Known Early Modern Era

Beginning in the 1400s, this early modern era was known for dramatic change. As Europe began to interact with outside sources, it shifted the interconnectedness of the world’s societies rather than isolating them. Through the 1400s to the 1800s, encounters and exchanges with Europe negatively affected the development and structures in Africa by the evolution of the slave trade and positively affected the development and structures in China by the expansion of crops and global trade. During these encounters, it was almost certain that societies within these countries would have an effect on each other.

To begin this era, Europe wanted to trade with China in order to receive Chinese silk and porcelain.

However, the Chinese had no interest in anything that the Europeans offered to trade. In order to exchange goods with another country, that country need to have something that the other country wants; therefore, Europe paid for the Chinese goods in the only thing that China wanted: gold.

Yet, as gold began to drain in Europe, Europeans became worrisome. Seeking other options, Europe realized that Africa had the gold that they needed in order to continue exchanging with China. As Europe began to exchange with Africa, Africa set up trading posts. As trading with Africa grew, networks multiplied and linked together with regions within sub-Saharan Africa. This encouraged central and South Africa to build states; which the most known is the kingdom of Kongo.

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During a trade in the early 1400s, a small Portuguese fleet engaged in relations with the kingdom of Kongo.

According to Jerry Bentley, ‘Of all the processes that linked Africa to the larger Atlantic world in early modern times, the most momentous was the Atlantic slave trade’ (Bentley, 417). During this time, the Portuguese traders sought high-value goods from Africa such as copper, ivory, and most important, slaves. The Portuguese created connections with the kings in this kingdom who provided them slaves in exchange for European goods. Kongos relationship with Portugal brought them wealth and recognition but eventually lead to destruction.

From the first encounter with slave traders in 1441, the Atlantic slave trade began very small. As stated by Bentley, Portuguese explorers captured and ‘seized twelve African men and took them to Portugal as slaves’ . These twelve African men were already slaves within Africa but were then traded for European goods. However, shortly after this encounter, Portuguese explorers realized that they could purchase the slaves rather than capture or trade for them. This allowed the explorers to skip the resistance that was portrayed by the slaves when they were captured. Over this time of realization, the relationship between Kongo and Portugal began to worsen. With the Atlantic slave trade growing extensively into something bigger, the Portuguese began to pursue opportunities outside of Kongo. In 1665, the Portuguese went to war with Kongo where the Portuguese forces quickly defeated Kongo and killed their king. After this destruction, the Portuguese traders began searching for more profitable opportunities elsewhere.

From this point on, the Atlantic slave trade grew rapidly. According to Bentley, ‘By 1460 they were delivering five hundred slaves per year to Portugal and Spain’ . During the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the number of slaves leaving Africa grew to about two thousand. During the seventeenth century, it grew to twenty thousand slaves. And during the highest point in the eighteenth century, the number of slaves being exported from Africa grew to fifty-five thousand. However, during these centuries, there were times when the number of slaves leaving exceeded one hundred thousand. Bentley stated that ‘From beginning to end the Atlantic slave trade brought about twelve million Africans to the western hemisphere’. The impact that the Atlantic slave trade negatively had on Africa as a whole affected their development socially and politically.

During this era, Africa suffered serious destruction. Alone, the Atlantic slave trade underprivileged the African society by nearly sixteen million people, in which two-thirds were males ranging from ages fourteen to thirty-five. This manipulated the sex ratios within Africa and affected their society socially. According to Bentley, ‘By the late eighteenth century, for example, women made up more than two-thirds of the adult population of Angola. This sexual imbalance encouraged Angolans to practice polygamy and forced women to take on duties that in earlier times had been the responsibility of men’. This was a vast shift in the lifestyle that the Africans were used to. Additionally, the Atlantic slave trade created a disturbance within Africa politically. During the late seventeenth century, Africa began to trade slaves with Europe in exchange for firearms. This caused an increase in violence within Africa’s society. For example, Bentley stated, ‘When the kingdom of Dahomey obtained effective firearms, its armies were able to capture slaves from unarmed neighboring societies and exchanged them for more weapons’.

This demonstrated how the slave trade created a negative shift within the patterns of Africa’s politics. While encounters with Europe negatively affected Africa, encounters with Europe positively affected China. Unlike Africa, during the early modern era, China avoided any disturbances that could have been developed during encounters with Europe. Rather, China experienced positive social and economic change through food crops and global trade. During this time, Europeans wanted a way into China. Being a self-sustaining kingdom, China was on top. The country was huge and continued to grow which is why people wanted to take over.

Through the 1500s and 1800s, dynasties in China such as the Ming and Qing sought to foster stability within their kingdoms by encouraging the Chinese to maintain cultural traditions from eras before. These kingdoms succeeded in this goal by modeling their governmental structure on the states within China. Additionally, these kingdoms wanted to practice traditional hierarchical and patriarchal social order; however, China experienced considerable social and economic changes due to influences from Europe. Being an agricultural society, China was known to be the land that was a source of everything praiseworthy. However, only a small portion of the land within China was suitable for farming. According to Bentley, ‘Only about eleven percent is in cultivation’.

So, in order to feed the large population with such little room to grow, farmers relied on garden style agriculture which was very efficient. By comprehensively using all eleven percent of available land, China effectively utilized their crops until the seventeenth century. As the Chinese reached their maximum limits of agricultural productivity, they were introduced to food crops from outside encounters. When the Chinese received these crops, they were able to use the land that they believed wasn’t good enough to farm on. These crops helped increase their agricultural production and brought them enormous wealth. Additionally, the new crops increased food supply dramatically and fueled population growth. According to Bentley, ‘Chinas population rose rapidly from 100 million in 1500 to 160 million in 1600. By 1750 it had surged to 225 million’.

Even though this increase in the population could have been worrisome to the employment aspect, the increase in farming offered more opportunities to workers and even entrepreneurs. Owning one of these farms allowed entrepreneurs to have a large labor force which ultimately meant they were able to hire workers at a low rate. These positive developments changed Chinas social and economic society and followed the stability that the Ming and Qing sought to preserve. Even though Africa and China had many encounters and exchanges through the 1400s to the 1800s, their trade with Europe had the biggest impact on the development and structures of their societies. Without these influences, the societies in Africa and China may not be where they are today. Positive or negative, Europe’s involvement with the Atlantic Slave Trade and the global trading of crops, shaped the countries into what they are today.

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Known Early Modern Era. (2021, Dec 29). Retrieved from

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