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Civilizations of the 15th Century


Civilizations of the 15th Century Comparing China and Europe – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Civilizations of the 15th Century

Civilizations of the 15th Century
  • Comparing China and Europe

Ming Dynasty China
  • If you were able to be a traveler in time and go
    back to the 15th century, Ming China would be the
    place to start.
  • Ming China was heir to a long tradition of
    effective governance, sophisticated artistic
    achievements, and a highly productive economy.

Ming Dynasty China
  • Even though China had been greatly disrupted by
    nearly a century of Mongol rule, and its
    population greatly reduced by the plague, during
    the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) China recovered.

Ming Dynasty China
  • The Ming (means brilliant) ruled from 1368-1644
    and re-established the cycle of Chinese
  • They would be the dynasty in power when the
    Europeans arrived.

Ming Dynasty China
  • The early decades of the dynasty saw the effort
    to eliminate all traces of foreign (Mongol) rule,
    discouraging the use of Mongol names and dress,
    while promoting Confucian learning based the
    models of the Han, Tang, and Song dynasties.
  • Culturally, the Ming looked to the past

Ming Dynasty China
  • Politically, the Ming reestablished the civil
    service examination system that the Mongols had
    neglected and they created a highly centralized
    government based around the emperor.
  • A cadre of eunuchs personally loyal to the
    emperor had great authority, much to the chagrin
    of the official bureaucrats (as castrated men,
    there was no fear of them trying to seize power
    and trying to create a dynasty).

Ming Dynasty China
  • The first Ming emperor (Hongwu) wanted to
    eliminate all governmental corruption (a major
    problem under the Mongols).
  • He tried to impress all officials with the
    honesty, loyalty, and discipline he expected from
    them through the practice of public beatings for
    those found guilty of corruption or incompetence.

Ming Dynasty China
  • Officials charged with misdeeds were beaten on
    their bare tushies (several even died).
  • Those who survived never recovered from the
  • Reverting back to Confucian veneration, students
    were expected to follow the instructions of their
    teachers without question (even if the teachers
    were wrong-but you know teachers are NEVER

Ming Dynasty China
  • One student at the imperial academy dared to
    dispute the lessons of one of his teachers and
    was beheadedhis severed head was put on a pole
    and hung at the academy entrance.
  • There wasnt a problem with order in the
    classroom after that.

Ming Dynasty China
  • In 1402, a new emperor was crownedYongle (Yung
    la) emperor of perpetual happiness.
  • He moved the capital of China from Nanjing to
    Beijing (1402)an area to the north not far from
    the Great Wall which had been depopulated by the

Ming Dynasty China
  • Emperor Yongle (r 1402-1422) sponsored an
    enormous Encyclopedia of some 4,000 volumes.
  • With contributions from over 2,000 scholars, this
    work was to compile all previous writing on
    history, geography, ethics, government and more.

Ming Dynasty China
  • Yongle is also known for building the famous
    Forbidden City in Beijing.
  • Starting in 1406, Yongle had over 1,000,000
    peasants conscripted to build what would become
    the largest palace complex in the world.

Ming Dynasty China
  • Thousands of peasants were sent into the forests
    of southwestern China where they were to cut
    great timbers for construction.
  • These people were at the mercy of disease,
    starvation, and wild animalsit is believed over
    ½ of them died.
  • It would take four years to get these timbers
    from the forests to Beijing and when construction
    began in 1417, it would take 15 years to complete.

Ming Dynasty China
Ming Dynasty China
  • The Ming vigorously tried to repair the damage of
    the Mongol years by restoring millions of acres
    to cultivation rebuilding canals, reservoirs,
    and irrigation works and planting, according to
    some estimates, over a billion trees to reforest

Ming Dynasty China
  • As a result, the Chinese economy rebounded, both
    international and domestic trade flourished, and
    the population grew.
  • By virtually every account, Ming China was the
    best governed and most prosperous country in the

Ming Dynasty China
  • China also undertook the largest and most
    impressive maritime expeditions the world had
    ever seen.
  • Since the 11th century, Chinese sailors and
    traders had been a major presence in the South
    China Sea and in Southeast Asian port cities.

