Trade and Exchange

The Spice Trade:

Civilizations in Asia, North-East Africa, and Europe would trade spices such as cinnamon, ginger, pepper, turmeric opium. Trade was conducted via sea routes and overland. Often Muslims dominated maritime spice routes until Europeans began to take over. 

The spice trade leads to a sharing of languages and cultural customs. A shared language meant that it was easier for different societies could share ideas. Moreover, food and cuisine also traveled along the routes. However, as more companies became involved in the trade of spices; they became more common and viewed less like a luxury. There was almost more conflict and competition as countries wanted to dominate the market. 

The Silk Road:

The Silk Road was a series of trading towns connecting Asia to Europe. It was named after its trade and transport of silk. Merchants, path pilgrims, holy men, soldiers, and adventures all traveled along the Silk Road. The towns and villages along its route thrived as they were centers for cultural exchange. 

However, traveling across the route was difficult due to climate and geography. There was also the risk of being attacked by bandits. Also, there was a spread of diseases from region to region. Historians believed the Silk Road was the reason why the Black Death infected Europe as well as Asia. 

It also helped the development of civilizations in Asia and Europe, and its main traders changed over time. Moreover, a wide variety of goods, new technologies, medicine, ideas, philosophies, and religions were shared.

Manchu China’s relationship with the West:

At the beginning of the 19th century, China had been ruled by a succession of royal dynasties for 3500 years. From the 1640s, the new ruling dynasty in China was the Manchu or Qing dynasty who took over from the failing Ming dynasty. They continued to use the old systems of examinations to recruit new members to the bureaucracy. Their rule brought peace and stability to China. New intensive farming techniques helped foster a population expansion. 

The Manchu did not want to develop contacts with the West as the Chinese often regarded Europeans as barbarians who were rough, unshaven, and uncivilized. Later, the Chinese authorities attempt a ‘close door’ policy which only allowed limited trade with Europeans, but it also gave a disadvantage to Chinese merchants.

Europeans hated these restrictions as they were only allowed to enter small areas in ports and believed these rules were inhumane and barbaric. Trade for them was also expensive as the Chinese only accepted silver in exchange for goods instead of Western goods. This meant trade was ‘one way.’

How did the Opium trade lead to the Opium War in 1839 

In the 19th century opium was a vital part of the trade. However, it was extremely addictive and damaging to people’s health. By the end of the 18th century, there were bans across Europe and parts of China on the ‘opium dens.’ Britain’s attempt to breach Chinese laws and continue to sell Opium in China 

There was a high demand for Chinese products in the 19th century such as tea, porcelain, and silk, and the Qing empire wouldn’t trade with Britain because they had insufficient silver.

Britain wanted to expand its imperial power over China and gain access to the  Silk Road as well and the goods that were being sold there

The Qing dynasty wasn’t interested in British goods such as furs and textiles so did not trade with the British often, frustrating them as they wanted access to the goods that China had access to through the Silk Road.

Extraterritoriality: The trigger of the war was Britain’s attempt to claim extraterritoriality. In retaliation, the Chinese blocked the ports and stopped food supplies to the foreigners. Then Britain’s response was to send warships

End of the First Opium War:

The first Opium War lasted from 1839 to 1842. The British forces were better trained and armed, therefore the Chinese were no match for them. The Chinese were fighting to stop the import of opium and the British fought to protect the trade. The war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Nanjing, however, it did not mention the opium trade

Short term consequences of the First Opium War:

Positive Influences:

  • The trade of silk flourished
  • The increase in trading opportunities caused more jobs to be created
  • The tea industry expanded due to the increase in trading 
  • A shortage of the Spanish silver dollar as the trade was rapidly increasing, so its value increased

Negative Influences:

  • The Chinese copper coins were devalued 
  • Farmers that produced food were now focused on the production of tea or silk, so the price of food greatly increased
  • Textile workers lost their jobs as the machine-created textiles from the West were superior 
  • The Manchu Government failed to protect its people
  • The fact that they signed the treaty without resistance discredited the government and inspired riots
  • The treaties exempted foreigners from local laws, making China a haven for illegal activity

Long term consequences of the First Opium War:

Positive Influences:

  • Paper money was introduced to China
  • Four more ports opened
  • China gained an urban market economy 

Negative Influences:

  • The quality of life for textile workers rapidly increased due to the lack of demand for textiles
  • Poverty spread throughout China
  • The process of gaining an urban market economy and the premature exposure of the Western powers almost destroyed their current economy
  • Made China vulnerable towards a second war

Second Opium War

The war broke out between China and Britain in 1856. The war was triggered by an incident involving a ship called the Arrow. The ship was flying a British flag and was bordered by Chinese officials who believed that there was some well-known pirates on board.

The police arrested the crew, but the British flag was torn down. But the Chinese did not apologize and war broke out again. Once again, the Chinese were humiliated and the war ended in 1858 with other unequal called the Treaty of Tientsin. 

Why did the Self-Strengthening Movement fail?

Many of the reforms were carried out a local level but lacked support from the Imperial court. Many officials believed that Western learning might weaken their power. The Empress dowager Cixi did not believe in reform. She spent the money intended to build a new Imperial Navy on a new summer palace. 

There is no attempt to introduce a full program of industrial and social change as reformers wanted to maintain a society that was based on Confucian ideas but with Western technology. However, industrialization was not possible without social change. Finally, there was a lack of money to invest in the new projects.  

The Boxing Rebellion:

Tensions between the Chinese and foreigners called Christian Missionary exploded in the Boxer Rebellion which started in 1900. An anti-foreign movement known as The Boxers aimed to remove all foreigners from China. The rebellion ended in a siege of Europeans in a European compound in Beijing. The Boxers believed that they were invincible, but were defeated by troops from Britain, France, Russia, Japan and, America 

The Slave Trade:

During the late 1400s, trade between human beings began to develop between Europe and Africa. This trade in slaves lasted until the end of the 19th century. It led to the depopulation and economic underdevelopment in Africa and great wealth for many Europeans. By the late 1700s, sugar and cotton plantations were established in the America’s with most slaves destined for them. A recent estimate says that 11 million people were taken from Africa to be used as slaves. It also traded raw materials such as tobacco and coffee. 

The Effects of the Slave Trade 

It led to internal conflict as merchants and traders attempted to keep up with demand. Rulers and wealthy merchants benefited while raid and internal wars were ignited between tribes which led to periodic famine. 

There was also population stagnation and population decline. The slave trade stopped economic development and laid the way for the colonial conquest of Africa in the 19th century. It prevented Africa from having its own industrial revolution as industries declined.  

It provided work for shipbuilders and sailors, while also increasing the demand for metals and cloth (and providing massive profit). It helped fuel the industrial revolution and improved standard of living. It also made goods like sugar and tobacco freely available 


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