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Why Shipping “Declined” In China From The Middle Ages To The Nineteenth Century

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Chapter Summary

According to this chapter, the real puzzle, including the one surrounding Zheng He's maritime undertakings, is China's technological track record which seems to have been superior to that of many maritime civilisations. Yet China was a land-biased empire. China's maritime technological achievements can be described in three main areas: ship design, navigation, and pilotage. In all three there was some considerable degree of continuity over time. Here is the problem: In terms of ship design, China only produced three ship designs suited to deep sea travel over 2,000 years.The first known systematic description of sail control appeared during the Three Kingdoms Period (220-265), when multidecker ships dominated China's sea-going fleet. The Ming Armada was a direct beneficiary of the unusual maritime growth during the Song era of trade expansion. To conclude, the Chinese shipping sector never had similar support from the market or the state as its European counterpart received.

Keywords: China; Chinese shipping sector; Ming Armada; ships; Three Kingdoms Period

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