During the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644), great achievements were recorded in architecture, shipbuilding, porcelain making, and textile weaving.
Eighty years before the British discovered what caused scurvy, Chinese sailors were not suffering from this disease because the Chinese had developed porcelain containers to grow bean sprouts in while the ships were crossing oceans. Bean sprouts are a rich source of vitamin C.
During his voyages, Admiral Zheng He took more than 10,000 copies of books to give away in the hope of spreading Chinese civilization and traditional Confucian ideas. Instead of diseases and cannonballs that were ruthlessly used to spread colonialism out of Europe, the Chinese gave away books.
Of all the textile industries, silk weaving was number one and could be found in almost every large and small town in Southern China.
Shang Chuan, a Research Fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences says, “Textiles in China have a long history (back to the Warring States Period, BC 475-221). By the Ming Dynasty… large workshops had appeared, although work was still done by hand.
“However, compared with the old family production model, large worships were superior as the products were quality guaranteed, all looked the same and were the same standard.”
The silk industry in China was the beginning of modern manufacturing. As many think, modern manufacturing techniques did not start in England in the 18th century. It started in China centuries earlier.
The reputation of the Chinese products that Admiral Zheng He took with him on his voyages brought him considerable honor and made him welcome everywhere he visited. On his sixth voyage, he reached the African coast and twelve hundred envoys from sixteen African and Asian countries returned to China with Zheng He’s fleet.
In Beijing, the Ming Emperor presented these envoys with forty-thousand roles of silk and brocade.
Even before the Ming Dynasty, China had been sending diplomatic missions overland to the West for centuries and trade had extended as far as east Africa.
However, never before had a government-sponsored mission the size of Zheng He’s fleet been organized. His voyages were a vivid demonstration of the economic and cultural prosperity of the Ming Dynasty.
The Great Wall, which the Ming Dynasty had continued to rebuild, modernize and strengthen, stretched from China’s eastern coast to the far northwest. This Great Wall is what tourists in China see today.
In 1637, the largest encyclopedia of ancient China was published. It was a comprehensive book covering science and handicraft technologies. Another encyclopedia was published on agriculture. A third described China’s geology in detail. A fourth was the most comprehensive medical book in Chinese history, the Compendium of Materia Medica.
Meanwhile, The Industrial Revolution in Europe would not start in Britain until about 1760, more than a century after the Ming Dynasty had been replaced in 1655 by the Manchu led Qing Dynasty.
However, after 1433, the Ming Dynasty turned inward and became isolated from the world, setting the stage for its collapse and the madness and horror that followed for more than a century up to 1949.
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.
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