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Word Count: 2,033
Ming society from the late sixteenth to the mid seventeenth century was a society in the grips of profound economic social and political changes It is always easy to look back on a period view the big picture and label it as a period of upheaval But records left show that even contemporaries recognised the ferment they were living through With such all-encompassing and intense changes it was perhaps inevitable that the tradition of morals virtues and religious belief passed down from the time of the Divine Sages would itself be forced to undergo changes in order to maintain a relevant role in a new China The catalyst at the forefront of Chinas transformation was trade The move away from a government controlled to a private controlled economy started in the 1450s Without the heavy government imposed taxes farms and household industries began to produce surplus Trade routes were expanded to cover huge swathes of China By the 16th century Chinese goods such as silk lacquer and porcelain were being exported to Japan South America and Europe in exchange for silver Referred to as the silverisation of the Chinese economy this influx of silver bullion resulted in the monetization of economic exchange and spurred further growth of commercial agriculture and industry trade networks and the market system This was effectively the rapid emergence of a capitalist economy And it had a huge social impact on late Ming China upsetting the conventional definition of the hierarchy and intensifying tensions between classes Previously at the very bottom of the social ladder the merchant now enjoyed increasing power and respectability The scholar and official on the other hand had to face up to the fact that their education and elite status were no longer unparalleled Indeed the wealthy merchant could even purchase a degree thus buying themselves entry into the gentry class Upper class superiority was further threatened by the expanding educational possibilities in the late
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