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The Role Played by Trade in the History of Sino-European Relations from Yuan Times to the Opium Wars

Free «The Role Played by Trade in the History of Sino-European Relations from Yuan Times to the Opium Wars» Essay Sample

The Yuan era was one of high cultural accomplishments, including developments of the Chinese books and plays with the improved use of the written language. With the combined rule of central Asia, commerce between East and West also thrived. When coming from Europe, Marco Polo was overwhelmed by the Grand inland waterway, the roads, and public granaries (Polo 65). He described the rule of the emperor as compassionate, as there was relieving of the public taxes in times of suffering, building health facilities and orphanages, distributing food among the abjectly unfortunate. He also advanced science and religious conviction. Unluckily, the trade with the world beyond China that took place for seven hundred years throughout the Yuan era did not go on. When the great powers began to interfere in China, the nation’s afterward rulers were inexperienced at dealing with Europeans. The essay below describes the roles played by the trade between China and western countries during the reign of Yuan. It also states the types of commodities involved in the trade and the merchants.

Commerce on the Silk Road rejuvenated and reached its peak during the Yuan Dynasty when China became mainly dependent on its silk trade with western countries. The emperor known as Genghis Khan conquered all the small towns, unified China and built a large realm under his ruling (Dawson 102).  The Yuan government issued a rule to protect merchants’ trade and their free movement within the kingdom. Other privileges were also given to the foreign traders, and trade flourished, as silk was traded for medicines, colognes, human labor, and valuable stones. During this time, the overland trade became increasingly unsafe, and voyages by sea became trendier. Due to the dangers of overland travels, trade along the Silk Road decreased while the Chinese did uphold a silk-fur trade with the western merchants to the north of the original Silk Road. This caused the trade and travel along the route to decrease drastically. Today the Silk Road still portrays many images of early ages and the trade of cultures. After Genghis Khan led the Mongols in their crush of much of China his grandson, Kublai Khan, became the ruler and founder of the Yuan Dynasty (Dawson 52). This was the first time that foreign countries had ruled entire China. The Yuan Dynasty commenced the first direct link between the country and the West. The emperor changed his capital town from Karakorum in Mongolia to Beijing in China. Despite struggling to rule in a Chinese style, the government of the Yuan Dynasty had virtually no Chinese representatives. Mongols and other non-nationals were given all administration positions. The ethnic gap resulted in lighter government than the previous ones and penalties were much less severe. The Chinese officials were better educated than the Mongol intruders. The best scholars established private schools and refused to impart in administration schools.


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Since the Chinese nobility was not permitted to be involved in administration, it was free to chase art and writings. Poetry, while being immensely common, was not greatly developed. The greatest improvements in literature were in the forms of acting and entertainment. The theatre was a preferred form of entertainment for the rulers and wealthy families. Western musical devices were introduced to improve the Chinese performing arts. Improvements were made in the fields of cartography, geography, and technical education (Dawson 45).

Early Yuan rulers sought to protect the farmers by planning a regular fixed method of taxation. Agriculture was nurtured and fresh crops like sorghum were introduced. Cotton was also extensively planted. With peace enforced on most of Asia by the Mongols, trade was flourishing. Foreign merchants from western countries conveyed horses, mats, drugs, and spices to China, and traded Chinese fabrics, ceramic and varnish ware. Active trade also familiarized Chinese inventions like printing skills and chinaware to Europe, while the manufacture of thin glass and cloisonné were introduced to China. Due to the moderately easy entrance to the country, many people from West visited it. The best known of the travelers, who is believed to have reached China during this historical period, was Marco Polo, whose description of his travels depicts the prosperity and impressiveness of Chinese cities (Polo 125). In later years, unnecessary expenditure and trade limitations severely exhausted China economically. Inland waterway and palaces were built, which required the laborers to both supply more levy money and to leave their families to construct them. Campaigns against Japan were also conducted, but they were not fruitful and Japanese wrecked many Chinese vessels. The Mongols took over rich China and in less than one hundred years left the poor nation.

