Before the “Chinese Century”: The Resurgence of Chinese Mercantile Power in Maritime East Asia, 1500-1700
Xing Hang - Associate Professor of History, Brandeis University
During the eighteenth century, ethnic Chinese emerged as the preeminent diasporic community in maritime East Asia. From the East China Sea to the Strait of Melaka, Chinese junks dominated the trading lanes, while settlers flooded into the sparsely populated interior of Southeast Asia. Scholars have spoken of the eighteenth century as a “Chinese century” in maritime East Asia. Although Chinese merchants and immigrants have long had an established presence in maritime East Asia, at least since the thirteenth century, their actual numbers and degree of influence varied over time. In fact, their communities often had to coexist and contend in a multipolar environment with other diasporic groups that enjoyed greater strength in numbers and prestige. As this talk shows, the origins of the “Chinese century” resulted from a contingent confluence of regional developments during the preceding sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These included a strengthening of existing East Asian institutions for management of foreign trade, early European efforts at maritime domination, and the restructuring of the China-centered tributary framework of diplomatic relations.
Xing Hang is Associate Professor of History at Brandeis University. His interests include early modern maritime East Asia, Eurasian comparative history, and overseas Chinese. He is the author of the Conflict and Commerce in Maritime East Asia: The Zheng Family and the Shaping of the Modern World, c.1620-1720 (2015) and co-editor of Sea Rovers, Silver, and Samurai: Maritime East Asia in Global History, 1550-1700 (with Tonio Andrade, 2016). He has also written numerous articles and reviews for major journals, and is a recipient of many grants and awards, including the American Council of Learned Societies and the Michael L. Walzer Prize for Excellence in Teaching.
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