Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 February 2022
Foreign trade always mattered in imperial China. Especially during the middle period and early modern times, China experienced enormous growth and expansion of foreign trade. According to Confucian concepts, merchants belonged to the lowest echelon of society; agriculture, not trade, was considered the basis of a stable state and society. Most Chinese governments indeed sought to maintain more or less strict control over foreign commerce and those who were responsible for it. But one has to emphasize the co-operative rather than antagonistic relationship with markets and with the merchant class during most of China’s imperial history. In addition, we can observe certain characteristics and qualitative changes throughout the centuries.