41-60 of 351 Results

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China’s Pursuit of Modernity  

Kent Deng

China’s history in the past one hundred to two hundred years has been full of dramas, changes, progresses, and setbacks. This article navigates China’s trial-and-error process regarding accepting incoming Western technology, trade practices, institutions, and ideology/cosmology, things that were genuinely attractive to the Chinese elite but were at the same time largely incompatible with China’s own age-old, well-entrenched, and highly functional traditions. This set the stage for a difficult birth for modernity in China in comparison with neighboring Japan, for example, despite the fact that most ideas of learning from the West originated in China before traveling to Japan. The more progressive party inside the Chinese establishment was made of enlightened individuals who understood the costs and benefits associated with learning from the advanced West. The real challenge came from the question of how to reduce the cost and thus tip the balance in favor of accepting good things from the West. Given that Qing China had a small and cheap Confucian state that commanded only a tiny proportion of China’s wealth, to build a larger state from within became the precondition for China to learn from the West, a point that has only recently been recognized with the rise of the progressive California School and the decline of the groundless Oriental Despotism Hypothesis. It has become clear that much depended on China’s domestic conditions and internal timing, rather than external persuasion accompanied with an increasing degree of political violence that stemmed from Western military supremacy. It is thus not surprising that the 1839–1840 Opium War merely woke China up while the 1850 empire-wide social unrest started to change China from within. What followed was a combination of state rebuilding and economic modernization with or without external threat, a national obsession that continued until Deng Xiaoping’s reforms after 1980.

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Chinese Buddhist Travelers: Faxian, Xuanzang, and Yijing  

Max Deeg

When Buddhism started to become part of religious life in China from the 1st century ce onward, the Chinese were confronted with several peculiar aspects of the first major foreign religion that took root in their century-old culture. They had to come to terms with the fact that the religion had been founded by an individual in distant India as clearly expressed in the different versions of the Buddha biography, but also with the constant and sometimes confusingly contradictory and apparently incomplete stream of Buddhist texts from India that were translated into Chinese. While Indian and Central Asian monks arrived in China very early and transmitted Buddhist texts and practices, Chinese monks from the 3rd century onward started to actively search for Buddhist texts, new teachings in the “Western Regions,” the ancient Chinese name for all regions lying west of the cultural or political boundaries of the Chinese Empire, which also included India. Some of them also wanted to visit and see the sacred places in the homeland of their religion in India in order to gain religious merit or to study Buddhist doctrine and practice in the monastic centers of learning in the “Middle Region” or Magadha, the heartland of Buddhism in the Gangetic plain. Although it is not clear, due to the lack of historical sources, how many of these Chinese monks, much less frequently Buddhist laymen, took the risk of the perilous journey through the deserts and across high mountain passes of Central Asia or across the ocean, there must have been hundreds of them between the 4th and 11th centuries. A number of these died during their journey while others decided to stay in India, the “Holy Land” of Buddhism. Some of those who returned to China left records about their travels or of the information they had gathered about the “Western Regions.” The most famous of these monks are Faxian (trav. 319–413), Xuanzang (trav. 629–645), and Yijing (trav. 671–695). The three monks represent the different routes taken by Chinese travelers to South Asia: Faxian went via the land route (Silk Road) and returned by sea, Xuanzang made both trips by the overland route, and Yijing traveled by the sea route via Southeast Asia. While Faxian’s and Xuanzang’s records are a kind of documentary description of the different regions they traveled through or heard about, mainly reporting on the situation of Buddhism, Yijing’s two reports comprise an anthology of Buddhist monks who had traveled to India in the second half of the 7th century and a record of Buddhism as practiced in India and on the Southeast Asian archipelago. The records and their translations had a strong influence on the emerging fields of South and Central Asian history and archaeology in the 19th century when most of the translations of the relevant texts were made.

