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What were the European motivations for expeditions to East Asia?

European motivations for expeditions to East Asia were primarily driven by trade interests, religious conversion, and territorial expansion.

The primary motivation for European expeditions to East Asia was the pursuit of trade. The allure of the East, with its exotic goods such as spices, silk, and precious metals, was irresistible to European merchants. The overland trade routes to Asia, such as the Silk Road, were long, dangerous, and expensive. Therefore, European powers, particularly Portugal and Spain, sought to find a sea route to Asia. The discovery of such a route would not only make the trade with Asia safer and more efficient, but it would also allow these countries to bypass the Ottoman Empire, which had a monopoly on the overland trade routes to Asia.

Religious conversion was another significant motivation. The Catholic Church was keen to spread Christianity to the East. The expeditions were seen as a means to convert the 'heathen' populations of Asia to Christianity. This was particularly the case in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, as the Catholic Church sought to reassert its dominance. The Jesuits, a Catholic religious order, were particularly active in this regard, establishing missions in places such as China and Japan.

Territorial expansion was also a key motivation. The European powers were engaged in a fierce competition for global dominance. The discovery and control of new territories were seen as a means to enhance their power and prestige. The Treaty of Tordesillas, signed in 1494, divided the newly discovered lands outside Europe between Portugal and Spain. However, other European powers, such as England and the Netherlands, did not recognise this treaty and also sought to establish their own colonies in Asia.

In conclusion, the European expeditions to East Asia were driven by a complex mix of motivations, including trade interests, religious conversion, and territorial expansion. These expeditions had a profound impact on both Europe and Asia, shaping the course of history in both continents.

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