Did China drive or resist the early wave of globalization? Some scholars insist that China contributed nothing to the rise of the global economy that began around 1500. Others have placed China at the center of global integration. Neither side, though, has paid attention to the complex story of China’s maritime policies. Drawing on sources from China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and the West, this important new work systematically explores the evolution of imperial Qing maritime policy from 1684 to 1757 and sets its findings in the context of early globalization.
Gang Zhao argues that rather than constrain private maritime trade, globalization drove it forward, linking the Song and Yuan dynasties to a dynamic world system. As bold Chinese merchants began to dominate East Asian trade, officials and emperors came to see private trade as the solution to the daunting economic and social challenges of the day. The ascent of maritime business convinced the Kangzi emperor to open the coast to international trade, putting an end to the tribute trade system. Zhao’s study details China’s unique contribution to early globalization, the pattern of which differs significantly from the European experience. It offers impressive insights into the rise of the Asian trade network, the emergence of Shanghai as Asia’s commercial hub, and the spread of a regional Chinese diaspora.
To understand the place of China in the early modern world, how modernity came to China, and early globalization and the rise of the Asian trade network, The Qing Opening to the Ocean is essential reading.
Zhao presents a useful complement by telling us about the Qing state. In this way, The Qing Opening to the Ocean presents a more traditional top-down approach, focusing on Chinese officials and intellectuals rather than on the merchants themselves.
This is an important work based on impressive erudition that offers a convincing reinterpretation of Chinese attitudes toward maritime trade.
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