Should Ming and Qing Dynasties be blamed for "relative Chinese backwardness" in the nineteenth century?

VHS

Ad Honorem
Dec 2015
4,865
Florania
Due to the large ships and fleets of Zheng He, we often assume that early Ming Dynasty was quite ahead of Medieval Europe.
Some may blame Empeor Zhu Zhanji for closing up the expeditions, destroying the files and established the sea ban, and
it began isolation in China.
Empeor Zhu Zaihou lifted the sea ban and started fairly substantial technological and religious exchanges; then, the Ming
Dynasty lasted a bit too short beyond that.
Qing Dynasty under Aixinjueluo Xuanye allowed some western technologies; he did not allow widespread uses of these
sciences and technologies.
Sea ban was reestablished under Aixinjueluo Yinzhen and Aixinjueluo Hongli.
In the nineteenth century, China lagged behind in education, science and technologies, bureaucratic system, military
organizations, agriculture and production.
Should Ming and Qing Dynasties be blamed for this lag?
What was responsible for such lags?
Was the "scholarly classes" responsible for such lags?
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
5,682
Sydney
the Chinese culture was dominat in a rather small world , it was self referencing and had only less technological and intellectuals neighbors
this led to an attitude of superiority which bred intellectual inbreeding
neither the Ming or Qing can be trully be blamed for this ,

they conformed to the Chinese mindscape until brutally being shaken awake by the Western barbarians
no matter how sophisticated the arguments , being punched in the nose long enough is an enlightening experience
 

heavenlykaghan

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
4,560
The Ming did purposely try to keep economic development agricultural based and consistent throughout the empire so no region becomes to developed and destabilize the entire empire. This is noted in Ray Huang's book on 16th century Ming government revenue. Li Bozhong also studied the Jiangnan area and convincingly argued that it was the Yuan-Ming transition, not the Mongols, which put an end to the proto-capitalistic economy of the region. Both Song and Yuan revenue were already heavily dependent on merchant tax instead of agricultural tax.

the Chinese culture was dominat in a rather small world , it was self referencing and had only less technological and intellectuals neighbors
That depends on what you mean by dominant and what you mean by cultural influence. The tributary system applied to around 41-42% of the world's population in 1800. It's not until the mid 19th century that the Westphalian international system of the west really surpassed this Asian international system in population number. The Tang tributary system might have covered as much as half of humanity or more in the mid-8th century. Not all states in the tributarty system were dictated, or even influenced by Chinese culture however.
 
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sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
5,682
Sydney
Numbers are an incorrect metric ,
consider the 17th century reach of the European powers
they circled the globe
the Muslim world , India , the Turkish and Russian Empire had to accommodate and resist Europe expansion ,
its intellectual and technical superiority was acknowledged in various reforms ,mostly by partial imitation
the Far East were the last to have to contend with it ..
The Hermit kingdom , Korea , was cracked open by force of arms in the late 19th century by the US Korea war
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
6,111
The Hermit kingdom , Korea , was cracked open by force of arms in the late 19th century by the US Korea war
What war?

The Japanese initiated the "Unyo Incident" in 1875 as a preliminary to trying to crack open Korea, and got the Ghangwa Island Treaty in 1876, which forced Korea to open selected ports to trade.

Prior to that the French in 1866 and the US in 1871 had carried out punitive expeditions against Korea, but without getting that kind of treaty.
 
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VHS

Ad Honorem
Dec 2015
4,865
Florania
The Ming did purposely try to keep economic development agricultural based and consistent throughout the empire so no region becomes to developed and destabilize the entire empire. This is noted in Ray Huang's book on 16th century Ming government revenue. Li Bozhong also studied the Jiangnan area and convincingly argued that it was the Yuan-Ming transition, not the Mongols, which put an end to the proto-capitalistic economy of the region. Both Song and Yuan revenue were already heavily dependent on merchant tax instead of agricultural tax.



