If we’re comparing europe to china, did ships+navigation tech really have anything to do with it? We certainly don’t need to invoke them, since certain emperors’ whims are sufficient to explain why china didn’t colonise. And some chinese ships were going to east africa already by the 9th century (afaict from wikipedia), which seems like it could be sufficient to start colonising? I suspect it was farther than europeans was going at the time.
Or did you only mean to cite ships as something that europeans was disproportionally good at compared to other advanced societies? (maybe middle eastern ones?)
Yeah, good point, maybe it was something like “Will to explore and colonize” that was the most important variable, even more important than the ships+navigation tech. Or maybe it was a more generic tech advantage, that made it cheaper and more profitable for Europeans to do it than for the Chinese or Arabs to do it.
I think the ships+navigation tech are definitely worth mentioning at least, because they were necessary, and not easy to acquire. And Europeans were certainly disproportionately good at it at the time, as far as I can tell. I know their ships were (in the relevant ways) slightly superior to the ships in the Indian Ocean in 1500, and while I haven’t looked this up, I’d be willing to bet that their navigation tech (and therefore, their ability to cross the Pacific and Atlantic) was superior to the Chinese. The Polynesians had excellent navigation tech, but tiny ships and insufficient military or economic tech to exploit this advantage. No one else comes close to those groups as far as I know.
Yeah, good point, maybe it was something like “Will to explore and colonize” that was the most important variable, even more important than the ships+navigation tech.
Interestingly, this feels connected to the ‘centralization’ variable again. In both the Chinese and Muslim empires, there’s a sense of everything flowing towards the center, whereas in the European empires, there’s much more of a sense of growing out toward the edges. In a book about the history of trade (I think?) I came across a claim that the Muslim explorers / merchants seemed pretty uncurious about the local language or culture; they already spoke the best language and had the best religion, and so while they could trade in goods there wasn’t as much value in trading in ideas (or the standard way for them to trade in ideas was for the Other to learn Arabic).
European exploration and colonization looks somewhat different. European explorers and conquerors were much more likely to learn the local languages, I think, and be interested in the ways that locals did things. A lot of European settlement of the world looks like sending farmers from the highly populated places to the less populated places, in a way that I have many fewer examples of in non-European history. [There’s the “cultivation of waste lands” in the Book of Lord Shang, for example, but this wasn’t about distant colonies.] One might imagine Europeans being excited about settling in South Africa as an opportunity to strike it out on their own, whereas Muslims might view it as a punishing exile.