In Ming China, why did European traders pay for Chinese silks and porcelains in gold or silver instead of exchanging trade goods?

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The Europeans paid the Chinese in gold or silver because there wasn't anything else that the Europeans had that the Chinese wanted. The Europeans could not give the Chinese their wool or linen because the Chinese had silk. Nor could they give the Chinese their spices from their colonies because...

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The Europeans paid the Chinese in gold or silver because there wasn't anything else that the Europeans had that the Chinese wanted. The Europeans could not give the Chinese their wool or linen because the Chinese had silk. Nor could they give the Chinese their spices from their colonies because the Chinese had no need of them: they had either their own established trade routes for those spices, didn't use them, or were growing them.

Also, the European citizens were fascinated with everything Oriental. They deemed Chinese silks, porcelain, and other Chinese goods exotic luxuries, creating a huge demand and driving the price up for these things in Europe. The Chinese people, however, didn't want anything from Europeans, who they considered either backward or too foreign for their tastes. This led to an imbalance where the European markets demanded a lot of Chinese goods, but the Chinese market had no need for European goods. Therefore, the Europeans had no choice but to pay for the Chinese goods in the only things the Chinese wanted in exchange: gold or silver.

This drain in gold and silver started to make the Europeans worry, as they were losing their precious wealth to the East and not getting any refills for their coffers in return. Thus the opium wars started, because the Europeans found out that the Chinese craved the highly addictive drug and that opium could be traded instead of gold and silver.

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In order to exchange trade goods with a partner, you have to have something that that partner wants.  The European traders had nothing that the Chinese wanted.  Therefore, they had to pay for their silk and porcelain in gold and silver.

When Europeans first came to trade with China, the Chinese saw them as barbarians.  The Chinese saw themselves as the “Middle Kingdom,” a place that was superior to the rest of the world.  They felt that their technology and culture was superior to everyone else’s.  Therefore, they had no interest in anything that the Europeans tried to trade with them.  They would only accept gold and silver.

This became a problem for the Europeans because it was draining their reserves of gold and silver.  This is why they eventually decided to start trading opium to the Chinese in exchange for silks, porcelains, and tea.  This led to a great deal of conflict and, eventually, the Opium Wars.

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