The Ming Dynasty

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The Ming Dynasty was established by peasant leader Zhu Yuanzhang (also known posthumously as Emperor Hongwu, who ruled from 1368-1398 ), in 1368 following the rebellion against the Mongol Yuan Dynasty, and ended in 1644. It is characterized by its orderly government and social stability, which may be attributed to the tribute system, a system that, according to David Kang, was a “set of unquestioned rules and institutions about the basic ways in which international relations worked”. Status hierarchy and rank order were they key components in this system; although either may not necessarily be derived from political, economic, or military power. In early modern East Asia, it was uncontested that China was the hegemon or the dominant state…show more content…
However, in 1368, first emperor Zhu Yuanzhang declared a national ban on overseas trade and outlawed nonofficial voyages abroad, due in part to the endemic pirate attacks along the coast. It was also a result of an attempt to control the coastal areas, extend institutional control from the center, and defend the Ming regime from subversion by those who contested the legitimacy of Ming rule. This policy essentially allowed trade only to foreign-tribute missions, and required extensive documents to distinguish legitimate trade from piracy.
The tribute-trade system itself was a net loss for China, such that from 1403 to 1473, China had a deficit of more than twenty-five million taels of silver, which was the equivalent of seven years of national income. This is because the Ming court purchased all the foreign goods imported on the tribute missions, and they often paid prices highly inflated over the market price. This advantage was exploited by many of China’s tributary states, as demand to Chinese goods was high and the Chinese gifts traded from tribute were sold for very high
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Trade relations were also under the rules of the tribute system. Any state wanting relations with China had to engage in the tribute system, and had to follow mandates made by China. Hierarchy was of utmost importance, and status was derived not from brute power but from the extent of cultural acceptance or assimilation of Chinese ideas and principles. It was unchallenged that China was always the top player and none was equal to it. Hierarchy also dictated the rights and benefits of the tributary, with those higher receiving essentially better treatment and more perks than those below them. The highly unequal relationship was never questioned and although it might seem this should have led to conflict, for long periods of time China and its tributary states existed in relative peace. Finally, the tribute system also restrained China from exploiting its tributaries, as there were rules established by participants and communication was regularly made through the emissaries and the tribute
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