You can stop progress - a Look at Three Nations that Did
Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences,
University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
Spain in the early 1500's
- Recently unified
- Just ended long reconquest, freed-up energies, exploration
- Wealth from Americas
- By 1600, Spain was in decline. For centuries one of poorer nations of
- Looked promising--what went wrong?
Spain before unification c. 1400
- Less than half of area is productive.
- 10% barren mountains or dry.
- Pyrenees block communication to north.
- 5 kingdoms
- Aragon NE
- Navarre N central and NW
- Castile Center - 70% of area
- Portugal (remained independent)
- Granada SE--Muslim
- 711 Christians only in northern mountains.
- 1085 Toledo, roughly center of Spain, recaptured. Castile main
- 1248 Seville, nearly at S. tip of Spain recaptured.
Effects of Reconquest
- Castile highly militarist in outlook.
- Notion of "holy war" against infidels.
- Ferdinand and Isabella united Castile and Aragon 1469.
- Techniques for unification:
- Holy war against Muslims (Granada falls 1492),
- Undermine nobility
- Win allegiance of middle class,
- Alliance with Church, sale of indulgences meant revenue to Crown.
- Net result--weak rulers turned into highly centralized authority
linked to a strong (but state-controlled) Church.
The Holy War Mentality
- Fear of Turks, who were advancing in SE Europe.
- Fear of Muslims and Jews within Spain (marranos, moriscos).
- Fear of re-invasion (actually not realistic).
- Jews expelled 1492. Rich Jews financed exodus of poor. Jews bring
plague to Naples--20,000 die.
- Expulsion of Moslems
- Attack on Granada begins 1482 (Granada weakened by civil war)
- Granada falls 1492
- Pressure on Muslims to convert
- Rebellion 1499
- Expulsion 1502
- Harassment of Spanish coasts from N. Africa
- A few Muslim villages persist in remote mountains of Spain into the 1600's
Spain and the New World
- Destruction of Aztecs, Maya, Inca in "holy war."
- Total control of Church in New World by Crown.
- 16,000,000 kg silver--tripled Europe's supply.
- 185,000 kg gold--20% increase.
- For comparison: Present world gold supply 80 million kg. Total
silver mined in 6000 year; 950 million kg, about half mined in last
Effects of New World wealth
- Rampant inflation--paradox of (cheap) gold and hyperinflation
- Population influx to cities
- Neglect of land
- Conspicuous consumption rather than infrastructure improvements
Where did the money go?
- Arts, architecture, conspicuous consumption
- Loans and interest for European military adventures
- By 1600's most income went to interest on loans and Spain was
regularly defaulting on bonds
- Possible parallels with OPEC? Almost the worst thing that can
happen to an economy is a boom!
Polarization of Spain
- Church-crown alliance; Inquisition prevents Protestant influences
- Intense struggle between conservative and liberal factions
- Trauma of Civil War 1936-1939. (U.S. Civil War--60 million population,
600,000 dead, mostly battle related. Spanish Civil War--30 million population, 1,000,000 dead, many in behind-the-lines atrocities.)
- Words of a modern Spanish poet: "Little Spaniard coming into the
world, may God keep you; one of the two Spains will turn your
heart to ice."
Since the death of right-wing dictator General Franco in 1975, King Juan Carlos has led Spain into a remarkable moderation and modernization. Spain's Gross National Product is now about half that of France and close to that of Canada. Typical of Juan Carlos' style: the Catalan language, spoken in the northeast, was suppressed under the Franco regime. Juan Carlos granted Catalonia autonomy, and delivered the opening address of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics not in Spanish but in Catalan. To say the crowd went wild is putting it mildly. There may yet be a happy ending to a grim story.
In 2006 I visited Spain for the first time. I was amazed at the good roads
and the general level of efficiency. One place I visited was the Valley of the
Fallen north of Madrid, Franco's attempt at fostering reconciliation. Upon
entering the courtyard, I was immediately reminded of Albert Speer's
architecture and said to my wife "This is exactly the sort of place a Fascist
would build." But overall, Spain seems to have moved beyond the Franco era in a
way few divided nations are fortunate enough to manage.
