European overseas expansion led to the contact between the Old and New Worlds producing the Columbian Exchange, named after Columbus. It involved the transfer of goods unique to one hemisphere to another. Europeans brought cattle, horses, and sheep to the New World, and from the New World Europeans received tobacco, potatoes and maize. Other items becoming important in global trade were the sugarcane and cotton crops of the Americas, and the gold and silver brought from the Americas not only to Europe but elsewhere in the Old World.
The new trans-oceanic links and their domination by the European powers led to the Age of Imperialism, where European colonial powers came to control most of the planet. The European appetite for trade, commodities, empire and slaves greatly affected many other areas of the world. Spain participated in the destruction of aggressive empires in America, only to substitute for its own and forcibly replaced the original religions. The pattern of territorial aggression was repeated by other European empires, most notably the Dutch, Russian, French and British. New religions replaced older "pagan" rituals, as were new languages, political and sexual cultures, and in some areas like North America, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina, the indigenous peoples were abused and driven off most of their lands, being reduced to small, dependent minorities.
Portuguese Nanbanjin arriving at Japan much to the surprise of locals, detail from Nanban panel from Kanō Domain, 1593–1600
Similarly, in coastal Africa, local states supplied the appetite of European slave traders, changing the complexion of coastal African states and fundamentally altering the nature of African slavery, causing impacts on societies and economies deep inland.
Aboriginal Peoples were living in North America at this time and still do today. There were many conflicts between Europeans and Natives. The Europeans had many advantages over the Natives. They gave them diseases that they had not been exposed to before and this wiped out 50–90% of their population.
Since being introduced by Portuguese in the 16th century, maize and manioc have replaced traditional African crops as the continent's most important staple food crops. Alfred W. Crosby speculated that increased production of maize, manioc, and other American crops "enabled the slave traders drew many, perhaps most, of their cargoes from the rain forest areas, precisely those areas where American crops enabled heavier settlement than before."
During the 16th century Chinese economy, under the Ming Dynasty, was stimulated by trade with the Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch. China became involved in a new global trade of goods, plants, animals, and food crops known as the Columbian Exchange. Trade with European powers and the Japanese brought in massive amounts of silver, which then replaced copper and paper banknotes as the common medium of exchange in China. During the last decades of the Ming the flow of silver into China was greatly diminished, thereby undermining state revenues and indeed the entire Ming economy. This damage to the economy was compounded by the effects on agriculture of the incipient Little Ice Age, natural calamities, crop failure, and sudden epidemics. The ensuing breakdown of authority and people's livelihoods allowed rebel leaders such as Li Zicheng to challenge Ming authority.
Flemish astronomer Ferdinand Verbiest (1623–88) with an armillary sphere painted as Chinese character Wu Yong ("resourceful star Wu Yong"(智多星呉用)). Chinese astronomers collaborated extensively with Jesuit scholars, who brought Copernican and Tychonic systems from Europe. Painting by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, British Museum
New crops that had come to Asia from the Americas via the Spanish colonizers in the 16th century contributed to the Asia's population growth. Although the bulk of imports to China were silver, the Chinese also purchased New World crops from the Spanish Empire. This included sweet potatoes, maize, and peanuts, foods that could be cultivated in lands where traditional Chinese staple crops—wheat, millet, and rice—couldn't grow, hence facilitating a rise in the population of China. In the Song Dynasty (960–1279), rice had become the major staple crop of the poor; after sweet potatoes were introduced to China around 1560, it gradually became the traditional food of the lower classes.
The arrival of the Portuguese to Japan in 1543 initiated the Nanban trade period, with the Japanese adopting several technologies and cultural practices, like the arquebus, European-style cuirasses, European ships, Christianity, decorative art, and language. After the Chinese had banned direct trade by Chinese merchants with Japan, the Portuguese filled this commercial vacuum as intermediaries between China and Japan. The Portuguese bought Chinese silk and sold it to the Japanese in return for Japanese-mined silver; since silver was more highly valued in China, the Portuguese could then use Japanese silver to buy even larger stocks of Chinese silk. However, by 1573—after the Spanish established a trading base in Manila—the Portuguese intermediary trade was trumped by the prime source of incoming silver to China from the Spanish Americas.
Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552–1610), was the first European allowed into the Forbidden City, taught the Chinese how to construct and play the spinet, translated Chinese texts into Latin and vice versa, and worked closely with his Chinese associate Xu Guangqi (1562–1633) on mathematical work.
Economic impact in Europe
As a wider variety of global luxury commodities entered the European markets by sea, previous European markets for luxury goods stagnated. The Atlantic trade largely supplanted pre-existing Italian and German trading powers which had relied on their Baltic, Russian and Islamic trade links. The new commodities also caused social change, as sugar, spices, silks and chinawares entered the luxury markets of Europe.