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Chinese Ceramic Production and Trade  

John Miksic

Ceramics are the most abundant types of artifacts made by human beings in the last 12,000 years. Chinese potters discern two types of products: earthenware (tao), which is porous and does not resonate when struck, and wares with vitreous bodies (ci), which ring like a bell. Western potters and scholars differentiate stoneware, which is semi-porous, from porcelain, which is completely vitrified. The earliest ceramics in the world are thought to have been made in China around 15,000 years ago. By the Shang dynasty, potters in China began to decorate the surfaces of their pottery with ash glaze, in which wood ash mixed with feldspar in clay to impart a shiny surface to the pottery. The first ash-glazed wares were probably made south of the Yangzi in Jiangnan. In the 9th century, China began to export pottery, which quickly became sought after in maritime Asia and Africa. Pottery making for export became a major industry in China, employing hundreds of thousands of people, and stimulating the development of the first mass-production techniques in the world. Much of the ceramic industry was located along China’s south and southeast coasts, conveniently located near ports that connected China with international markets. Chinese merchants had to adapt their wares to suit different consumers. For the last 1,000 years, Chinese ceramics provided an enormous amount of archaeological information on trade and society in the lands bordering the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, contributing a major source of data to the study of early long-distance commerce, art, technology, urbanization, and many other topics. Statistics are presented from important sites outside China where Chinese ceramics have been found.

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Chinese Charting of Maritime Asia  

Timothy Brook

Navigation played a major role in the integration of East Asian polities and economies prior to and during the arrival of European traders in the 16th and 17th centuries. That arrival stimulated an increase in the volume of intra-regional trade in East Asia as Chinese merchants organized exports on a large scale to meet European demand, yet the history of the production of nautical charts in China has been little studied, due in no small part to the poor survival of sea charts and other documentation. The most important new addition to maritime charting in the past decade is the rediscovery of the Selden Map in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. This map of navigation routes throughout East Asia is unprecedented, and may be seen as marking the beginning of the transformation of Chinese cartography under the influence of European mapping techniques.

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The Chinese in Colonial Myanmar  

Yi Li

Exchanges of people and goods between Myanmar (formerly Burma) and China have a long history spanning over a millennium. However, it was during the British colonial era in Burma (1824–1948) that substantial and consistent migration of ethnic Chinese occurred, laying the foundations of Sino-Burmese communities in present-day Myanmar. Two distinct migration routes were initially taken by Chinese immigrants: the overland route between northern Burma and Yunnan, predominantly used by southwestern Chinese since precolonial days; and the overseas route connecting the southern coast of China with port cities in Southeast Asia, including Rangoon. The latter forms part of the Nanyang Chinese network and was primarily used by immigrants from Fujian and Guangdong provinces. Over time, regional differences between different Chinese immigrant groups blurred, and Chinatowns or Chinese quarters in Rangoon, Mandalay, and other major towns across the colony emerged with distinctive Chinese characters. In colonial Burma, migrants from China constituted a smaller population, were less influential commercially and socially, and were generally less visible than their Indian counterparts. Nonetheless, they were recognized as a distinct ethnic group in the colonial state. Given colonial Burma’s geographic and administrative position, Chinese immigrants, while maintaining strong connections with other Southeast Asian Chinese communities, experienced a unique trajectory under colonial rule, navigating through internal tensions and World War II, and, alongside their multiethnic fellow residents, in British Burma, declared the independence at the beginning of 1948.

Article

Chinese Merchants in Japan and Korea  

Jin-A Kang

In the mid-19th century, Chinese merchants moved to the treaty ports of Japan and Korea to expand the domestic commercial network abroad. They made significant profits by importing and distributing British cotton clothes via Shanghai to Japan and Korea. While Chinese merchants in Japan remained purely economic immigrant groups, those in Korea took an active political role since their advance to Korea on business was part of an effort by the Qing dynasty to strengthen its influence in Korea. Before the Mukden Incident in 1931, Chinese merchants in Kobe, Japan, engaged in trade with China and Southeast Asia and continued to be a powerful commercial group in Asian trade. However, Chinese merchants in Korea suffered from business crisis earlier on. They were hit hard by the sharp decline in import trade from China, which was their primary business, due to Japan’s protective tariff policy introduced in 1924. Until 1930s, both Chinese merchants in Japan and Korea were forced to gradually revise their business strategies to sell Japanese products in Greater China and Korea. The outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937 turned out to be a decisive blow to the already struggling businesses of the Chinese merchants in Japan and Korea.

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Christianity in Asia  

Barbara Watson Andaya

The 21st century has often been touted as the “Asian century,” largely because of the remarkable resurgence of China as an economic power. There are nonetheless other developments afoot, foremost among which is the rising numbers of individuals who identify as Christians. Apart from the Philippines, Timor Leste, Asian Russia, Cyprus, Armenia, and Georgia, Christians are still a minority in the forty-eight countries that the United Nations classifies as “Asia,” a vast region that stretches from the Urals and the Caspian Sea to Papua New Guinea. However, over the past two decades, a marked increase in Asian Christians, especially in Korea, India, and China, has led to predictions that by 2025 their numbers, now estimated at 350 million, will escalate to 460 million. Yet for many Asians, Christianity is still tainted by a “foreign” past because it is associated with the European arrival in the late 15th century and with the imposition of colonialism and the influence of the West in the 19th and 20th centuries. A historical approach, however, shows that such perceptions are countered by centuries of local adaptations of Christianity to specific cultural contexts. Although the processes of “accommodation” and “adaptation” have a complex history, a long-term view reveals the multiple ways through which millions of Asian men and women have incorporated “being Christian” into their own identities.

