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A few centuries ago, China banned a major decentralized system that was used for peer-to-peer international transactions (maritime trading). The ban (海禁) has reduced the international influence of China, and made China so weak that European countries eventually colonized it.

The Haijin or sea ban was a series of related isolationist Chinese policies restricting private maritime trading and coastal settlement during most of the Ming dynasty and some of the Qing. First imposed to deal with Japanese piracy amid the mopping up of Yuan partisans, the sea ban was completely counterproductive: by the 16th century, piracy and smuggling were endemic and mostly consisted of Chinese who had been dispossessed by the policy. China's foreign trade was limited to irregular and expensive tribute missions, and resistance even to them among the Chinese bureaucracy led to the scrapping of Zheng He's fleets. Piracy dropped to negligible levels only upon the end of the policy in 1567, but a modified form was subsequently adopted by the Qing. This produced the Canton system of the Thirteen Factories, but also the opium smuggling that led to disastrous wars with Britain and other European powers in the 19th century.

The policy was also mimicked by both Tokugawa Japan (as the Sakoku) and Joseon Korea, which became known as the "Hermit Kingdom", before they were opened militarily in 1853 and 1876.

A map of "dwarf pirate" raiding, 14th–16th centuries. The early pirates were mostly based on outlying Japanese islands but targeted the Japanese as well as Korea and Ming China. The later ones were mostly Chinese dispossessed by Ming policy.

The 14th century was a time of chaos throughout East Asia. The second bubonic plague pandemic began in Mongolia around 1330 and may have killed the majority of the population in Hebei and Shanxi and millions elsewhere. Another epidemic raged for three years from 1351–1354. Existing revolts over the government salt monopoly and severe floods along the Yellow River provoked the Red Turban Rebellion. The declaration of the Ming in 1368 did not end its wars with Mongol remnants under Toghon Temür in the north and under the Prince of Liang in the sou...

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