The European economic center shifted from the Mediterranean to Western Europe. The city of Antwerp, part of the Duchy of Brabant, became "the center of the entire international economy, and the richest city in Europe at this time. Centered in Antwerp first and then in Amsterdam, "Dutch Golden Age" was tightly linked to the Age of Discovery. Francesco Guicciardini, a Venetian envoy, stated that hundreds of ships would pass Antwerp in a day, and 2,000 carts entered the city each week. Portuguese ships laden with pepper and cinnamon would unload their cargo. With many foreign merchants resident in the city and governed by an oligarchy of banker-aristocrats forbidden to engage in trade, the economy of Antwerp was foreigner-controlled, which made the city very international, with merchants and traders from Venice, Ragusa, Spain and Portugal and a policy of toleration, which attracted a large orthodox Jewish community. The city experienced three booms during its golden age, the first based on the pepper market, a second launched by American silver coming from Seville (ending with the bankruptcy of Spain in 1557), and a third boom, after the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis, in 1559, based on the textiles industry.
Despite initial hostilities, by 1549 the Portuguese were sending annual trade missions to Shangchuan Island in China. In 1557 they managed to convince the Ming court to agree on a legal port treaty that would establish Macau as an official Portuguese trade colony. The Portuguese friar Gaspar da Cruz (c. 1520 February 5, 1570) wrote the first complete book on China and the Ming Dynasty that was published in Europe; it included information on its geography, provinces, royalty, official class, bureaucracy, shipping, architecture, farming, craftsmanship, merchant affairs, clothing, religious and social customs, music and instruments, writing, education, and justice.
From China the major exports were silk and porcelain, adapted to meet European tastes. The Chinese export porcelains were held in such great esteem in Europe that, in English, china became a commonly–used synonym for porcelain. Kraak porcelain (believed to be named after the Portuguese carracks in which it was transported) was among the first Chinese ware to arrive in Europe in mass quantities. Only the richest could afford these early imports, and Kraak often featured in Dutch still life paintings. Soon the Dutch East India Company established a lively trade with the East, having imported 6 million porcelain items from China to Europe between the years 1602 to 1682. The Chinese workmanship impressed many. Between 1575 and 1587 Medici porcelain from Florence was the first successful attempt to imitate Chinese porcelain. Although Dutch potters did not immediately imitate Chinese porcelain, they began to do it when the supply to Europe was interrupted, after the death of Wanli Emperor in 1620. Kraak, mainly the blue and white porcelain, was imitated all over the world by potters in Arita, Japan and Persia— where Dutch merchants turned when the fall of the Ming Dynasty rendered Chinese originals unavailable—and ultimately in Delftware. Dutch and later English Delftware inspired by Chinese designs persisted from about 1630 to the mid-18th century alongside European patterns.
Antonio de Morga (1559–1636), a Spanish official in Manila, listed an extensive inventory of goods that were traded by Ming China at the turn of the 17th century, noting there were "rarities which, did I refer to them all, I would never finish, nor have sufficient paper for it". After noting the variety of silk goods traded to Europeans, Ebrey writes of the considerable size of commercial transactions: In one case a galleon to the Spanish territories in the New World carried over 50,000 pairs of silk stockings. In return China imported mostly silver from Peruvian and Mexican mines, transported via Manila. Chinese merchants were active in these trading ventures, and many emigrated to such places as the Philippines and Borneo to take advantage of the new commercial opportunities.
The increase in wealth experienced by Spain coincided with a major inflationary cycle both within Spain and Europe, known as price revolution. Spain had amassed large quantities of gold and silver from the New World In the 1520s large scale extraction of silver from Mexico's Guanajuato began. With the opening of the silver mines in Zacatecas and Bolivia's Potosí in 1546 large shipments of silver became the fabled source of wealth. During the 16th century, Spain held the equivalent of US$1.5 trillion (1990 terms) in gold and silver from New Spain. Being the most powerful European monarch at a time full of war and religious conflicts, Philip II squandered wealth in arts and wars across Europe. "I learnt a proverb here", said a French traveler in 1603: "Everything is dear in Spain except silver". The spent silver, suddenly spread throughout a previously cash starved Europe, caused widespread inflation. The inflation was worsened by a growing population but a static production level, low salaries and a rising cost of living. Increasingly Spain became dependent on the revenues flowing in from the mercantile empire in the Americas, leading to Spain's first bankruptcy in 1557 due to rising military costs. Philip II of Spain, defaulted on their debt several times, had to declare four state bankruptcies in 1557, 1560, 1575 and 1596, becoming the first sovereign nation in history to declare bankruptcy. The increase in prices as a result of currency circulation fueled the growth of the commercial middle class in Europe, the bourgeoisie, which came to influence the politics and culture of many countries.