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Civil Law and Jurisprudence in Imperial China  

Nap-yin Lau

In terms of jurisdiction and punishment, the border between civil and criminal laws in imperial China is not clear cut. The same officials can handle both civil and criminal cases, and lawfully impose the same punishment, such as the death penalty, on unfilial sons and traitors alike. In terms of the sphere of interests, however, the officials know very well that some violations are more concerned with private interests than public interests. For example, they will settle loan disputes in accordance with the original private contract between the money lenders and borrowers, unless the interest rate is so exorbitant that it necessitates government intervention. Consequently, the imperial Chinese and modern Western civil laws are roughly common in their coverage of marriage, divorce, succession, disinheritance, property matters, and so on. And, like the Western laws, the Chinese laws have experienced historical changes, many of the most important of which occurred during the Song dynasty (960–1279) or the “Tang-Song transformation,” so called to highlight the tremendous progress of China from the medieval to the early modern stages. Against the principle of filial piety, both sons and daughters are now allowed to sue their parents without fear of the death penalty if their accusations are true. Against the principle of communal family, both sons and daughters can possess privately earned properties not to be shared by their parents and siblings. Against the principle of patrilineal succession, unmarried daughters have their inheritance rights increased at the expense of the sons, reaching the ratio of two shares for a son and one share for a daughter. Against the principle of different rights according to different status, a formal concubine can inherit the spousal patrimony and establish an heir when the wife is absent. These changes reflect that the legislative principles, though still far from enshrining equality before the law, are paying increasing attention to the balance of duties and rights with decreasing regard to family relation, gender, or status. As to the judicial practices, they are nearing the rule of law and becoming more predictable instead of inconsistent. These are the less-known or even misunderstood aspects of the civil law in imperial China.

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The Classical Silk Road: Trade and Connectivity across Central Asia, 100 BCE–1200 CE  

Valerie Hansen

The Silk Road refers to all the overland routes connecting the major oasis kingdoms of Central Asia including Dunhuang, Turfan, Khotan, and Samarkand to their neighbors: the Chinese landmass, the Mongolian grasslands, the Iranian plateau, and the Indian subcontinent. The best-known routes ran east-west, but the north-south routes to the nomadic states of the Asian grasslands were also important. In the popular view of the Silk Road, extensive camel caravans carried goods over long distances, but this was rarely the case. Usually peddlers carried mostly local goods short distances. Government shipments to provision armies profoundly affected the region’s economy, because they involved much larger quantities than in the peddler trade. Rulers regularly exchanged envoys who carried gifts, exchanges that continued even when private trade fell off. Whatever the reason for an individual’s trip, almost everyone—whether envoy, missionary, artist, craftsman, or refugee—bought and sold goods to pay for travel along the Silk Road. Silk was not the primary commodity traded on these routes. Goods traveling east included ammonium chloride, paper, silver, gold, glassware, and aromatics such as spices, incense, and fragrant woods. Goods traveling west out of China included bronze mirrors, other metal goods, and paper, in addition to silk. Between 300 and 1000 ce, the most important function of silk was as a currency, not as a trade good, although it remained an important export throughout the period. A vibrant series of cultural exchanges occurred alongside these commercial exchanges. Technologies, medicine, plants, music, and fashion all moved in both directions across Central Asia. Multiple religions also entered China during this time. The term Silk Road may not be the most accurate term for these commercial and cultural exchanges, but, despite its flaws, the term has secured a firm place in both scholarly works and the popular mind.

