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A number of political measures were taken, including the centralisation of administration – later to become a bureaucratic apparatus hostile to progress-the separation of military and political power, the division of land into “public” estates to which the imperial government had rights and “private” estates which were for the use of the people, the introduction of a ground rent as a form of tax and the setting up of a land register.

Contacts with abroad were established in particular through expeditions to the southern seas, East Africa (Somalia) and the Red Sea. Tales and legends of the Orient which were circulated by travellers who had visited China during the Mongol years aroused the interest of Europeans, some of whom made the long journey in person. Furthermore, it was during the 15th and 16th c. that the world was circumnavigated and the Voyages of Discovery took place. In 1516 the Portuguese landed in China, later settled in Macao and set overseas trade in motion. The Portuguese were followed by the Spanish, the Dutch and then in 1637 the English. The Italians, who thanks to the 13th c. journeys of Marco Polo had played an important part in familiarising Europeans with the Middle Kingdom, arrived with the Jesuits.

Once again China was facing harassment from all quarters: restless Mongols on the northern perimeter, Se asia travel map bandits in the west and Japanese pirates whose fleets threatened the east coast. The political situation was also fraught. Corruption within the imperial court and the incompetence of the officials and eunuchs led to more peasant uprisings. The beneficiaries of this discontent were the Manchus who crushed the weak Ming nobility to found the Qing Dynasty.

In much the same way as the Mongols, the Qing first imposed a series of repressive measures on the Chinese population, such as the obligation to wear Manchurian dress and pigtail, the banning of mixed marriages and the creation of Chinese ghettoes in the towns. However, these policies were later moderated, the Manchus adapted to the Chinese way of life and even sought to expand into newterritories with the aim of spreading Chinese culture. Emperor Kangxi annexed the Chinese state of Formosa, the provinces of Yunnan and Tibet, Mongolia and the central Asian regions – the extent of modern China’s frontier. In addition, bordering states of Annam (Vietnam) and Korea became Chinese protectorates. After a long period of economic prosperity devastating natural catastrophes engulfed the country. The

A 17th century map of the world resulting famine hit the people, agriculture and trade badly. The ruling Manchus were in no position to impose a solution on the country. Meanwhile foreign powers sought to strengthen their position inside China.

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