Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Lectures 5: History of the World Since 1300

The 15th and 16th Centuries saw a stampede of Europeans rushing to create colonies in Asia.  And they arrived as bullies.  With superior firepower to all the countries in Asia, including powerful China, they overcame wherever they went.  China was able to defend their territory and relegate the Europeans  to the margins in China.  This was fine because they were primarily after trading bases anyway.

Portugal went out to an early lead in Asia.  Vasco de Gama led the charge by sailing around the Cape of Good Hope to avoid the Muslim blockade.  And a rapacious, brutal explorer he was, bombarding ports and butchering sailors.   Pires followed, arriving in China with a similar absence of respect.  There was retribution by the Chinese, who executed Pires and resolved to keep Europeans at the periphery of their country.  Nevertheless, through European military technology, Portugal took Goa (1510), Melaka (1511), Hormuz (1515) and Macao (1535).  This was a totally different pattern from the style of conquest in Mexico. The Portuguese did not create an institutional system in their outposts, and their success was ephemeral.

Meanwhile, Spain took Manila in 1571 and transformed it into an important port for trans-shipment of silver from the Americas to China, displacing Japanese silver.  Manila Galleons carried 15 tons of silver a year along this 'China Road'.

The Dutch also acquired territories in Asia, taking Java in 1519 and establishing their permanent headquarters base for the Dutch East India Company.  But they went beyond just trading, and established plantations to grow nutmeg, mace, cinnamon and cloves.

After their initial success, Europeans faced some setbacks.  They had a growing need for profits to fund the religious wars in Europe.  Yet their fierce rivalry with each other was driving up the costs of maintaining and fortifying these Asian outposts.  Meanwhile, profits were dropping as the Arabs fought back by reopening the Red Sea Ports, and flooding the market with pepper and reducing its price.

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