Ming China, 1368-1900
Mongol conquest: North 1215, South 1279
Yuan dynasty reaches peak with Kublai Khan 1260-1294
Ming dynasty ascends
Foreigners expedited or killed
Conservative tendencies of Ming China
- Clan structure
- Exams based on Confucian classics
- Intense competition
- (1.1 million scholars vying for 27,000 government positions)
- Social stratification based on education
- Overall: conservative, stratified, but stable and reasonably well
Europeans establish contact with China
- 1516 Rafael Perestrello (Portuguese) first to China
- 1517 Portuguese diplomatic relations
- 1557 Portugal takes over Macao, tries to monopolize trade.
- Chinese-Portuguese relations poor.
- 1574 Spanish repulse Chinese pirate attack on Manila, burn fleet.
This action beneficial to China, allows Spain to establish relations but no permanent posts.
- 1604 Dutch arrive in China
- 1635 English arrive in China
- France very slow to establish trade
- Generally traders were violent and reckless and confirmed Chinese
stereotype of Western barbarisms
Missionaries in China
- Early missionaries (Jesuits) tolerant of culture and customs,
well-received by Emperor.
- Later arrivals less tolerant. "Rites controversy" over Chinese
rituals in Christian churches rocks European Christendom for a
Subjugation by West
- Opium War 1840's
- Spheres of Influence, Boxers ca. 1900
- China could perhaps have continued in its traditional ways
indefinitely if isolated.
- China too blinded by "barbarian" stereotype, failed to note that
advancing Western technology meant military power. Unprepared to cope with European colonialism (in that sense, the "barbarian" label not entirely a misnomer?)
A study in stereotyping
Japan develops high feudal civilization,
opened to West by Perry's visit 1854, rapidly adapts and becomes
a world leader in technology.
More likely model:
Japan has always
been one of the most
technologically advanced nations of the world. West was not generally aware of Japanese technology until late 19th century.
Japan meets the West for the first time
- Portuguese visit Japan 1543
- Missionaries active until 1616 when Christianity outlawed.
- Country closed to foreigners 1636 (mostly to keep out
- Shimabara rebellion 1637. Christian resistance crushed.
- Underground Christians (Kakure Kirishitan) kept their religion
alive until until contact with West re-established. 10,000 in Japan still
follow the underground religion that evolved.
Japan and Weapons
- In 1500's, Japan was world's leading sword producer in quantity
- Firearms introduced by Portuguese
- Japanese rapidly become proficient in manufacture and use of
- Japanese introduce innovations (a water proof cover with
matchlocks) not developed in Europe.
- By 1560 use of guns in battle common. Shimabara rebellion (1637)
fought on both sides with guns.
- Japanese tactics (serial firing, earthworks) outpaced European
- By 1600 there were probably more guns in Japan than the rest of
the world combined.
Giving up the Gun - a unique episode of technological reversal
Reason was a general distaste for firearms despite their utility.
- Discounted individual bravery
- Eroded status of warrior class (much larger percentage of
population than in Europe). A peasant could kill a Samurai.
- Swords were art objects, status symbols, social class emblems.
- Swordsmanship involved elegant and ritualistic body movements,
firearms did not.
- Firearm manufacture centralized
- Smiths given honors and salary whether guns produced or not (paid off)
- Orders for guns systematically scaled down
Why it worked
- General consensus that reduction was desirable
- It was not a mass-market technology
- Technologists probably shared consensus for reduction
- Technologists given other, equally satisfying rewards. (Compare
end of Apollo program!)
Other notes on Japanese technology before late 19th century
- World leader in paper products
- Wasan mathematics rivalled best western work, 1600's (matrices, solve cubic equations, imaginary roots).
- Pre-packaged, pre-priced goods
- In mid 19th century, death rate in Tokyo lower than Boston or New York.
- Typhoid virtually eliminated.
- Efficient recycling, little poverty, better roads than Europe or
Summary of the three nations:
- Spain's case looked worst during the Franco era and Japan's best.
- Spain was unable to take advantage of remarkable opportunities in the
1500's, a mistake it did not repeat in modern times.
- China was technologically outstripped and overwhelmed from without.
- Japan was a highly advanced society that performed a selective technological reduction.
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Created 20 May 1996, Last Update 4 June 1997
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