Ming Dynasty China
  • An enormous fleet, commissioned by Emperor Yongle
    himself, was launched in 1405, followed over the
    next 28 years by six more such expeditions.
  • On board the more than 300 ships were nearly
    30,000 sailors and soldiers, 180 physicians,
    hundreds of government officials, 5 astrologers,
    7 high-ranking grand eunuchs, carpenters,
    tailors, accountants, merchants, translators, and

Ming Dynasty China
  • Visiting many ports in Southeast Asia, Indonesia,
    India, Arabia, and East Africa, these fleets,
    captained by Admiral Zheng He (a Muslim eunuch
    from western China), sought to bring distant
    peoples and states into the Chinese tribute

Ming Dynasty China
Ming Dynasty China
  • Dozens of local rulers accompanied the fleets
    back to China, where they presented the emperor
    with gifts (and tribute), performed the required
    rituals of submission (kowtow), and in return,
    received abundant gifts, titles, and trading
  • Chinese officials were amused by some of the
    exotic products found abroad, especially
    ostriches, zebras, and giraffes brought back for
    the royal zoo.

Ming Dynasty China
  • The giraffe became the unicorn of Chinese legends.

Ming Dynasty China
  • Officially described as bringing order to the
    world, Zheng Hes expeditions sought to
    establish Chinese power and prestige in the
    Indian Ocean and to exert Chinese control over
    foreign trade in the region.

Ming Dynasty China
  • However the Chinese did not try to conquer or
    colonize new territories or spread their culture.
  • On one of the voyages, Zheng He erected on the
    island of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) a tablet honoring
    the Buddha, Allah, and a Hindu deity.

Ming Dynasty China
Ming Dynasty China
  • Probably the most surprising feature of these
    voyages was how abruptly and deliberately they
  • After 1433, Chinese officials simply stopped
    their expeditions and allowed the most expensive
    and magnificent fleet in history (to that point)
    to disintegrate in port.
  • The greatest navy in the world had been ordered
    into extinction.

Ming Dynasty China
  • Part of the reason was the death of their patron,
    Emperor Yongle.
  • But many high-ranking Confucian scholar officials
    had long seen the expeditions as a waste of
    resources because China, they believed, was the
    self-sufficient middle kingdom, requiring
    little from the outside (barbarian) world.

Ming Dynasty China
  • In the eyes of the Confucian scholar officials,
    the real danger to China came from the north,
    where nomadic barbarians constantly threatened.
  • The Confucian scholars also saw the voyages as a
    project of the much despised court eunuchs and
    saw this as a way to lessen their power.


Ming Dynasty China
  • Private Chinese merchants continued to trade with
    Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Southeast
    Asia, but they did so without the support of
    their government.
  • China turned its back on what was surely within
    its reachtotal domination of the Indian Ocean

European Comparison
  • At the other end of the Eurasian continent,
    similar processes of population recovery,
    political consolidation, cultural flowering, and
    overseas expansion were underway.
  • Western Europe, having escaped the Mongol
    onslaught but devastated by the plague, began to
    rebound during the second half of the 15th

European Comparison
  • Politically, Europe, like China continued its
    earlier patterns of state building.
  • In China, this meant a single, centralized
    government that encompassed almost the whole of
    its civilization.
  • In Europe, it was a fragmented system of
    separate, independent, and very competitive

European Comparison
  • Europe in 1500

European Comparison
  • Many of these statesSpain, Portugal, France,
    England, the city-states of Italy (Venice, Genoa,
    Milan, and Florence), various German
    principalitieslearned to tax their citizens more
    efficiently, to create more efficient and
    centralized administrative structures, and to
    raise standing armies.

European Comparison
  • A small Russian state emerged, centered on the
    city of Moscow as Mongol rule faded away.
  • Much of Europes state building was based on the
    needs of war, a frequent occurrence in such a
    competitive and fragmented political environment.
  • Long term implications?

European Comparison
  • For example, England and France fought
    intermittently for more than a century in the
    Hundred Years War (1337-1453) over rival claims
    to territory in France.

European Comparison
  • Nothing remotely similar disturbed the internal
    life of Ming dynasty China.
  • A renewed cultural blossoming, the Renaissance,
    paralleled the revival of Confucianism in China.
  • In Europe, that blossoming celebrated and
    reclaimed a classical Greco/Roman tradition that
    had been kept alive in the Arab world.

