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China and the USA: cooperation or conflict?
China and the USA: cooperation or conflict?

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1.3 China’s Past

China was once the most developed civilisation in the world and at times was interested in developing relations with other societies based on tribute and trade. Most notably under the third Ming emperor, Zhu Di (1360–1424), China not only engaged in trade with other countries in fine china, spices, minerals, cloth and gunpowder, but also initiated expeditions to explore the oceans and to map the seas through astronomical innovation. These expeditions engaged in exchange of flora and fauna and included scientifically trained metallurgists to seek out new sources of mineral wealth. The collapse of the reign of Zhu Di in 1424 – combined with famine, economic stagnation and the effects of constructing large fleets of hardwood ships – led to a new era where contact with the outside world was minimised and non-Chinese were regarded as barbarians. Some accounts even suggest that the coasts of China were cleared of people to avoid the effects of contact with the outside world.

Described image
Figure 2 Zhu Di (1360–1424), often called the Yongle Emperor (left), and an illustration of Chinese maritime design, from Zheng He’s treasure fleet, compared with a European vessel at the same time (right)