That depends on what you mean by dominant and what you mean by cultural influence. The tributary system applied to around 41-42% of the world's population in 1800. It's not until the mid 19th century that the Westphalian international system of the west really surpassed this Asian international system in population number. The Tang tributary system might have covered as much as half of humanity or more in the mid-8th century. Not all states in the tributarty system were dictated, or even influenced by Chinese culture however.
I recalled reading Ray Huang's book 1587: A Year of No Significance. The conclusion of the book is that Ming was beyond rescue even with the best efforts
of its emperors, military and civil leaders, philosophers.
Some may blame the gentry for continuous agrarian society and lack of progress;
 

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,702
The US played a role in opening up Japan. I never heard about anything with the US and Korea in the 19th century.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
5,682
Sydney



All cultures are inward looking to a large degree ,
only outside frictions tend to open minds to the existence of a significant other
the Blessing and Curse of china is that it was a local dominant power for so long a period
with only the steppes people and local peasants rising as issues ,
helped by a strong bureaucracy , its dynasties could survive long after they had reached severe incompetence
the Chinese leadership was isolated in a bubble and lost contact with reality
 
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heavenlykaghan

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
4,560
Numbers are an incorrect metric ,
consider the 17th century reach of the European powers
they circled the globe
the Muslim world , India , the Turkish and Russian Empire had to accommodate and resist Europe expansion ,
its intellectual and technical superiority was acknowledged in various reforms ,mostly by partial imitation
the Far East were the last to have to contend with it ..
The Hermit kingdom , Korea , was cracked open by force of arms in the late 19th century by the US Korea war
Neither sheer population or geographic size are exhaustive metrics. However, population size is a more accurate measurement because its tied to productivity. I prefer to gauge influence through geo-economics.

The real political reach of 17th century Europe was very limited, and in terms of global trade, Andre Gunder Frank argued that Europe was more of a periphery. China and India didn't need to expand as they were the primary exporter and driver of the global trade. Broadberry and Gupta however, prefers to not over exaggerate the interconnection of global trade before the late 19th century and still sees the world divided into regional economic blocs. Yet, here, economic historians like Robert Allen shows that China's tributary system still took up the lion's share of the globe's economy perhaps until the early 19th century. In terms of sheer volume, European total production combined with their colonies might not have surpassed China's until late 1810s when Britain took over most of India.

Despite circumnavigating the globe, the Europeans penetrated little beyond islands and sea coasts of the major continents with the exception of South and Central America. The Europeans were resisting Ottoman expansion, not the other way around. There were adoptions of European technology, which were further developed upon and it was not at all clear that there were any lead in European weaponry until the very end of the 18th century. The entire Inner Asian and Qing Empire in the 18th century for example, adopted Muslims weapons such as the Zamborak, not European firearms. Nader Shah's armies (including the later Afghans) used these same arms and defeated the European equipped Marathas and Ottomans. European intellect were not acknowledged to be superior in many of these places until well into the 19th century, and in the case of China, not until the turn of the 20th century.

The problem is viewing the Chinese cultural world as one single entity compared to the Western civilization. William Skinner divides China into 9 socio-economic macro regions. The reason it didn't grow as fast as European states was because there weren't active promotion of competition among these regions. As R Bin Wong argued, the economic growth of the PRC after the 1970s was due precisely to government policies pushing at inter-provincial economic competition.

The problem with East Asia is that the cultural Sino-sphere did not neatly overlap the China centered economic tributary system. Japan was more or less part of the cultural Sino-sphere, but was usually not part of the tributary system since the Tang dynasty. On the other hand, most of Inner Asia up to the Aral sea were dependent upon Chinese products since the Han period and was part of the tributary system, but not of the Sino-cultural sphere. Étienne de la Vaissière's recent breakthrough book Sogdian Traders: A History showed that the rise and fall of the Sogdian merchant network which controlled the bulk of the silk route trade in the early medieval period, was heavily tied to socio-politics of China, especially the founding and collapse of the Tang dynasty.
 
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Nov 2019
63
Solar System
My reasoning is that China's downfall at the 19th century was not unique, but tied to the downfall of other traditional "continental empires" or "continental civilizations", such as the Persians, the Arabs, the Indians, and the Ottomans. The Asian steppe nomads were part of the continental civilizations as well, and as other continental powers fell they too had fallen. The west's success in the past several hundred years was due to the fact that they were "marine empires" or "marine civilizations" which relied heavily on maritime trade and oversea colonies.

But in the 21st century, as China has caught up with other maritime powers (China's navy is increasing and modernizing rapidly and the Shanghai port is currently the world's busiest port) and as new technologies and infrastructures have facilitated inter-continental trade (pipelines, highways, high-speed rails, etc.), there's a high chance for China to make a comeback.
 
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