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  • The Intra-Asian Trade in Japanese Copper by the Dutch East India Company during the Eighteenth Century
  • Bettina Gramlich-Oka
The Intra-Asian Trade in Japanese Copper by the Dutch East India Company during the Eighteenth Century. By Ryuto Shimada. Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2006. 240 pages. Hardcover $99.00/€73.00.

Beginning from the year 2000, students from Asian and African universities have been invited to conduct advanced graduate work at the University of Leiden (Netherlands) in a program called TANAP (acronym for Towards a New Age of Partnership). One of the aims of the program is to encourage use of the vast resources of the VOC (Dutch East India Company), and The Intra-Asian Trade in Japanese Copper is the fourth in a series of dissertations published by its graduates. The book is an important contribution to our understanding of both the Dutch East India Company's trade in pre-modern Asia and the larger issue of the premodern Asian economy, a topic that is attracting growing scholarly interest (at the 2007 annual meeting of the Association for Asian Studies alone, four panels were devoted to this subject).

Ryuto Shimada focuses on one commodity: copper. More than half a century has passed since John W. Hall's short article in HJAS introducing the significance of Japanese copper for the Qing empire ("Notes on the Early Ch'ing Copper Trade with Japan," HJAS 12 [1949], pp. 444-61). Shimada's study is thus much to be welcomed. Japanese scholars of Tokugawa history—foremost among them the late Kobata Atsushi—have been working on copper (mining, trade, and minting) for many decades, deriving their insights mainly from documents kept by the Sumitomo family, one of the major refiners and entrepreneurs dealing with copper in the Tokugawa period. Whereas such research has concentrated primarily on Japanese sources, in recent years new research making use of Dutch records has expanded our knowledge of Japanese foreign trade with the VOC. In particular, Suzuki Yasuko (Kinsei NichiRan bōekishi no kenkyū, Kyoto: Shibunkaku Shuppan, 2004) and Yao Keisuke (Kinsei Oranda bōeki to sakoku, Yoshikawa Kōbunkan, 1998), who both have also studied in the Netherlands, have utilized the collection of VOC materials regarding trade in rice, gold koban, sugar, camphor, and copper. Both scholars have concentrated on Nagasaki as the site of their analysis.

Shimada's study goes further. Demonstrating the VOC's importance in linking the Japanese and Asian economies, he makes other Asian ports in addition to Nagasaki—among them Batavia, the main port of the company in the eighteenth century—the [End Page 490] axes of his investigation and traces the circulation of the great amounts of copper that left Nagasaki on VOC vessels, in particular in the first half of the eighteenth century. Japan at the time was the largest supplier of copper to Asian markets, and thus the well-known trade restrictions on exports, reaching one climax in the Shōtoku Regulations of 1715, should in all probability have negatively affected Asian economies in general. This is the underlying premise of Shimada's investigation.

In chapter 1, Shimada explains his method (monetary analysis as a tool to investigate the relationship between international trade and economic development), his sources (the VOC records in the Nationaal Archief in The Hague), and the prevalent secondary literature. The basic structure of the rest of the book is built upon a simple economic formula: the chapters are divided into analyses of supply (copper production and transport) and demand (the need for copper cash and copper utensils in growing economies), glued together by the business activities of the VOC.

Chapters 2 and 3 deal with the VOC's trade in copper. After outlining the general situation, Shimada explains by use of the bookkeeping records of the Batavian post how, despite growing trade restrictions, the Company was able to generate great profits from its copper trade. From 1710 onwards about one million Dutch pounds of Japanese copper were sold annually in Asia, 90 percent of it in South Asia, bringing the Company throughout the eighteenth century about 10 percent of its total sales profits from activities in the whole of Asia. Shimada's data...


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