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Maritime China can be conceptualized in terms of the changes witnessed as the Chinese people went through socio-political processes explained in the following maritime Chinas:
- Maritime China as segment
- Maritime China as periphery
- Maritime China as terminus
- The whole Maritime China
- An Ideal Maritime China
Maritime China as Segment
This maritime China had a linkage with a tributary system of a continental empire, which some historians show as a weakening structure. The tributary system was a series of a concentric circle with its center occupied by the land of the Son of Heaven followed by the Chinese feudal lords and princes. Next were the minority chieftains on the Chinese borders. Leaders and kingdoms that intended to have relationships with China occupied some distant lands near the proximity of the feudal lords.
As the Chinese reached the whole length of the coast, they extended the tributary system across the oceans. This system saw maritime China as the segment of the impartial condition dedicated to naval defense, diplomatic relations, and merchant control. Maritime China can be perceived as a period of transition as the once passive official China for close to a millennium, experienced changes in which at least four maritime kingdoms controlled the empire.
Maritime China as Periphery
Maritime China as periphery involved all the people from the districts that wanted to trade with foreign merchants coming by sea. These were mainly the fishermen whose main economic activities depended entirely on the sea. The population of fisher folk had increased rigorously between tenth and thirteenth centuries during the Tang dynasty. They represented the venturous and human dimensions of maritime China. The Ming founder of the fourteenth century put restrictions for the people of the maritime periphery to carefully regulate the coastal regions to conform to higher and more vital concerns of the dynasty.
The initiatives of the merchant networks in the fourteenth century increased economic activities along the coasts as more Chinese associated with the numerous Muslim groups, Indians, Japanese, and Southeast Asians. The arrival of Portuguese and Spanish in the fifteenth century threatened the Ming officials. Though resistant at first, some change was seen when the Ming officials allowed the Portuguese to use Macau as their base accessing Chinese ports by the Spanish living in Manila. The aspect of maritime as periphery demonstrates that China was undergoing some form of transition brought about by immigration from Portugal and Spain.
Maritime China as Terminus
This maritime China features foreign merchants coming to exploit the China market through trade. Maritime China is perceived as one end of the larger maritime Asia having a different structure from that of China. China did not play a pivotal role in the trade. It served as a terminus. Thus, the goals of the foreign traders were more emphasized than Maritime China. Nevertheless, brave and entrepreneurial Chinese groups traded with the foreigners. It is worth noting that key links with China and its trade were regulated and maintained from outside. Thus, China’s prosperity came from its external extensions with the rest of Asia.
The whole Maritime China and Ideal Maritime China
Some historians suggest two more maritime Chinas, the Whole, and the Ideal. The Whole maritime China encompasses the three maritime Chinas mentioned above. This holistic approach combines the changes that happened during maritime the segment, terminus, and periphery.
Modern scholars have also argued that the discontinuities witnessed in maritime China might have led to unnoticed issues. Breaks included the Bangkok uprising, emergence of new Sojourner networks in the region, increased trade, silver fluctuations, British dominance, and the escalating opium consumption. However, a look at the three maritime Chinas, more linkages, and interconnectedness is observed that explain the transition observed.
Maritime China does not imply a maritime empire. It entails the transitional periods and events that shaped China during the tenth and nineteenth century. Chinese people embraced unanticipated changes. They first confronted immigrations from Portugal, Spain, Asia, India, Japan, and the British dominance with resistance. However, Maritime China later accepted and embraced modernity as evidenced by the increased inter-connectedness through trade relationships. This paper portrays Maritime China as a period of transition and change.