- Reviewed by
This edited volume presents the multifarious roles of East Asian seafarers in the region’s trade and diplomacy between 1550 and 1700. It was the period during which the Jurchens renamed and regrouped themselves into the formidable Manchu cavalry power. The Manchus took over the Ming capital of Beijing in 1644 and incorporated Taiwan in 1683. It was also the time that Japan’s Momoyama period ended with the unification under Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536–1598), whose power was succeeded by Tokugawa Ieyasu’s (1543–1616) Tokugawa bakufu, established in 1603. In general, the organization of the book can be understood in reference to the achievements and predicaments of the four generations of the Zheng family from Quanzhou, Fujian, China—Zheng Zhilong (1604–1661), his son Zheng Chenggong (a.k.a. Koxinga, 1624–1662), his grandson Zheng Jing (1642–1681) and great grandson Zheng Keshuang (1670–1707)—as well as their impacts in the region.
The first four chapters elaborate the geo-political and epistemic foundation against which private merchants like Zhilong rose to dominate the inter-Asian trade. Michael Laver (chapter 1) analyzes the business networks of Li Dan (d. 1625), a precursor of Zhilong’s China-Japan trade. Li procured merchandizes for the British East India Company (EIC) in Nagasaki, and his social contacts included the Portuguese from Macao and agents of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) from Taiwan. Port-cities like Nagasaki thus constituted what Laver frames “the space between.” Peter D. Shapinsky (chapter 2) shows that the “Japanese pirates” documented in Chinese and Korean official reports between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries were not all Japanese. Many were Chinese and Koreans. The inconsistency reflected the Chinese and Korean official biases against offshore traders. In chapter 3, Brigit Tremml-Werner examines the diplomatic contacts between Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Spanish Philippines in the 1590s. To break Japan away from the Sinocentric system, Hideyoshi tried to persuade the Spanish to send tribute to Japan. The Spanish however refused to do so because of its sense of Christian superiority. Robert Batchelor (chapter 4) analyzes maps, calendars, and scrolls that Fujian seagoing merchants used in the [End Page 133] seventeenth century. These cultural artifacts did not facilitate the making of an imagined nationalist community in the sense of Benedict Anderson. The Fujian sojourners organized their networks of trade and migration that cut across national borders. The calendar used in Zheng’s Taiwan in the 1670s adopted the reign era of the deceased Ming king, the Yongli emperor (r. 1647–1662), when mainland China was in the reign of Qing Kangxi (r. 1661–1722).
Chapters 5 and 6 are about state and society in Zheng Zhilong’s East Asia. In chapter 5, John E. Wills Jr. argues the importance of understanding the rise of the Zheng group from the long-term engagement of Chinese foreign trade in Fujian’s Zhangzhou and Quanzhou areas. He compares the representation of Zhilong from Chinese and European records. Most Chinese sources frame Zheng Zhilong’s upbringing as an educated albeit untamed boy in Quanzhou, and the turning point of his career was his being part of the Ming China’s maritime defense system. In contrast, most European documents emphasize Zhilong’s humble background whose ladder of success came from the trade with the Europeans. This comparison is helpful to understand the presentation of different aspects of Zhilong in the following chapters: citing Chinese sources, Cheng-heng Lu (chapter 6) attributes the rise of Zhilong to his joining the Ming maritime defense system in 1628. Taking advantage of Ming’s weakness, Zhilong developed his private military power, the Zheng Ministry (Ch. Zheng bu), while monopolizing the circuit of trade between Southeast Asia and Japan. In chapter 9, Anna Busquets mentions that the manuscript of the Dominica friar Victorio Riccio—Hechos de la orden de predicadores en el imperio de China, written in 1667—details Zhilong’s legend as a rags-to...