- Sea Rovers, Silver, and Samurai: Maritime East Asia in Global History, 1550–1700 eds. by Tonio Andrade and Xing Hang
This collection of sixteen essays arranged roughly in chronological order originates from a 2011 conference organized by Tonio Andrade. He and coeditor Xing Hang bring together an impressive array of international scholars representing different generations, from pioneers who have been leading the field since the 1970s to emerging scholars. The aim of this book is to examine the history of the early modern East Asian maritime realm, not as another Mediterranean or as a mere extension to the Indian Ocean world, but in its own right. In doing so the authors hope to provide valuable data that adds to the ongoing discussion about the so-called Great Divergence between Western Europe and East Asia.
The volume begins with an able introduction by the editors that sets the ensuing chapters against the broader historical context of the early modern East Asian maritime realm, which stretched from the Strait of Malacca to the Sea of Japan with [End Page 314] the South China Sea at its center. Considering maritime prohibition policies of China, Korea, and Japan as a manifestation of the state-to-sea relations unique to East Asia, Andrade and Hang divide the period covered by this volume into four distinctive phases: (1) the "wild and woolly" times between roughly 1523 and 1567 (p. 6), (2) a period of stability and flourishing trade from 1570 to the 1620s, (3) the Zheng regime from the mid-1630s to 1683, and (4) peace under the Qing from 1683 onward.
The two chapters immediately following the introduction deal with a period during which central political authorities exerted little influence over the maritime realm. Michael Laver highlights the cosmopolitan and fluid nature of port cities like Hirado, where pirates, smugglers, and traders of different origins gathered and mingled beyond the purview of land-based political authorities. Peter Shapinsky looks at the intriguing dynamics between stereotypes and self-representations of "Japanese pirates." He argues that the Chinese and Korean officials who encountered and recorded the pirates constructed fearsome and ferocious images that were at the same time performed and exploited by the pirates themselves.
The next two chapters cover the subsequent period of stability. Birgit Tremml- Werner sheds new light on the diplomatic discourse between Japan and the Spanish Philippines that briefly took place during the last decade of the sixteenth century. Through careful examination of diplomatic exchanges between Toyotomi Hideyoshi's Japan and Spanish authorities in Manila, she presents a revisionist view on diplomacy between different political cultures in the early modern period. The study emphasizes that both sides had a much better grasp of each other's different diplomatic styles than historians previously believed. The contribution by Robert Batchelor discusses shifting notions of time and space in early modern maritime East Asia, focusing on three seventeenth-century artifacts that he recently rediscovered in the Chinese collection at the Bodleian Library, including the Selden Map of China.
The following chapters draw our attention to three generations of the Zheng family, Zheng Zhilong, Zheng Chenggong (aka Koxinga), and Zheng Jing. A biographical study by John E. Wills, Jr., constructs a narrative of Zheng Zhilong's early life from various Chinese, Japanese, and European sources. The essay demonstrates how less-appreciated materials, such as stories and seemingly unimportant anecdotal evidence, can provide clues to the past if they are adequately treated. Wills calls for further collaboration between scholars of different expertise to establish a more holistic understanding of the Zheng clan. Drawing upon hitherto underused Chinese materials, Cheng-heng Lu's pathbreaking chapter exposes the vicissitudes of complicated personal relationships among multiple maritime players. By elucidating the inner dynamics of the Ming military system, he brilliantly dissects the process through which Zheng Zhilong rose from his status as just one of many pirate leaders operating along the Fujian coast to become the head of a formidable maritime organization. The study suggests that...