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While the monotheist religions had bans on loaning money, Buddhism doesn't. Why didn't bankers manage to consolidate power in China during the Middle Ages?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Pieter Geerkens, Mark C. Wallace, SMS von der Tann, CGCampbell, Kobunite Jun 28 '16 at 7:16

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    "Why didn't/haven't ...?" questions are almost always opinion based. – Pieter Geerkens Jun 25 '16 at 13:14
  • The reason is here; specifically, the temples had all the money, so they were destroyed. After that Neo-Confucianism asserted control. – axsvl77 Jul 4 '16 at 12:05
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Until the 20th century, the reason was the "one career" nature of Chinese society. That is, the only honorable career was to take the national examinations to qualify as a member of the government. Passing the district examination made one a member of the local hierarchy. Passing the provincial examination got one a provincial slot, and passing the national examination took one to the capital. Would be bankers wasted their youth studying "philosophy" until they flunked the examinations (most did).

Imagine a society where all the top (merit) scholars and SAT achievers went to work for the government, stripping the "cream of the crop" from the private sector.

With a system like this, the Chinese government went out of its way to destroy, or at least prevent the rise of any alternate source of power. The Chinese fleet was was first immobilized after 1433, then dismantled during the course of the 15th century after the Treasure fleet went outside of East Asia to the Middle East and Africa, according to this source:

"In the following years, official support for the shipyards on the Yangtze >River slowly dried up. No more expeditions were ordered, mirroring the way that >Chinese society was turning in on itself in a conservative mode.

Confucianists in the imperial court saw to it that Zheng's ships were burned after his last voyage and made every effort to systematically destroy all official records of the voyages. The days when a Chinese fleet exploring distant lands under the command of the eunuch Cheng Ho were to fade into an almost forgotten memory.

The Ming navy had 3,500 ships in the early 1400s, but within decades it was a capital offense to build boats with more than two masts. In 1525, the emperor ordered the destruction of all seafaring ships, and the arrest of the merchants who sailed them. By 1551, it was a crime to sail the seas in a ship with more than one mast."

Someone like Germany's Jakob Fugger would have been unheard of in Chinese society: He would have been expropriated (and compensated with a government post) once he got to a certain level.

  • I'm interested in that claim about the Ming fleet- I've found Spence to be generally a respectable scholar, so I would find it interesting if he was peddling two-bit theories about China discovering America that are better left to people like Gavin Menzies. Was that part of his curriculum, or information you found elsewhere- and if so, what are your sources? – Patrick N Jun 26 '16 at 18:12
  • @PatrickN: First, Spence taught me about the "one career society." He didn't refer specifically to the Ming fleet, although he did emphasize the Chinese proverb: "A nail that sticks up will be hammered down." I'm not sure whether the Ming fleet got as far as North America, which is why I used the qualifier "(or at least threatened to)." What I do know is that its explorations to Africa, India, Indonesia, etc. were "threatening" and if they did ever find North America, it would be the "last straw." At the rate they were going, it was only a matter of time, until they were "stopped." – Tom Au Jun 26 '16 at 21:45
  • Well, at least it's good to know that you didn't get this "information" from Spence. The reason that I asked is that I find it difficult to see how one could "threaten" to discover something that nobody knew existed, or how these voyages were threatening to the Ming court at all. I also find it interesting that you say the Ming destroyed their fleet in response to these voyages, when in fact they only occurred after the Haijin was lifted. As well, said policy only banned maritime trade, and in fact was coupled with an expansion of the navy. So again, I ask- where did you learn all this? – Patrick N Jun 28 '16 at 23:04
  • @PatrickN: Actually it took place in three stages. There was the Haijin in the 14th century. There was an immobilization of the Treasure fleet after 1433. Then there were progressively greater restrictions on any shipbuilding up to mid 16th century. (See my latest link.) I have also removed the reference to North America. Is the post better now? – Tom Au Jun 29 '16 at 0:45

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