Popular revolutions broke out and Chu, the spearhead of one of these uprisings, succeeded in bonding several other groups with the nobility to dethrone the Yuan dynasty. The general disadvantage of the nation had dual effects on the elimination of the Mongols. First, both farmers and nobility were discontented, which led to the popular rebellions. Second, China was so unfortunate that the Mongols did not have a very strong concern in maintaining their hold on China trade. Trade with West made great cultural advance during the Yuan reign. The major cultural accomplishments established were drama, the book and the improved use of the written foreign language. Under the united rule of middle Asia commerce between China and East succeeded. The Mongols’ general Asian and West links produced a reasonable amount of cultural interchange. Western musical tools were initiated to improve the Chinese arts. From this period, trade also caused the transformation of Chinese to Islam. This was the time when Nestorians and Roman Catholics also took anvantage as it was a period of acceptance. Tibetan Buddhism flourished, too, although inborn Taoism suffered Mongol discriminations. Confucian governmental observes and studies footed on the Chinese standards, which had collapsed due to neglect in northern China during this trade period, were restored by the Mongols in the expect of keeping the rule over Han people. Developments were recognized in the fields of travel writings, cartography, natural sciences and scientific culture. Definite Chinese inventions and commodities, such as refined saltpeter, printing methods, chinaware, playing games and medical literature, were send abroad to Western Asia and Europe, while in exchange the production of  glassware and cloisonné became common in the nation.

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The primary documented explorations of China by western travelers date back to this era of Yuan dynasty. The most famous explorer of the time was the Venetian Marco Polo, whose story of his tour to the Great Khan’s capital, now known as Beijing, and of life there astonished the people of West (Polo 130). The account about his tours also presented early imagery of the Mongol people to the West. As a result, many foreign merchants were eager to travel to China because it had a nice environment for trade.

The trade also enabled Mongols to undertake general public works. Infrastructure and communications were restructured and upgraded. To curb the issue of starvations, silos were orderly constructed throughout the kingdom. The town of Beijing was reconstructed with new fortress surroundings that included man-made lakes, hills, highlands, and gardens using the money got from the trade. During the Yuan era, Beijing became the station for the Grand Inland waterway, which was entirely repaired. These commercially adapted developments encouraged the overland as well as the nautical commerce throughout Middle East and enabled direct Chinese contacts with West. Chinese explorers of the West were capable to offer help in such sectors as hydraulic commerce. Links with the West also led to the introduction of sorghum along with other external food crops and way of their preparation to China.

In conclusion, under the leadership of the Mongolian leaders, the social economy during the Yuan Dynasty in early period improved fairly well in agriculture, craft industry, commerce and overseas trade. Farming was the major industry of the Yuan Dynasty period. Although the Mongolian people were traveling people who originally lived on the lowlands for generations, they put much consideration on the agricultural production after the beginning of ruling China. The subsequent rulers also advocated replacing the customary animal keeping with agriculture. The most flourishing handicraft trade during the Yuan Dynast was the textile business. As the cotton planting became more and more popular in China, the growth of the textile industry was greatly enthused and reached a fairly higher level. This attracted foreign countries to be interested in establishing trade links with China. Many merchants from Europe were welcomed to enter the Chinese market with their foreign goods. Under this strategy, great amount of spices and medical supplies were introduced from Asian countries while China’s silk and porcelain were exported to western countries in large amounts.

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The Roles of the Jesuits in China as Mediators Between Chinese and European Culture, Ways in Which They Conveyed Information About China to Europe, and About Europe to China

Jesuits are the affiliates of the Society of Jesus, which is a men’s spiritual organization within the Catholic faith.  It was established in the year 1540 by St. Ignatius of Loyola. The Jesuits have a long history of serving the Catholic faith and are engaged in ministry work around the world. Very little was known about China by the Europeans during the olden times and the Middle Ages despite some business exchange between China under the Han dynasty and the Roman Empire and the existence of Christian society in the country. It is not well understood how there appeared a Nestorian activity as early as 635 AD in China or even before with the verification of a monument built during the Tang Dynasty when China was fundamentally Buddhist (Mungello 189). People of the East, who were of the Assyrian religion, were the first who accepted Christianity, and were more merchants than missionaries, who landed near the Silk Road. Nevertheless, an appealing fact is that overseas Nestorians and Chinese collaborated in the conversion into Christianity. The Chinese ruler even affirmed that there was nothing rebellious to the Chinese traditions and allowed the gospel being preached in China (Gregory 169). The essay explores the roles of the Jesuits in China as mediators between Chinese and European culture. It also describes the ways in which they conveyed information about China to Europe, and about Europe to China.


