- Sea Rovers, Silver, and Samurai: Maritime East Asia in Global History, 1550–1700 ed. by Tonio Andrade and Xing Hang
As it seeks to expand its maritime presence, China is laying claim to sovereignty in the East and South China Sea, an area that comprises hundreds of islets and archipelagos. Yet, China is not the only power to lay claim to territorial control over the region. Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines, respectively, have also firmly voiced counterclaims to China's assertion. These recent disputes have turned the East Asian Sea into a troubled maritime realm; and, if it is not carefully managed, it could turn part of Asia's maritime regions from thriving trade channels to arenas of sea battles.
The present situation is recent and unsettling. Yet, in order to better comprehend the nature of existing controversies and all of the claims and counter-claims, one must trace back to the historical roots of these disputes and also to the contentious history of this maritime landscape. The edited volume, Sea Rovers, Silver, and Samurai: Maritime East Asia in Global History, 1550–1700, presents sixteen scholarly viewpoints on the complex processes and histories of a contested maritime East Asia that, in various ways, contribute to our understanding of the existing and escalating territorial disputes between China and its neighbouring countries. In tracing the contradictory history of the East Asian Sea, historians have tried to understand it in terms of other maritime patterns, such as those of the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. However, if examined from an historical angle, the East Asian Sea is not identical to these other maritime basins. Therefore, it is not always possible to view this region's maritime history through an international lens. Rather, as the editors of this volume have cogently suggested, "the East Asian maritime realm must be understood on its own terms" (introduction, p. 3). This makes Sea Rovers, Silver, and [End Page 118] Samurai a welcome move away from a "non-Asian view" or the typical "Chinese Mediterranean" approach toward emic understandings of an unusual region that deserves a separate and unique examination.
The sixteen case studies of Sea Rovers, Silver, and Samurai constitute a multi-model, interdisciplinary investigation of Maritime East Asia as a contested seascape. The authors see this region as both a physical and conceptual space, but from different vantage points. Both the editors and the contributors are keenly aware that the uniqueness of East Asia can be represented by a contested history across a contested seawater. Even though the subject matter and case studies, selected by the sixteen authors, vary in chronology and approach, they each eloquently reinforce the key themes of the book: (1) the uniqueness of the East Asian Sea as defined by maritime prohibitions and regulated governmental supervisions; (2) the vibrant nature of a maritime East Asia that was carved out by both legal and illegal actors, such as traders, soldiers, smugglers, and pirates; (3) that East Asian traders (in particular, the Chinese) could achieve equal or greater levels of profitability and scale as European traders could; and, last, (4) the hybrid maritime culture of East Asia that resulted not only from European expansion but also from a multitude of interactions. For instance, in chapter 14, Robert Antony argues that piracy played a significant role in the political, economic, and social construction of the seventeenth-century Gulf of Tonkin, whereas, in chapter 8, Adam Clulow shows that East Asia deliberately used non-military-based strategies to compete with the Europeans, thus, entangling their enemies in a bewildering net of legal, diplomatic, symbolic, and cultural jurisdictions.
In addition to the aforementioned four key themes, another promising feature of this volume is that Taiwan is better and more beautifully situated within the wider context of maritime East Asia than it has traditionally be represented. Eight out of sixteen authors, namely Peter D. Shapinsky, Cheng-heng Lu, Patrizia Carioti, Anna Busquets, Leonard Blussé, Xing Hang, Weichung Cheng, and...