European Comparison
  • Beginning in the vibrant commercial cities of
    Italy between 1350-1500, the Renaissance
    reflected the belief of the wealthy/powerful
    elite that they were living in a new age, far
    removed from the confined religious world of
    feudal Europe.
  • The few educated citizens of these cities sought
    inspiration in the classical art/literature of
    ancient Greece/Romethey were returning to the
    sources as they put it.

European Comparison
  • The elite patronized great Renaissance artists
    like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and
    Raphael, whose paintings were far more
    naturalistic, particularly when portraying the
    human body, than those of their medieval

European Comparison
  • Even though religious themes remained prominent,
    Renaissance artists began to focus more on the
    secular, on contemporary figures or scenes from
    ancient mythology.

European Comparison
  • In the work of scholars, known as humanists,
    reflection on secular topics such as history,
    grammar, politics, poetry, rhetoric, and ethics
    was more important than religious topics.

European Comparison
  • Machiavellis (1469-1527) famous work The Prince,
    was a prescription for political success based on
    the way politics actually operated in a highly
    competitive Italy of rival city-states rather
    than on idealistic or religiously based
  • Is it better to be loved or feared?

European Comparison
  • Heavily influenced by classical models,
    Renaissance figures were more interested in
    capturing the unique qualities of particular
    individuals and in describing the world as it was
    than in portraying or exploring eternal religious
  • In its focus on the affairs of this world,
    Renaissance culture reflected the urban bustle
    and commercial preoccupations of the Italian

European Comparison
  • The secular elements of the Renaissance
    challenged the otherworldliness of Christian
    culture, and its individualism signaled the
    dawning of a more capitalist economy of private
  • A new Europe was in the making, more different
    from its own recent past than Ming dynasty China
    was from its pre-Mongol glory.

European Comparison
  • So there were three basic characteristics to the
    Italian Renaissance
  • First Renaissance Italy was largely an urban
    society made up of powerful city-states.
  • These city-states became centers of Italian
    political, economic and social life.

European Comparison
  • Second The Renaissance signaled an age of
    recovery from the disasters at the end of the
    post-classical periodnamely the destruction
    caused by the Black Plague, the political
    disorder that was caused by it, and the collapse
    of the world economy.

European Comparison
  • Third The leaders of the Renaissance began to
    look at humans in a new way.
  • For the first time in over 1000 years, an
    emphasis was placed on individual ability.
  • Individuals tried to achieve a new social ideal
    the well-rounded personality or universal person
    who was capable of achievements in many areas of

European Comparison
  • Leonardo, for example, was a painter, sculptor,
    architect, inventor, scientist, and
  • The ideal of a Renaissance Man.

European Comparison
  • Our modern notion of individualism comes from
    this period, as people began to seek personal
    credit for their achievementsthis was in
    contrast to the medieval notion that all glory
    goes to God, not the individual.

European Comparison
  • Some of the greatest artists in history did not
    toil as anonymous craftsmen, they sought prestige
    by competing for the patronage of secular
    individuals like merchants and bankers.

European Comparison
  • The Europeans, like the Chinese, began major
    outward-bound maritime expeditions during the
    early part of the 15th century.
  • Initiated in 1415 by the Portuguese and supported
    by the state and blessed by the Pope, their
    voyages began sailing down the west coast of
  • By the end of the century, two expeditions marked
    major breakthroughs (Columbus in 1492, and Vasco
    da Gama in 1497).

European Comparison
  • The differences between the Chinese and European
    oceangoing ventures were striking, especially in
    terms of size.
  • Columbus captained three ships with a crew of 90,
    while da Gama had four ships manned by about 170

European Comparison
  • These were tiny fleets compared to the great
    expeditions of Zheng He.
  • All the ships of Columbus and da Gama combined
    could have been stored on a single deck of a
    single vessel in the fleet that set sail under
    Zheng He.

European Comparison
  • Motivation was also vastly different between the
    two civilizations.
  • Europeans were seeking the wealth of Africa and
    Asiagold, spices, silk, and more.
  • They also were looking for Christian converts and
    of possible Christian allies against threatening
    Muslim powers.

European Comparison
  • China, by contrast, faced no equivalent power,
    needed no military allies in the Indian Ocean,
    and required little that these regions produced.
  • China also didnt have the impulse to convert
    foreigners to Chinese culture or religion like
    the Europeans.

