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1493: Yellow fever, yellow people

I really can't read this damn thing away from a keyboard.

After malaria, Mann moved on to yellow fever, an African virus carried by the Aedes genus of mosquitoes. I promptly looked up if we have vaccines to it, and we do; yay! It's an odd one, doesn't hurt children much, kills half of non-immune adults. Naturally, importing it to the Caribbean would kill lots of Europeans and Indians, while the African slaves would probably be immune from childhood exposure; their children wouldn't be, though. Importance of an ongoing slave trade suddenly becomes more obvious.

Sugar was pretty valuable -- for a while the 166 square miles of Barbados were worth more than English North America. It also led to deforestation and erosion, with later slaves being tasked with carrying soil back up the hills in baskets. Sugar industry not only left pots of water around as habitats, like rain-filled tires today, it left pots of *sugary* water around. Gold for mosquito larvae.

NE South America, called the Caribbean Amazon by one scholar, between the Amazon and the Orinoco, is the next focus. Lots of native earthworks for water control or avoidance, complex gardens and orchards, strong native governments until the 18th century. After that, colonialism with offshore ownership -- avoiding malaria and yellow fever -- in an extractive state model, with little interest in creating schools or hospitals or non-extractive roads; in fact education in British Guiana was denounced as risky.

Malaria hit Union troops in the South, probably drawing out the war, and perhaps making full emancipation more likely, as Northern attitudes hardened. It also pretty much wiped out Cornwallis's army, apart from seasoned Loyalists. Makes me think of an irregular conjugation, or the Fundamental Attribution Error: "we achieved victory through force of arms, you (e.g. Haiti) were saved by disease..."


Next stop, China, and a fair bit of simply setting up the scene without talking about Exchange.

Zheng He: 317 ships, flagship 300 feet long and 150 wide, biggest wooden ship ever.
Spanish Armada: 137, biggest ship half the size.
Why stop the fleets? Same reason US stopped going to the moon: nothing there. No one richer than China, or worth trading with for other than raw materials; didn't need to go to Africa for those, let alone Europe. Except... then we get into Chinese monetary policy, or the lack thereof, leading to an insatiable demand for silver.

The Song, that most inventive of dynasties, invented paper money. Simply printing worked for a while, as use increased. They were saved from inventing hyperinflation by getting conquered by the Mongols/Yuan, who later invented it themselves, a decade before the Ming uprising.

"Histories of the late Ming dynasty are like advertisements for the virtues of democracy."

"Imperial China's day to day history is largely recorded in the annual gazetteers sent to Beijing from each of the counties." -- oh man, nothing like that in India. Sorry, tangent.

He mentions the usual "and then the Ming stopped the fleets and shut down trade", but notes they reversed policy 50 years later, and also makes it sound less like random isolationism and more like a shutdown of *private* trade, so that the state could monopolize trade. Tribute payments and receipt of imperial gifts continued, and tribute bearers could sell off what the emperor didn't want. Still, a ban on private trade really hurt people, especially in Fujian province, which had great natural harbors and not much farmland. They smuggled and rebelled and he talks quite a bit about Fujian, the once major port of Yuegang, and wokou pirates. Eventually the Ming surrendered and opened up trade again, partly because they really needed silver. Why? Ah, back to monetary policy...

The Ming had stopped using paper money, but somehow never got the hang of resurrecting the old copper/bronze coinage. Didn't help that there wasn't enough copper. Also didn't help that new emperors kept banning the coinage of their predecessors, wiping out stored value. Merchants turned to silver in free market self-defense, despite it being too high value for optimal daily use, and the Ming eventually gave in and demanded taxes in silver, not just in kind. In specific weights of silver, too, which would backfire later.

Closest silver was in Japan. Merchants sold silk and porcelain to brutal men with silver (wokou pirates), then paid taxes in silver, which was used to fight the wokou. Ming at war with its own money supply. So when they stumbled into silver-bearing Spaniards in Manila, well, they were very very happy.

"In 1391 the government banned the use of its own coins, a policy that 'flouted economic realities'". quoting _Fountain of Fortune_

Random Wikipedia quote: "The Mongol raids continued until 1566. The main reason was that they were starving and Ming refused to trade with them. During this, all the Ming generals failed to repel the raids." I note that despite coming across here as a bunch of unfunny clowns with little coherent administration and some really out there emperors, the dynasty lasted 280 years, about as good as the Song or Qing and much better than the Yuan. Friend Amy notes that the Chinese state seems pretty solid, with a bureaucracy that can run on autopilot for quite a while.



Next stop, Potosi, city of silver! "Andean Indians had some of the world's most advanced metallurgy." Not
a sentence one expects to see... but they were sitting on 50% silver ores, when typical is a few percent tops; the Spanish didn't know how to purify it, kept boiling it away; natives had techniques that worked. 160,000 people in Potosi at the high point, living on almost entirely imported food, and presumably consisting mostly of young men. Lots of violence, and supposedly no children born to a European in 50 years. Born to a European woman? Surely there were native whores if not wives...

Maybe half of American silver ended up in China. One galleon was documented as carrying 8x the officially allowed amount. Another one sank, and modern divers found 3x the silver it should have been carrying, and might not have found it all. Chinese paid in lots of things, such as marble statues (including ones of baby Jesus... quick market adaptation) and silk (with the Ming ordering farmers to plant mulberry trees, or else pay in silk). Spain started producing its own silk, but Chinese silk could cross the Pacific and Atlantic and still sell in Spain for less than Spanish silk. Not sure if that's a sign of hideously poorly paid labor or much lower material production costs. Probably also a sign of shipping being fairly cheap even then, without too many middlemen.


I only realized just now that that icon is an animated gif.

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( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
fpb
Nov. 24th, 2011 06:15 am (UTC)
despite coming across here as a bunch of unfunny clowns with little coherent administration and some really out there emperors, the dynasty lasted 280 years
You could say the same about nearly every major European dynasty. England and Scotland, which changed ruling dynasties nearly as often as they changed fashion in clothes, were the exception. The Romanovs ruled Russia from 1602 to 1918 - that's 36 years longer - and the most efficient, if certainly not admirable, of them, Catherine II, did not have one drop of Romanov blood in her, being a German adventuress who murdered her Romanov husband with the aristocracy's connivance for being degenerated even by Romanov standards. The Habsburgs of Austria lasted from the thirteenth to the twentieth century, holding an imperial title for most of the time, and again evidence of talent in the family was thin, give or take the odd remarkable Maria Theresa - whose son and successor, to make up for it, was a twit. In France, the same family ruled from the eleventh to the early nineteenth century - and let's face it, when a damaging mediocrity such as Louis XIV gets called the Sun King, standards must have been fairly lax. Let's face it: inheritance is a lousy way to trawl for talent.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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