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Climate and Disease in Medieval Eurasia  

Monica H. Green

When the first hominins and their successors migrated north from Africa into Eurasia, they created a new, interlinked disease environment. They brought some diseases, such as malaria, with them from Africa, and newly encountered others, such as plague, in Eurasia. Regional changes in climate played a role in human health, not simply due to their influence in determining the success of year-to-year harvests and grazing lands, but also because periods of warming or severe and sudden cooling shifted the interactions between humans and the flora and fauna that made up their environment. Exchanges of disease between the two continents would continue up through the medieval era. Whereas vast distances and low population density likely shielded Eurasian populations from frequent epidemic outbreaks up through the Neolithic period, by the beginning of the common era, with its vastly intensified trade networks, Eurasia would begin to see a new phenomenon: pandemics, including the Justinianic Plague and the Black Death, the largest mortality events in human history. The diseases of medieval Eurasia are still among the world’s leading infectious killers and causes of debilitating morbidity. Because they have all persisted to the present day (with the exception of smallpox), modern science plays an important role in their historical reconstruction.

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Colonial Contractions: The Making of the Modern Philippines, 1565–1946  

Vicente L. Rafael

The origins of the Philippine nation-state can be traced to the overlapping histories of three empires that swept onto its shores: the Spanish, the North American, and the Japanese. This history makes the Philippines a kind of imperial artifact. Like all nation-states, it is an ineluctable part of a global order governed by a set of shifting power relationships. Such shifts have included not just regime change but also social revolution. The modernity of the modern Philippines is precisely the effect of the contradictory dynamic of imperialism. The Spanish, the North American, and the Japanese colonial regimes, as well as their postcolonial heir, the Republic, have sought to establish power over social life, yet found themselves undermined and overcome by the new kinds of lives they had spawned. It is precisely this dialectical movement of empires that we find starkly illuminated in the history of the Philippines.

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Colonialism, Nationalism, and Decolonization in Madagascar  

Solofo Randrianja

Madagascar’s colonization by France took place in the wake of rising nationalism. If its colonization corresponded with French strategic interests such as the establishment of an area of influence in the southern part of the Indian Ocean, then, except for the small colony of Réunion, France’s purely economic interest in Madagascar’s colonization remains questionable. Sparsely inhabited in spite of its large area, with no strategic resources such as gold or other important raw materials, Madagascar endured colonization efforts that focused on the constitution of a state capable of politically unifying the whole island through the recycling of what remained from a sovereign precolonial state before French conquest. The conquest itself and the process of colonization were initially met with violent resistance, mainly from the countryside, which was crushed on the eve of World War I. Later, resistance gave way to more modern political expressions, all treated as illegal by colonial legislation until the eve of World War II. The first political proposal called for equal rights and integration of Madagascar and its people into a French republic. Gradually, influenced by the memory of the former Malagasy regime but also under the influence of nationalism, which blew over the whole world during the interwar period, the anticolonialism movement became nationalist despite the existence of its relatively influential socialist component. The post–World War II liberal atmosphere and frustrations and deprivations endured during the war were among the causes of the March 1947 uprising. Its brutal crushing and subsequent repression excluded part of the political elite and the majority of the traumatized rural population from the decolonization process, which began by the mid-1950s. Decolonization was conducted without any actual hiatus from the previous colonial system in both institutions and political personnel.

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Colonial Korea  

Michael Kim

Japan established a protectorate in 1905 and annexed Korea in 1910. The colonial occupation officially lasted thirty-five years, until the atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima precipitated the end of World War II on August 15, 1945. The Government-General of Korea administrated the colony’s affairs and enforced many laws and regulations from Japan. Yet the Japanese also made significant legal modifications that allowed for stricter censorship and control of the colony. In principle, the Government-General had absolute authority over Korea and was only accountable to the Japanese emperor rather than the Imperial Diet under the Meiji Constitution. However, in practice the Government-General was not completely independent because of the need to file reports and receive financial subsidies from the Imperial Diet. The considerable autonomy of the Government-General to enact its own legal provisions may be important to keep in mind to understand how colonial Korea was an authoritarian system that operated separately from the Meiji Constitutional order. Korea underwent a major transition from an agrarian society to the beginnings of an industrial society during the colonial period. Many historical accounts tend to portray the colonial administration as an omnipotent force, but the Japanese faced considerable limitations and challenges in ruling the colony. Korea gradually became integrated into an autarkic economic block along with Manchuria that formed the basis for Japan’s East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. However, political integration remained a controversial topic that was never resolved before 1945. The Japanese enforced numerous policies to mobilize the colonial population for World War II. Yet even as Koreans marched into the battlefront and served labor duty in the factories, basic political rights continued to be denied. Many of today’s tensions between Korea and Japan stem from the unresolved historical controversies from the colonial period.

