How Seaborne Europeans Transformed Various Environments between 1500 – 1900

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Transformation by Seaborne Europeans

Between 1500 and 1900, a large number of Europeans traveled by water. While the majority of them were traders looking for raw materials and better markets for their industries, some of them were explorers searching for new, uncharted countries. The term "seaborne Europeans" is frequently used to describe these people. These journeys took them to Asia and Africa. They established along the beaches as soon as they arrived, which prompted the development of new port towns and cities. after researching the local populations; their cultures and the terrain of their lands, they moved inland. The arrival of the seaborne Europeans brought about social, economic and political changes to East Asia and Africa. Politically, they caused the rise and fall of various empires e.g. Spain. The fall of these empires created power vacuums which led to the rise of Jihadist Islamic uprisings. Socially, they introduced new cultures, religion and architecture to the people. Seaborne Europeans also brought positive effects to the economies of the areas they came into contact with. The most important one is the opening up of the world to intercontinental trades. This is what led to the birth of the famous Silver World Trade. This paper looks at the various ways in which seaborne Europeans transformed the worlds that they came into contact with.

The Birth of World Trade

The coming of the Europeans especially to East Asia had great economic benefits to Europe, East Asia and the whole world. The main advantage was that it led to the development of the World Trade. World Trade merged only when all important populated continents began continuously exchanging goods with each other, directly or indirectly through other continents for mutual benefit (Giraldez & Fynn 201). During that time, China was the main importer of silver and also the main exporter of tea. There was great demand for tea in Europe and a high demand for silver in China. Therefore, European countries with high deposits of silver such as Spain and Mexico brought silver in China and got tea in return. This led to the birth of the 'silver trade'.

British Dominance in Marine Transport

European countries that did not have silver deposits also hugely benefited during the silver trade. Britain for example became the main transporters of Silver and tea. British companies such as the British Trading company built mega ships that had a capacity of more than 1000 tons. These ships enabled them to dominate marine transport profiting from the trade (Giraldez & Fynn).

Creation of New Trade Routes

With time, more and more countries also joined in the marine transportation business. These created huge competition in that industry. To beat their competitors, Britain built steam ships which were faster and more powerful. This led to great advancement in naval technology. Even with thousands of tons of Silver being shipped to China, the demand outweighed supply. This huge demand for silver attracted merchants from all over the world. These Merchants were forced to find the safest shortest routes to China leading to the creation of new trade routes. The creation of new trade routes opened up the world as more and more places became accessible.

Challenges and Restrictions in China

While the world opened up, some places still remained out of reach for Europeans. The Chinese for example prevented them from accessing inland China. This was done through legislations. The rules of the game required that every foreigner that came to China to be hosted by a Chinese merchant. The Chinese Merchants were responsible for the behavior of the foreigners. If they incurred any debts, the host merchant was required to settle them. However, not everyone was allowed to trade with the foreigners. Merchants had to pay huge amounts of money to the courts to get this privilege. The money required was so huge that only a few Chinese including government officials could afford it. This led to the creation of a class of super wealthy merchants in China. These merchants were so wealthy that rich Europeans merchants admired their vast estates, well decorated gardens and fine artworks. Since foreigners had to be hosted by Chinese merchants, they had to find new ways to appease them. One of these methods was charming them with gifts. However, the Chinese merchants were so wealthy that it was extremely difficult to please them. Therefore, Europeans were forced to offer them one of their priceless possessions, gun powder (Palat 23). The introduction of gun powder had adverse political effects in East Asia. It completely changed the way wars waged. Before the coming of the Europeans, wars were mainly fought on horses using bows and arrows. However, gun powder was more effective that arrows. Therefore, when it was first introduced in East Asia, kingdoms rushed to acquire it. The acquisition of gun powder led to the manufacturing of guns and canyons. These new weapons led to better military structuring and improved siege strategies (Palat 7). Gun powder had social effects too. For example, it led to the rise in slave trade. At the height of the silver trade, countries that did not have silver had to find other products that would interest merchants. Such countries turned their attention to slave trade. Africans protested the slave trade through uprisings and revolts. Arabs and the Portuguese used guns to suppress these revolts. After overpowering them, they would take all the strong men and export them to Europe (Giraldez and Fynn, 217).

