Historians in recent decades have argued that from a worldwide standpoint, the most important feature of the early modern period was its globalizing character. The period witnessed the exploration and colonization of the Americas and the rise of sustained contacts between previously isolated parts of the globe. The historical powers became involved in global trade, as the exchange of goods, plants, animals, and food crops extended to the Old World and the New World. The Columbian Exchange greatly affected the human environment.
New economies and institutions emerged, becoming more sophisticated and globally articulated over the course of the early modern period. This process began in the medieval North Italian city-states, particularly Genoa, Venice, and Milan. The early modern period also included the rise of the dominance of the economic theory of mercantilism. The European colonization of the Americas, Asia, and Africa occurred during the 15th to 19th centuries, and spread Christianity around the world.
The early modern trends in various regions of the world represented a shift away from medieval modes of organization, politically and economically. Feudalism declined in Europe, while the period also included the Protestant Reformation, the disastrous Thirty Years' War, the Commercial Revolution, the European colonization of the Americas, and the Golden Age of Piracy.
By the 16th century the economy under the Ming Dynasty was stimulated by trade with the Portuguese, the Spanish, and the Dutch, while Japan engaged in the Nanban trade after the arrival of the first European Portuguese during the Azuchi-Momoyama period.
Other notable trends of the early modern period include the development of experimental science, accelerated travel due to improvements in mapping and ship design, increasingly rapid technological progress, secularized civic politics, and the emergence of nation states. Historians typically date the end of the early modern period when the French Revolution of the 1790s began the "late modern" period.
In 16th-century China, the Ming Dynasty's economy was stimulated by maritime trade with the Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch Empires. China became involved in a new global trade of goods, plants, animals and crops. Trade with Early Modern Europe and Japan 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 dynasty, the flow of silver into China was greatly diminished, undermining state revenues and the entire Chinese economy. The 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.