Port Cities and Trading Networks in China, Japan and Southeast Asia, 13th–21st Century
Introduction: The ‘Mediterraneans’ of Europe and Asia
The emergence of large port cities as crucibles for the creation of wealth and as focal points of trade – London, New York and Tōkyō, but also Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore – has led economists to shift their focus from nation states to transnational regions and global cities. East Asia is witnessing the birth of a new economic zone which is not delineated by national borders or groups of nation states such as China, Japan, Korea or the countries of Southeast Asia. Rather, we find a maritime corridor, running from Vladivostok to Singapore, which takes in portions of nation states and subjects them to its own dynamic based on gradually converging legal systems and business practices. Is this phenomenon as new as it seems? This particular configuration of economic and territorial spheres is in fact not without historical precedent. In the 14th century, Genoa, Venice and Barcelona were global marketplaces commanding the flow of goods in the known world by controlling that central maritime space which was the Mediterranean Sea. Later, around the Baltic Sea, the states of the Hanseatic League, Lübeck, Hamburg and Riga, also found themselves at the centre of an organised maritime space and likewise in control of a global flow of goods. And more recently, in the 18th century, Bordeaux might be viewed as not just French, but as belonging to a wider Atlantic network.1 Finally, thanks to the confluence of Arab, Indian, Portuguese and Chinese trading networks, the South China Sea can be viewed...