Vietnamese Ceramic Trade to the Philippines in the Seventeenth Century

By Nguyen-Long, Kerry | Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, March 1999 | Go to article overview

Vietnamese Ceramic Trade to the Philippines in the Seventeenth Century


Nguyen-Long, Kerry, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies


This paper examines the trade in ceramics from northern Vietnam into island Southeast Asia in the third quarter of the seventeenth century. It focuses on two issues: the question of typology of Vietnamese ceramics(1) and the feasibility of these wares entering the southern Philippines during the years 1663-82. The compilation of an accurate typology has been inhibited by exceedingly brief descriptions in trade records, and the difficulty has been further compounded by the fact that although the Dutch East India Company (VOC) records show Vietnamese ceramics were imported into Batavia and dispersed to regional godowns, no material has yet been reported from either archaeological excavations or accidental finds in island Southeast Asia that can with certainty be ascribed to this era. Furthermore, items proposed in the ceramic literature as wares exported to Southeast Asia in the seventeenth century are, in the face of new evidence, no longer convincing. The typology put forward in this paper is based on VOC trade records and the contemporary literature. It broadly matches material from archaeological sites in Vietnam and in Japan that are from co-eval contexts. Previously untapped archaeological findings from Vietnam contribute a new dimension to this issue.

The proposed typology will offer a different vista from which to explore the second issue of whether or not it was feasible for Vietnamese ceramics to be a component of the trade from the Indonesian archipelago into the southern Philippines in the latter half of the seventeenth century. The ceramic literature has long maintained that Vietnamese ceramics of the seventeenth century were not traded into the Philippines. The basis for this claim will be shown to rest on a thin cushion of historical fact. The southern Philippines was well positioned to import Vietnamese ceramics from eastern Indonesia. Three distinctive trade routes, active channels for the exchange of goods between Dutch Indonesia and the southern Philippines during the years 1663-82, will be indicated. For these years the VOC records list the shipments of Vietnamese ceramics imported into island Southeast Asia. For some years they also list the quantities held in eastern Indonesian godowns. The combined evidence of historical facts, trade records and contemporary literature refutes the perception expressed in ceramic literature about the status of trade between the Philippines and Indonesia in the third quarter of the seventeenth century. It will be found that it was in fact possible for Vietnamese ceramics to be traded into the southern Philippines during this period.

Introduction: Seventeenth-Century Vietnamese Ceramics in Southeast Asia

In the seventeenth century, exports from Tonkin (northern Vietnam) included silk, sugar, lacquerware, wooden giltware, ceramics and a number of miscellaneous products such as musk. Of these the most important was silk. From the beginning to the middle years of the seventeenth century Tonkin had a strong trading relationship with Japan. Silk, whether Vietnamese-grown or re-exported from China, was the primary export from Tonkin to Japan.(2) Along with silk, Japanese merchants from time to time also purchased small quantities of ceramics selected on the basis of their aesthetic appeal. This trade was facilitated by the shuinsen ("red seals", signifying official authorization) trading system until 1633. In that year the Tokugawa Bakufu began to impose restrictions on the trading system, and it was effectively terminated in 1635 when Japanese were forbidden to leave their country. Following this development the VOC successfully negotiated a commercial treaty with Tonkin and established a trading factory at the riverine trading port of Pho Hien in 1636.(3) In 1640 the VOC transferred to Ke Cho (Hanoi), the distribution centre for foreign trade. The English East India Trading Company (EIC) was officially permitted to establish a trading office at Pho Hien in 1673; it also moved to Ke Cho in 1681. …

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