The Emporium of the World: Maritime Quanzhou, 1000-1400

The Emporium of the World: Maritime Quanzhou, 1000-1400

The Emporium of the World: Maritime Quanzhou, 1000-1400

The Emporium of the World: Maritime Quanzhou, 1000-1400


This volume, by offering a score of new insights derived from a wide variety of recent archaeological and textual sources, bring to life an important overseas trading port in Southeast Asia: Quanzhou. During the Song and Yuan dynasties active official and unofficial engagement in trade had formative effects on the development of the maritime trade of Quanzhou and its social and economic position both regionally and supraregionally. In the first part subjects such as the impact of the Song imperial clan and the local élites on these developments, the economic importance of metals, coins, paper money, and changes in the political economy, are amply discussed. The second part concentrates on the quantitative and qualitative analysis of archaeological data and materials, the investigation of commodities from China, their origins, distribution and final destinations, the use of foreign labour, and the particular role of South Thailand in trade connections, thus supplying the hard data underlying the main argument of the book.


Investigating “international”, supra-regional trade relations in ancient China, the literature, both modern and pre-modern, often gives the impression that the Chinese were not really interested in trade as a commercial undertaking, that all they would tolerate was a form of official tribute trade; and with the exception of that tribute trade which tended to pursue the aim of representing China as the great “Middle Kingdom” in the Asian world than being pragmatically designed for commercial purposes, trade and merchants generally were held in fairly low esteem in ancient Chinese society. This picture is not the whole story. Upon closer examination, it emerges that much more trade went on than many official documents reveal, and - to use the words of Abu-Lughod - that tribute trade “was only the tip of an iceberg of unrecorded ‘private’ trade”. Besides this, the assumption that merchants only feathered their own nests at the expense of others, especially of all the people who produced wealth, in particular the farmers, in its strictest sense was valid only for pedantic Confucian scholars and should not be deliberately applied to the rulings elites in Chinese history. Documents of time periods as early as the Han dynasty (206 BC - AD 220), such as the Yantie lun (Discussions on Salt and Iron) or the economic treatises of the Shi ji (Records of the Historian) and the Han shu (Book of Han), are examples that members of the contemporary elite disputed and argued heatedly about the attitude to be adopted towards trade and commerce.

Sporadic maritime trade contacts in China had already existed during the Han dynasty, but a remarkable development in maritime

In this volume the expressions “national” and “international” are used in the
awareness of the fact that they are not to be understood in a modern sense.

Janet L. Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony. The World System A.D. 1250
1350. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989, 317.

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