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Sino-Malay Trade and Diplomacy from the Tenth through the Fourteenth Century (review)

From: Journal of Song-Yuan Studies
Volume 41, 2011
pp. 435-439 | 10.1353/sys.2011.0026

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I can only agree with the assessment of John W. Chaffee who in a brief statement on the present volume said that Derek Heng’s study is “a welcome and important addition to the literature on the history of maritime trade”1 during the time period of investigation, namely the tenth to fourteenth centuries. It contributes not only generally to hitherto rather neglected aspects of China’s maritime trade organization of the Song-Yuan period, but at the same time brings together the Chinese political and economic perspective with a discussion of the role of Southeast Asian states and policies as well as the archaeological evidence. In this respect, Sino-Malay Trade and Diplomacy serves as a helpful tool for both historians who are more interested in Song-Yuan China’s general maritime trade organization and specialists of Sino-Malay or Sino-Southeast Asian trade as well as historians of Southeast Asia.

The study is divided into six main chapters and three appendices (Appendix A: Chinese Imports to the Malay Region, 10th to 14th centuries; Appendix B: Ceramics Dates from Temasik-Period Sites, Singapore; and Appendix C: Malay Imports to China, 13th to 14th centuries). Chapter I, “Sino-Malay Interaction in the First Millennium ad” (pp. 19–36), generally introduces the topic and places Sino-Malay trade into its political and economic historical background. Whereas the Chinese were basically interested in products such as aromatics, woods, and other economic plants, China, in return brought commodities such as ceramics, metals, textiles, and foodstuffs to its foreign partners. Chapter II, “China’s Economic Relations with Maritime Asia in the Song and Yuan Periods” (pp. 37–71) advances to a systematic treatment of China’s maritime trade organization and administration of trade and diplomacy with countries in the maritime world. The main sources for this analysis are, above all, Song huiyao jigao 宋會要輯稿 by Xu Song 徐松 (1781–1848) et al., but also other well-known Song sources that contain relevant information on the topic, such as Wenxian tongkao 文獻通考 by Ma Duanlin 馬端臨 (1254–1325), Pingzhou ketan 萍州可談 by Zhu Yu 朱彧 (1075?–after 1119), Song shi 宋史 by Tuo Tuo (Toghto) 脫脫 et al., and Yuan shi 元史 by Song Lian 宋濂 (1310–1381) et al. The entries from Song huiyao in particular have so far not been investigated systematically, although parts have been translated and analyzed.2 A comparison of Song maritime trade organization with the following Yuan pattern is also unprecedented. Never before, to my knowledge, has it been pronounced so explicitly that a liberalization of Chinese shipping dating to the year 1090 paved the way for Chinese merchants to “shop broad” (p. 50) so that they were no longer so dependent on foreign shipping to meet their demands. The substantial participation of the Song court in the domestic redistribution of foreign imports finally gave way to a kind of monopoly on import-export trade by means of officially sponsored trading voyages and intermittent bans on private shipping during the Yuan. Changes in China’s maritime trade organization are subsequently analyzed with a focus on what this meant for both imports from and exports to the Malay world.

Chapter III, “The Malay Region’s Diplomatic and Economic Interactions with China” (pp. 72–110), finally shifts the focus to the Malay world’s perspective, to Srivijaya’s political and economic organization of the China trade. Chronologically, Heng investigates in which way political and economic changes in both the Malay region (including events, such as the sacking of the Srivijayan capital at Jambi by Java in 1275) and China gradually changed the region’s diplomatic and economic intercourse with China. Generally speaking, the Malay regions’ trade with China changed over time from a trade that was essentially that of a regional power, the thalassography Srivijaya, to one that was scattered among individual port-polities (p. 212).

Chapter IV brings both sides still closer together by analyzing both “Malay and Chinese Foreign Representation and Commercial Practices Abroad” (pp. 111–142). This includes the introduction of Malay foreign agents in Chinese ports and Chinese practices in the Malay region. And the reader sees, for example, how restrictions on the length of time periods Chinese ships could remain abroad had a direct impact on...

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