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Reviewed by:
  • Asian Travel in the Renaissance
  • James D. Ryan
Daniel Carey , ed. Asian Travel in the Renaissance. Renaissance Studies 17. Oxford and Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. xii + 234 pp. index. illus. map. $39.95. ISBN: 1–4051–1160–7.

This book is the first in a series of essay collections to be published occasionally for the Society for Renaissance Studies. Each will be a special number of the Society's journal, Renaissance Studies (this one is volume 17, number 3), in which guest editors will present peer-reviewed essays. Editor Daniel Carey has assembled eight studies providing a broad and interesting cross-section of current scholarship, most of them relating to each other only in that they deal with European contact with, or interest, in Asia, and taking widely differing approaches to this general theme.

The first two, "Alessandro Valignano: Man, Missionary, and Writer" (M. Antoni Üçerler, S.J.) and "The Transmission of Renaissance Culture in Seventeenth- century China" (by Nicolas Standart), focus respectively on Jesuit missionary work in Japan and China. The first traces the career of Valignano from his appointment as Visitor to the Jesuit missions in the Portuguese East Indies in 1573 until his death in 1606: his life becomes a vehicle for a rich exploration of problems missionaries encountered trying to create a church in Asia. The second recounts the almost century-long Jesuit attempt to make European learning available in Chinese translations, and shows how Chinese scholars' initial receptiveness to some classical writers and to European astronomical and mathematical advances later gave way to a sense of superiority founded on their erroneous belief that Western learning had originated in China. As the window of openness to European civilization established by Matteo Ricci and his confreres slowly closed, the attempt to facilitate conversions of Chinese elites by finding common ground [End Page 248] between Western and Eastern cultural traditions failed. The third offering, "The Widening of the World and the Realm of History: Early European Approaches to the Beginning of Siamese History, ca. 1500-1700" (Sven Trakulhun), traces the paths by which Europeans received knowledge of Siam's early history, through Portuguese, Dutch, and French sources. Joan-Pau Rubiés' fact-filled article on "The Spanish contribution to the ethnology of Asia in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries" is followed by John Villiers's excellent portrait of the life and work of the Aragonese humanist and historian Bartolomé Leonardo de Argensola ("'A truthful pen and an impartial spirit': Bartolomé Leonardo de Argensola and the Conquista de las Islas Malucas"). Both Villiers's piece and the one that follows ("'Wherever profit leads us, to every sea and shore': The VOC, the WIC, and Dutch Methods of Globalization in the Seventeenth Century," by Claudia Schnurmann) provide more context than many in the volume, and should help readers pull the information into a more coherent whole. Schnurmann's essay compares the Dutch East India and West Indies companies, laying out the evolution and development of Dutch ventures in the Atlantic and Pacific. Her discussion of the East India Company provides a clear summary of Dutch inroads into Asia, while that on the West Indies Company lifts that important venture out of the shadow of neglect. Robert Markley's "Riches, Power, Trade and Religion: The Far East and the English Imagination, 1600-1720" uses the tools of literary criticism to good effect in discussing Heylyn's Cosmographie and other writings, documenting the changing attitude of the English toward the Far East. Daniel Carey contributes both the introduction to the volume and its final essay, "The Political Economy of Poison: the Kingdom of Makassar and the Early Royal Society," an interesting and informative recounting of the Royal Society's search for information about the deadly poison darts Makassar's defenders used against Europeans, and for an antidote that might have given English traders a leg up on the Dutch in the contest for global trade. The volume closes with Malyn Newitt's obituary for Professor C. R. Boxer (1904-2000), recounting his life, scholarship, and academic achievements. Newitt, Charles Boxer Professor of History in the Department of Portuguese and Brazilian Studies at King's College London, offers a fitting tribute...


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pp. 248-249
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Archived 2009
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