Ancient Chinese Economy


Figure 1.--

Ancient China economically dominated most of Asia up to the Himilayas. The agricultural revolution and the birth of civilization occurred first in the Middle East. This occured later in China, but entirely independently. While the last of the four great river valley civilizations to develop, but it developed the most efficient agricultural economy. And until very modern times, agriculture was the most important economic sector which supported the great bulk of the population. Technological advances meant that Chinese agriculture was more advanced than European agriculture. These trechnical advances began in ancient times and continued into the medieval era. Until China's free market reforms (1990s) we tended to think about the vast and poor Chinese peasant masses. In fact, until the 18th or even the 19th century, the Chinese were bettr fed and better off than most Europeans. (An exception here was the American colonits.) This is why China developed such a rich and successful society whixch spawned a steady stream of artistic treasures and technological advances.

Agriculture

The agricultural revolution and the birth of civilization occurred first in the Middle East. This occured later in China, but entirely independently. While the last of the four great river valley civilizations to develop, but it developed the most efficient agricultural economy. And until very modern times, agriculture was the most important economic sector which supported the great bulk of the population. There was a regional divide in China. The Chinese in the densly populated north developed wheat farming. Those in the more lightly populre south developed an agriculture based oin riuce. Technological advances meant that Chinese agriculture was more advanced than European agriculture. These trechnical advances began in ancient times and continued into the medieval era. Until China's free market reforms (1990s) we tended to think about the vast and poor Chinese peasant masses. In fact, until the 18th or even the 19th century, the Chinese were bettr fed and better off than most Europeans. (An exception here was the American colonists.) This is why China developed such a rich and successful society whixch spawned a steady stream of artistic treasures and technological advances. Some of China's amazing advances in agriculture included seed enrichment, a seed planting device, an effectuve harness for plowing, an efficent plow, furrows, irrigation systems, harvesting decices, and much more.

Mining

The search for metals was an important economic development drivung trade and econoic sevelopment. The first mining was probably or salt. Individuals began digging deep pits to get salt during the Han Dynasty. Most of the ewely mines were probably slaves. As the Chinese began developing metal technology, demand for metals and mining grew.

Transport

The Grand Canal while less well known than the Great wall, was of far more economic and even political signoficance. It is also known as the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, the two principal terminuses. Despite its age dating into antiquity, it still stands as the longest canal or artificial river in the world. The canal ends in Beijing, China's political capital. It runs through Tianjin and the provinces of Hebei, Shandong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang, beginning in the city of Hangzhou. The Grand Canal began a aeries of small local canals (5thh century BC). The Gtand Canal was finally completed during the Sui Dynasty (581618 AD). The Canal extends 1,776 km (1,104 mi). At first the canal could not surmount high altitudes. It is not until the inventiion of the pound lock during the Song Dynasty (1=oth century) that higher elevations could be overcome. The mastermind was state official and engineer Qiao Weiyo. The Canal was of great economic importance. It allowed the grain of the prodyctive south to reach the more densly populated north. It also allowed for the growth of cities as it made moving food fom rthe countryside into them. Despite the obvious advantages, there wa no comparable canal constrction in the West (18th century), something over 6,000 years after work on the Grand Canal began. It seems incredible, but is only one example of the technological gap between Chuina and the West.

Trade

The Grand Canal helped to develop trade wiothin China, helping to create a cohesive economic unit. Trade also developed between the nort and south, but grain was most of the ancient era mot a major trade item because of the vost of tranporting bulk items. Traders openbed mritime routes to the south. Other traders opened routes to the west, eventually resulting in the Silk Road. Chinese traders did not transit the entire Silk Road, but only into Central Asia. Chinese good (silks, porcelins, and much more) did, however, reach the West and became higly coveted. The West had little to offer the Chinese and thus gold and silver flowed back froim the Wesrt.

Money

Money in the form of metal coins appeared in China later than in the West. It is not clear why. The first money in China appears to have been cowrie shells which appeared during the Shang Dynasty (1800 BC). Then the Chinese began using metal imitations of cowrie shells. Next we see strings of metal beads called cash. Finally we begin to see coins with writing on them with the value guaranteed and regulatee by the Governmentduring the Chou Dynasty (about 400 BC). The first such coins were bronze. It is not clear where the idea for metal coins origuinated. Almost certainly the idea came from Centrtal Asian traders along the ilk Road. Paper money appeared during the Sung Dynasty (12th century).









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Created: 7:54 AM 12/1/2010
Last updated: 11:54 PM 8/5/2012