Oxford University Press
Dunn, Ross & Mitchell, Laura (2015). Panorama A World History Volume 2: from 1300.
McGraw-Hill Education
Hadingham, Evan (2001). Ancient Chinese Explorers. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/ nova/ancient/ancient-chinese-explorers.html New World Encyclopedia (2014). History of Science and Technology in China. Retrieved from http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/History_of_science_and_technology_in_C ina

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