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Commerce and Economy in Southeast Asia within the Sinosphere (Laos and Vietnam)  

James A. Anderson

Before the 16th century, Southeast Asian trade within the Sinosphere (Laos and Vietnam) took place in a maritime trade network that drew together the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea (Eastern Sea). Land-based and maritime trade routes were interlinked across this region. Behind the maritime trade was the upland supply of forest products that included many of the items most desired by distant markets in China and Southeast Asian destinations. The upland access to trade items was as important as was control of the coastal ports. Westerners arrived in the early modern period, as others had, as traders, and were accommodated into established trading patterns. The general current of anti-imperialism was still to come in the 20th century.

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The Commerce and Economy of Ancient China  

Zhang Zhaoyang

Initially, commerce did not play an important role in ancient China. However, starting from the 6th century bce, China experienced unprecedented growth in this area. Land became privatized and a highly sought-after commodity, contracts began to be widely used in transactions, some sort of market network emerged, and merchants started to exert influence on society. This transformation was due to the various reforms and policies that reshaped the overall structure of ancient Chinese economy and emancipated the strength of merchants. Furthermore, the sophistication and advancement of agriculture meant ordinary farmers had a surplus of labor and products, providing them with incentives to go to market.

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Commerce and the Agrarian Empires: Northern India  

Bhairabi Prasad Sahu

This article focuses on the shifts in the ways of seeing the history and historiography of the emergence of agrarian landscapes, manufacture of crafts, and trade and commerce in north India, during the mid-first millennium bce to the 13th century. Continued manifestation of settled agrarian localities, or janapadas, with its attendant concomitant processes, is visibly more noticeable from the middle of the first millennium ce onward, though their early beginnings can be traced back to the later Vedic times. The study of the janapadas or localities and regions, as distinguished from earlier regional studies, focusing on the trajectory of sociopolitical developments through time is a development dating to around the turn of the 21st century. It has much to do with the recognition of the fact that historical or cultural regions and modern state boundaries, which are the result of administrative decision-making, do not necessarily converge. Simultaneously, instead of engaging in macro-generalizations, historians have moved on to acknowledge that spaces in the past, as in the present, were differentiated, and there were uneven patterns of growth across regions and junctures. Consequently, since 1990 denser and richer narratives of the regions have been available. These constructions in terms of the patterns for early India have moved away from the earlier accounts of wider generalizations in time and space, colonization by Gangetic north India, and crisis. Alternatively, they look for change through continuities and try to problematize issues that were earlier subsumed under broader generalizations, and provide local and regional societies with the necessary agency. Rural settlements and rural society through the regions are receiving their due, and so are their networks of linkages with artisanal production, markets, merchants, and trade. The grades of peasants, markets, and merchants as well as their changing forms have attracted the notice of the historian. This in turn has compelled a shift in focus from being mostly absorbed with subcontinental history to situating it in its Asiatic and Indian Ocean background.

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Commerce in Qing Central Asia, 1644–1864  

Kwangmin Kim

After a long decline beginning in the early 15th century, Sino-Central Asian trade witnessed an upward trend as of the late 17th century. The tea-horse trade between the Qing government and small Tibetan tribes in northwestern China was the first significant type of Sino-Central Asian trade during the Qing period. Despite the fact that the Qing largely discontinued this trade in the early 18th century, Central Asian and Chinese smugglers still carried on the tea trade. Meanwhile, the Zunghar Khanate forced the Qing to open tribute trade in the 1670s, expanding the venue for the Sino-Central Asian trade. The destruction of the khanate in the 1750s led to further expansion of the Sino-Central Asian trade, as the simultaneous expansion of the Qing and Russian Empires in Central Asia provided a stimulus. The Qing Empire’s initiatives to support its military in Xinjiang, including annual injections of silver into Xinjiang, provided a boost to the local agriculture and commerce there. The Russian expansion in Siberia along the Irtysh River and Russia’s decision to utilize Siberian towns as new bases for trade with China led to growth of trade between Xinjiang and Siberia. The long-standing pattern of Sino-Central Asian trade—the exchange of Central Asian horses and animals for Chinese tea and silk—remained dominant throughout the period. But Chinese rhubarb and Xinjiang jade emerged as new items of long-distance trade while the importance of staple goods in the overall trade increased steadily. The Chinese merchants emerged as the most dominant player in the trade, primarily due to their command of the supply of tea and rhubarb in the Central Asian market. Altishahri landlords and merchants made adjustments to advance their agricultural and commercial enterprises. Three groups of Central Asian merchants—Bukharans, Andijanis, and Kazakhs—thrived, as they facilitated the Sino-Russian trade.

