The Middle Kingdom

China, however, remained a magnet for foreign trade centering on unique Chinese goods,

including innovative products ranging from the magnetic compass to gunpowder.

The superb Chinese porcelain so pri zed in the West has been dug up in spots ranging from Africa to San Francisco on America ‘s West Coast and Belize on the Caribbean coast.

But these goods were carried in the despised foreigners’ ships, Arabian dhows on the African coast and the Spanish galleon making her annual trip from Manil a in the Philippines to Acapulco in Mexico, making her landfall in California on the way.

What the Chinese did with the South American silver they received from the Spanish trade in Manila is instructive.

As Walter McDougall points out in his lively history of the north Pacific, Let the Sea Make a Noise ,

they used it as money to pay for building the Great Wall, to keep out barbarian invaders from the north!

The Wall is of much more recent birth than legend has it. McDougall dates its heyday from 1572 to 1620.

The legendary building date of the 200s BC may well have been adopted by the Chinese sages,

who wrote consensus history-perhaps to give additional protection to what they call ed the Middle Kingdom, namely the protection of time, in the fo1m of centuries-old precedent.

It was ever a Chinese thing to confo rm to the Will of Heaven as expressed in the flow of events over time and make their works fit in with the scheme of the universe,

rather than go out and do battle to change the world.

China ‘s one aggressive attempt to change the course of history outside the ir borders had fai led miserably in the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan ‘s two massive attempts to invade Japan, in 1274 and 1281.

The Japanese, determined to remain outside the Chinese orbit, thereafter evolved a quite different view of the world,

in which they did more to welcome Western innovation, while fiercely resisting Western dominance.

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