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Since its establishment, the Society of Jesuits has had a close link with China and the Chinese populaces. Possibly no other Catholic monastic order has had such a strong association with a particular nation as the community of Jesuits has had with the Chinese nation. An initiator of the Jesuits wanted them to be accessible for worldwide mission. They were sent for the mission to the Turks and to the area called the Indies for the protection and transmission of the faith. As a matter of fact, the interest with which these early Jesuits undertook their missions was one of the most inspiring apostolic undertakings in the history of the church. In Chinese Christian history, Jesuits were the third act. The first Christian missionaries had come to China as early as the 7th century. They were known as Nestorians from the Church of the East. The following group were the Franciscans, who arrived in China some years later. They even constructed the first Catholic Church in Beijing. The Jesuits helped to find a vibrant indigenous church and thus formed modern Chinese Christian history.

The Jesuits were the first people to introduce Western science and math, and it revolutionized China. Jesuits were allowed in late Ming court circles as foreign literati, regarded as inspiring people especially for their understanding of astronomy, calendar-making, mathematics, hydraulics, and geography (Gregory 216). The Jesuit wrote the first book to give western mechanical information to Chinese people, and this influence benefited for both Chinese and the foreigners.

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The Jesuits made efforts to interpret western mathematical and astronomical knowledge into Chinese and stimulated the interest of Chinese intellectuals in these sciences. They made very far-reaching astronomical research and carried out the first contemporary cartographic work in China (Gregory 203). They also appreciated the scientific works of this early culture and made them known in Western. Through their connection Western scientists first learned about the Chinese science and helped them in translation of written books on Western hydraulics in Chinese, and by calculating an eclipse which Chinese astronomers had not projected, opened the door to the adjustment of the Chinese calendar using their calculation method.

A German Jesuit messenger to China organized successful missionary work, and became the trustee counselor of the emperor holding an imperative post concerning the mathematical school, contributing to astronomical studies and the growth of the Chinese calendar. Thanks to Jesuits the rotation of both the sun and moon began to be calculated using Shíxiàn calendar. Marco Polo’s position helped him to get the monarch permission for the Jesuits to construct churches and to preach throughout the nation. Due to the death of the emperor the state of the Jesuits changed (Polo 98). Many of them were jailed, and others were condemned to death. After an earthquake and the emperor dowager’s objection the sentence was not carried out, but many Jesuits died after the release owing to the hardship they had gone through. The works and their documents were collected and taken back to Rome. After they had succeeded the tests against Chinese and Islamic calendar intellectuals, the court adopted the western calendar only. The Jesuits also endeavored to put up churches and reveal western architectural methods. They also established the Southern Church, and the Eastern Church. In 1703, they built the Northern Church near the past Beijing Library, on a land owned by the monarch (Rossabi 269).

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The Jesuits were also very dynamic in conveying Chinese knowledge to western countries through translating Chinese works into European languages. Ricci, one of the renowned Jesuits, had already reported on the thoughts of the Chinese people on their mission in his book; he had made attempts at interpreting books. The book needed an interpreted Latin translation and a biography. Such works had significant importance for European intellectuals of the period, mainly those who were interested in the incorporation of the system of ethics of Chinese with Christianity (Waley-Cohen 36). Ever since the returning of Jesuits missionaries, their detailed accounts attracted a significant attention of western philosophers. Chinese culture and technologies were also taught to the West by Jesuits. The Jesuit also wrote a Chinese dictionary, a work of great significance, as the language was quite unknown in the West previously. They also wrote a book concerning the history, culture and art of the Chinese,

In the early years, the Jesuit cartographers traveled all over China conducting astronomical observations to identify latitude and longitude (relative to Beijing) to various sites and drawing geographical maps (Waley-Cohen 36). The method in which the two sides conveyed their information was significant. Both the Jesuits and the Chinese people benefited in attaining their goals. The Jesuits from western countries used their improved technology and knowledge to explore China’s culture and transform them into Christianity. On the other hand, the Chinese used this advantage to reconstruct their nation from old tradition and civilize its people.

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To sum up, Jesuits not only wrote the books about many overseas nations; Rome was one of the centers of missionary that spanned the world. In China, Jesuits did an implausible work of translation and interpretation. They learned the local language, converted people, some of high positions, and, in order to astonish the influential Chinese with western forms of education, they translated the classical western knowledge of cartography and astronomy into Chinese. They also told their European superiors that Chinese people had a core of morals and doctrine that corresponded to those of Christianity. Eventually the Jesuits’ sincerity to China led them into problem; but during the first century of their missions they did an incredible work of bringing European knowledge to China and Chinese technology and to the West. Vatican conserves significant materials from both sides of this cultural trade.


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