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The Commercial History of Japan, 600–1200  

William W. Farris

Because Japan was overwhelmingly rural with few consumers, commerce did not play a significant role in the economy or most people’s lives during the six centuries from 600 to 1200. This period may be divided into three phases based upon the nature of commercial relations. The 8th century witnessed a construction boom led by a relatively centralized state. Besides building five capital cities and numerous other governmental and religious structures, the state minted copper cash. Low-ranking bureaucrats traded in lumber, cloth, and other commodities, often for profit. The commercially most advanced region in Japan was in and around the numerous capitals located in the Kinai (Kyoto-Osaka-Nara) region. Interregional trade bound local regions together and was a source of illegal profiteering for officials. Gift-giving and barter dominated the less developed provinces, mostly in eastern Japan. Across the ocean, Japan participated in exchange with China and Korea on a limited basis to 800. Beginning as early as 735, epidemics and famines decimated Japan’s population. The value of copper cash declined, as inflation commenced. Government revenues also dropped. Government-appointed tax farmers garnered tax items for the tiny elite at court, enriching themselves in the process. The Song Dynasty (960–1279) arose in China and began trading with the Japanese elite, providing a spur to Japan’s commercial development for the rest of period. Overseas merchants were forced by Japan’s ruling elite to stop at Dazaifu in northern Kyushu, where Chinese goods could be obtained for Japanese gold. Japan’s depopulation continued unabated, subject to particularly harsh epidemics between 990 and 1050. To reverse flight from the land, the court initiated a two-pronged land system consisting of tax-farmed provincial areas and estates cultivated by sharecroppers and paying rents to capital and local elites. The rents were paid in-kind, and to secure the value of goods such as rice, salt, lacquer, iron, tea, and many other products, values were pegged to a gold standard. Song merchants also received gold for their wares. To buy Japanese raw materials, the Chinese paid with their own copper cash, helping to remonetize the archipelago. By the 1170s, inflation took off in Japan. A Ningbo–Hakata trade route became established for Song merchants, with bulk items such as sulfur, lumber, and mercury traded from Japan to China. By the late 1100s, the warrior family known as the Ise Taira took control of overseas trade with China, bolstering the family’s power at the Kyoto court.

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Commercialization in Late Ming China: Seeds of Capitalism?  

Pengsheng Chiu

As early as the 1950s, a number of scholars in mainland China started to refer to the commercialization in late Ming China that appeared from the 16th century on as “the sprouts of capitalism.” Since 1990, ever fewer scholars use this term, but this does not that late Ming commercialization is not worth discussion; indeed, relevant research continues to accumulate. Considering the growth of agriculture, the expansion of long-distance trade, changes in the organization of the handicraft industry, material culture, and state economic policies, generally speaking, late Ming commercialization not only influenced the economy, society, and culture of the time but also the order in which the state prioritized interests in economic matters; its related policies also showed significant adjustments. Overall, these changes benefited merchants in that their property received greater protection. Furthermore, the phenomenon of late Ming commercialization provides another thought-provoking historical experience that contributes to a deeper understanding of the evolution of the market in the modern world.

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Commercial Networks and Economic Structures of Theravada Buddhist Southeast Asia (Thailand and Myanmar)  

Geok Yian Goh

Theravada Buddhist polities in ancient Southeast Asia comprised kingdoms located in present-day Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand. Theravada Buddhism became influential in mainland Southeast Asia in the 11th century. Little information exists on the economy of daily life during that period; existing records from 1100 until 1600 mainly deal with administrative and religious affairs, from which some information about the economy can be extracted. These mainland Buddhist polities are typically described as practicing “redistributive economic systems,” a term that Karl Polanyi used to refer to geopolitical entities in which the primary source of subsistence is agriculture, and an administrative center, usually located in the capital, collects revenue from taxes on agricultural production, trade, and other specialized activities that are owned or controlled by the central government or other designated authorities, such as religious orders. The redistributive model is contrasted with the market economies of maritime port polities such as those in insular Southeast Asia. This binary opposition is, however, overstated, as demonstrated by diversity found in mainland Southeast Asia, where some polities relied both on agriculture and maritime trade. Polanyi’s model does not satisfactorily account for the diversity of the Theravada Buddhist polities of Myanmar and Thailand. Some scholars from Redfield and Singer to Miksic have constructed more elaborate models including the orthogenetic versus heterogenetic spectrum, on the basis of Polanyi’s thought but which attempt to utilize polythetic rather than monothetic concepts and scalar rather than stadial classifications.