restricted access China as a Sea Power, 1127-1368: A Preliminary Survey of the Maritime Expansion and Naval Exploits of the Chinese People during the Southern Song and Yuan Periods by Lo Jung-Pang (review)
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Reviewed by
China as a Sea Power, 1127-1368: A Preliminary Survey of the Maritime Expansion and Naval Exploits of the Chinese People during the Southern Song and Yuan Periods Lo Jung-Pang, EDITED BY Bruce A. EllemanSingapore: NUS Press, 2012. 450 pp. ISBN: 978-9971-69-505-7. Paperback

This publication on Maritime China was completed in draft form a quarter-century before Lo's untimely demise in 1981. It was, in fact, ready two years after his 1955 article, 'The Emergence of China as a Sea Power during the Late Sung and Early Yuan Periods' in the Far Eastern Quarterly. Indeed, the English language academic community has long had access to Lo's pioneering articles; some essays of relevance to note are 'The Decline of the Early Ming Navy' (Oriens Extremus, 1958) and 'Maritime Commerce and Its Relation to the Sung Navy' (Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 1969). A host of other articles are listed in Geoff Wade's Introduction (p. 1, n.1), including his papers lodged at the Needham Research Institute in Cambridge (p. 2, n.6), the outcome of his communication with Joseph Needham whose Science and Civilization volumes are seminal works in the field of Chinese Studies. However, from this monograph readers will have the benefit of a full-blown exposition of Lo's findings on the rise of China as a maritime power in the era of China's maritime expansion prior to the more widely known period of the Ming and the Zheng He voyages.

Thanks to Bruce Elleman, Research Professor in the Maritime History Department (the US Naval War College), who found the unpublished manuscript in the University of California at Davis archives and took on the task of editing it. Thanks also to Geoff Wade for his historiographical survey of the relevant literature since the 1980s to assist readers to better appreciate Lo's analysis of the historical precedents of China's pre-modern maritime development. This is most timely given China's current emergence as a global economic player, providing her with the wherewithal to become a naval superpower. From the strategic standpoint it has significant implications on the contestation of maritime resources in the South China Sea region and perhaps beyond, in the Pacific, and even towards dominance of other global arenas.

The first of the book's four parts traces the factors behind the outward look towards the sea, as opposed to those periods when China was focused on her terrestrial frontiers, particularly in the north. Parts 2 and 3 examine key changes [End Page 132] during the Southern Song and Yuan dynasties, while Part 4 focuses on developments under the Ming.

In his Preface, Lo's opening sentence is a forceful pronouncement on what he saw as an important phase of Chinese history, a period of transition to the modern world:

The three hundred years from the beginning of the twelfth century to the beginning of the fifteenth was a period of fundamental and profound metamorphosis for China...a time of intellectual ferment and economic conversion and a time of political turmoil and social upheaval

(p. xiv).

While his main theme focuses on the Chinese navy and its performance, precisely because of the close interconnection with national, geographic, economic and social forces shaping how it functioned, this study provides a lens into the context within which the navy emerged, grew and declined.

Chapter 1, 'China's Rise as a Naval Power', is a survey which stretches back to the Chou Dynasty (1046-1043 BCE) when ships were required to transport troops. The narrative takes in attempts, in subsequent centuries BCE, of fleets raised for invasions, countless naval encounters such as those between the states of Wu (in the lower valley of the Yangzi) and Ch'u (in present-day Hubei and Hunan) in the sixth century BCE to the 'first known sea battle in the history of China' (p. 27) in 485 BCE. Crossing into the first millennium CE, developments during the Qin and Han dynasties, the Sui and early Tang dynasties, all the way to the Northern Song, tales of voyages of exploration and colonization, and of...