Inland Access and Religious Impact

During the slave trade in Africa and the silver trade in East Asia, Europeans found ways to access the inlands of these two regions. In China, they used negotiations and treaties while in Africa, forceful means were employed. Their access had massive social effects. To begin with, it led to the introduction of Christianity. Europeans were mainly Christians. Other regions had their own religions; Africans had traditional Gods while Chinese were mainly Buddhists. However, people warmed up to Christianity. They changed the way they dressed and the way they worshipped. These changes did not sit well with certain inland communities. In West Africa for example, people were mainly Muslims. Therefore, Christianity was viewed as hostile and pure evil. This led to rise of jihadist uprisings in these regions. Such movements include Wahhabis and Fara'izis of South Asia, Shamyl in Caucasus, Abdel Kadir in Algeria and the Senussis in Libya. These movements waged wars against external non-Muslim enemies which European Christians were considered to be (Keddie 467). In China, the reaction was the same. Some Chinese protested Christianity and infiltration of foreigners. A good example is the boxers uprising. Boxers were inland Chinese people who had great skills in martial arts. After Europeans were allowed inland and the spread of Christianity caught momentum, they put up a revolt. They used their martial arts to murder foreigners and Christian converts. They claimed that the foreigners and Christian converts were stealing from their country. The revolt was so huge that it laid siege to Beijing. They continued to butcher foreigners until a foreign army made up of eight European countries intervened. This army lifted the siege and murdered many members of the boxer's movement. They also massively looted the great Imperial palace causing massive losses and destruction of property. Other nationalistic uprisings came up because of the huge number of Chinese that the European army butchered. The looting of the imperial palace and the rise of nationalistic movements led to the fall of the dynasty in 1911 (Sebring and Perdue).

The Fall of the Silver Trade

As with the rise of every trade, there comes an inevitable fall. After many years of profitable silver trade, the value of silver finally fell and with it the fall of great Kingdoms. Initially, the rules of supply and demand made the value of silver to plummet. The demand of silver was too high and supply low. The high demand was as a result of the move by the Chinese to introduce the single - whip taxation system (Giraldez & Fynn 208). However, things soon changed. The main reason for the fall of the Silver trade was the discovery of large deposits of Silver in Spain and the entry of Mexico into the trade. The supply from Japan, Spain and Mexico altered the rule of demand and supply causing the fall of silver prices. The fall in the value of Silver caused the fall of Spain (Giraldez & Fynn210) and China (Giraldez & Fynn 213) which were both silver dependent. The collapse of the silver trade then caused the price inflation that occurred all over Europe (Giraldez, 203).


As we have seen, the coming of seaborne Europeans had various effects in the places that they came into contact with. However, most of these effects are closely tied to the rise and fall of the silver trade in East Asia. The rise and fall of the silver trade brought about the rise and fall of kingdoms such as Spain and China. It also opened up the inland of these regions and by extension the whole world. The inland penetration of Europeans had social, political and economic effects. Some of the political effects include introduction of guns and modern artillery. The main economic effect was the rise of the world trade and an example of the social effects was introduction of Christianity.

Works Cited

Palat, A. Ravi. Imperial Expansion in an Eastern Mirror: State Making and Territorial Expansion, 1000 -1700. New York

Sebring, Ellen & Perdue, C. Peter. "The Boxer Uprising - 1: The Gathering Storm in North China( 1860 - 1900).Massachusetts Institute of Technology . Retrieved from

Lieberman, Victor. “The Qing Dynasty and its Neighbors: Early Modern China in World History. Project Muse. Retrieved from

Keddie, R. Nikkie. " The Revolt of Islam, 1700 - 1993: Comparative Considerations and Relations to Imperialism. Los Angeles, California. Cambridge University Press.2011.

Giraldez, Arturo &Flynn, O. Dennis. Born with a "Silver Spoon": The Origin of World Trade in

1571. Honolulu, USA. University of Hawai'i Press.2011.

June 26, 2023

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Medieval Europe

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