European Comparison
  • The confident and overwhelmingly powerful Chinese
    fleet didnt seek conquests or colonies, while
    the Europeans soon tried to monopolize by force
    the commerce of the Indian Ocean and violently
    carved out huge empires in the Americas.
  • This was why the voyages of Zheng He were
    neglected for so long in Chinas historical
    memorythey led nowhere.

European Comparison
  • Even though the European expeditions were smaller
    and less promising, they were initial steps on
    their journey to world hegemony.
  • But why did the Europeans continue a process that
    the Chinese had deliberately abandoned?
  • First, Europe had no unified political authority
    with the power to end its maritime outreach.

European Comparison
  • Its system of competing states, so unlike Chinas
    single unified empire, ensured that once begun,
    rivalry alone would drive the Europeans to the
    ends of the earth.
  • Beyond this, much of Europes elite had an
    interest in overseas expansion.
  • The wealth/greed generated from increased
    merchant activity had implications for monarchs
    and the Church too

European Comparison
  • Monarchs saw new revenue streams (from taxing
    trade or outright seizing resources) that could
    fund larger, better equipped militaries, fund
    building projects, etc.
  • Lesser nobles (even commoners) might imagine fame
    and fortune abroad.
  • The Church saw the possibility of widespread

Ming vs Europe
  • In China, by contrast, support for Zheng Hes
    voyages was very shallow in official circles, and
    when the emperor Yongle passed from the scene,
    those opposed to the voyages prevailed within the
    politics of the court.

Ming vs Europe
  • Ming emperors after Yongle believed that China
    had been weakened by its contact with other
    people, so they were much more cautious in their
    trade with outsiders, and much more likely to
    believe that it was best for China to remold
    itself in the greatness of the past.

Ming vs Europe
  • The Chinese were very much aware of their own
    antiquity, they believed strongly in the absolute
    superiority of their culture, and they felt with
    good reason that, should they need something from
    abroad, others would bring it to them.

Ming vs Europe
  • China made the worlds most desirable products,
    especially after Ming craftsmen began creating
    distinctive and beautiful blue and white
  • In 2007, this Ming jar sold for 3.9 million at

Ming vs Europe
  • The Ming understood that much of the empires
    wealth depended on trade, but its leaders
    (especially after Yongle) were always wary of
    outsiders, afraid to lose China again to rule by
  • So they set out to rebuild the empire as
    independently as possible, repairing irrigation
    systems, factories, internal trade connections,
    and even the Great Wall.

Ming vs Europe
  • The Great Wall as it looks today was a product of
    the Ming.

Ming vs Europe
  • Ming emperors actively promoted Chinese cultural
    traditions, especially Confucian and
    Neo-Confucian schools.
  • For many years, the Ming lived up to their name
    (brilliant), and built a strong China that
    clearly reflected its age old conflict between
    opening its doors to others and closing them
    tightly to keep intruders out.

Ming vs Europe
  • Europeans, like the Ming, also believed
    themselves to be unique, particularly in
    religious terms as the possessors of
    Christianity, what they considered the one true

Ming vs Europe
  • In material terms, they sought out the greater
    riches of the East, and they were highly
    conscious that Muslim power (the Ottomans)
    blocked easy access to these treasures and posed
    a military and religious threat to Europe itself.
  • All this propelled continuing European expansion
    in the centuries that followed.

Ming vs Europe
  • The Chinese withdrawal from the Indian Ocean
    facilitated the European entry.
  • It cleared the way for the Portuguese to enter
    the region, where they faced only the eventual,
    moderate naval power of the Ottomans.

Ming vs Europe
  • Had Vasco da Gama encountered Zheng Hes massive
    fleet as his four small ships sailed into Asian
    waters in 1498, world history would likely be
    very different.

Ming vs Europe
  • So as it turned out, Chinas abandonment of
    oceanic voyaging and Europes embrace of the seas
    marked different responses to a common problem
    that both civilizations sharedgrowing
    populations and land shortage.

Ming vs Europe
  • In the centuries that followed, Chinas
    rice-based agriculture was able to expand
    production by more intensive use of the land,
    while the countrys territorial expansion was
    inland toward Central Asia.

Ming vs Europe
  • By contrast, Europes agriculture, based on wheat
    and livestock, expanded primarily by acquiring
    new lands in overseas possessions, which were
    gained as a consequence of their commitment to
    oceanic expansion.