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  • China, the Portuguese, and the Nanyang: Oceans and Routes, Regions and Trade (c. 1000 to 1600)
  • George Modelski (bio)
Roderich Ptak . China, the Portuguese, and the Nanyang: Oceans and Routes, Regions and Trade (c. 1000 to 1600). Ashgate Variorum Collected Studies Series. Aldershot (UK) and Burlington (VT): Ashgate, 2003. No continuous pagination. $111.95, ISBN 0-860-78923-3.

Roderich Ptak is a sinologist at the University of Munich, and in this volume he brings together eleven of his papers, most of them previously presented at international conferences between 1998 and 2001. Eight of these are in English, and three in German. Two other volumes by this author in the Variorum series dealt with similar broad subjects: China and the Asian Seas (1998), and China's Seaborne Trade with South and Southeast Asia (1200-1750) (1999).

The two earlier collections focused on the now well-known early sixteenth-century sea voyages of Zheng He. The time frame of the book under review is somewhat different, and in geographical terms it centers on the region known as Nanyang. In Chinese usage this concept usually denotes "the South," basically maritime Southeast Asia, but it was flexible enough to be applied at times even to the northern shores of Australia.

The introductory chapter presents a crisp account of Ming maritime trade in Southeast Asia, and argues that over this period (1368-1567) the Chinese outnumbered every other outside group, and, compared to medieval Europe, "China's pepper imports certainly surpassed those of Venice." Toward the end of this period "Malacca and Shangchuan Island ... had several hundred Portuguese, but thousands of Chinese flocked to the ports of Indonesia" (I:164, 191). At least three types of activity were comprised in Ming maritime commerce: the tribute trade from South and Southeast Asia, and from the Ryuku Islands; Ming government shipping, and the illegal trade of Wokou bandits. Two useful diagrams (i:88) illustrate the shift, over time, in the relative weight of these activities in Fujian, and Guangdong.

Three chapters deal specifically with Portuguese issues. The first, a brief account of Sino-Portuguese relations to the 1550s covers familiar ground but brings out the shifting centers of these relations, beginning with Central Guangdong, then switching to Fujian, and then returning to the Pearl River Valley. In the end, the Portuguese came close to being treated as equals, contradicting what is regarded as the "traditional Chinese world order." This, the author points out, was more of a northern concept; the Cantonese were usually more liberal toward the outside world. The next chapter takes up the question: is Macau to be regarded in the same light as the "foreign quarters" (fanfang) of such cities as Guangzhou or Quanzhou? The answer is no. Macau had significantly more autonomy, a distinct jurisdiction, and its own small fighting force that, under Portugal's flexible policies, [End Page 213] made it not what later came to be known as a typical colonial city but rather "a liberal and multicultural enclave." The third chapter gives an account, from Portuguese and Asian sources, of the trade in camphor, one of the most expensive traded commodities in that area, a trade that was largely outside the control of the Estado da India.

The next three chapters deal with sea routes and the perception of this region in Braudelian terms of a Southeast Asian Mediterranean. Chinese sources from the Song to the Yuan shifted from an early emphasis on the establishing of a western trade route to a fuller account of the trade with much of Southeast Asia, covered by the term "the Eastern Ocean." All the texts covered here referred primarily to trade goods, sea routes, and trading emporia, but not to the circulation of ideas and institutions. In geographical terms, one author writing in 1349-1350 comes close to seeing a large Southeast Asian inner sea, on Braudel's model, although his conception probably did not take in China's southern coast. Notably, he presents certain countries in a positive light, reporting that "local customs and habits were not really inferior" to Chinese ideas concerning proper conduct (V:427).

The last section investigates the history of certain regions, including the island...


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