- China, East Asia and the Global Economy: Regional and Historical Perspectives
Historians of Asia have been making use of Takeshi Hamashita’s books and articles on economies and regional transformations for decades. He is one of the top economic historians of his time and has contributed greatly to challenging the Eurocentric and Marxist approaches to history. His work has helped to bring economics to the forefront of the historical discussion and shift our attention to the importance of understanding the effects commodities and specie (silver and gold) were having on markets over time and across regions.
This book is a collection of eight articles (chapters 2–9) written by Hamashita from 1976 to 2008. Chapter 1 is an introduction by the [End Page 607] editors and provides a summary of Hamashita’s contributions over the years. While covering many of the issues in the book, the introduction does not connect specifically to the eight chapters that follow. There is no conclusion, but an index at the end of the book covers all chapters, making it easy to access the articles.
Except for chapter 5, which was originally written in English, chapters 2–9 were translated into English from Japanese. Chapters 2 and 7 were previously published in Japanese (in 1986 and 1976, respectively). Chapters 2–9 can be separated into two basic categories: the Chinese-centered world in Asia from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century (chapters 2–5) and the rise of global financial capital and commercial networks in Asia in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (chapters 7–9). Chapter 6 forms a bridge between the two eras, showing the decline and end of China’s traditional tribute trade system and the rise of bilateral treaties from 1800 to 1900.
Hamashita provides a very detailed analysis of China’s tribute trade system from its inception in the fourteenth century to its end in the nineteenth century. He deals briefly with each tribute country from Vietnam, Siam, Korea, the Ryukyus, and others. But because much of Hamashita’s information was taken from Chinese records and the Ryukyu Kingdom documents (the Lidai baoan collection), which are very extensive, the latter country is discussed at much greater length than the others.
Hamashita sees Asia at this time as a China-centered world, where culture, politics, defense, and commerce within East and Southeast Asia depended heavily on support from China. When Europeans arrived, they tapped into the traditional tribute networks and commercial zones that were already in place. Hamashita is not the first scholar to point out these factors, but his study is perhaps the first to provide a digestible summary of the regional economic spheres within Asia. Hamashita’s discussion of the tribute trade is very much a sinocentric narrative, which is not intended to be an antithesis of the previous Eurocentric narratives, but rather a balancing of the two.
Chapter 6 follows the end of China’s inter-Asia tribute system, the collapse of the Euro-American trade at Canton, and the rise of the treaty port era. Treaties replaced the previous hierarchical tribute arrangements between China and other Asian counties, and treaties replaced the previous China-controlled Euro-American trade at Canton. Hamashita describes this age as an “era of negotiation” (p. 90), where China could no longer dictate the terms of exchange, but had to negotiate and allow foreign countries a say in the terms of engagement. [End Page 608]
Chapters 7–9 provide a very thorough and detailed analysis of the financial institutions, structures, and trade agreements that replaced the old China-centric world. Hamashita sees the international flows of silver and gold and the establishment of state monetary standards based on those metals being central to this transformation. He retraces the development of the use of bank drafts in Asian commerce in place of silver currency, and shows that the outflow of silver from China was much more complicated than previous silver-for-opium theses or imperialistic...