The Asian Mediterranean
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The Asian Mediterranean

Port Cities and Trading Networks in China, Japan and Southeast Asia, 13th–21st Century

François Gipouloux

This insightful book draws upon a wide range of disciplines – political economy, geography and international relations – to examine how Asia has returned to its central position in the world economy.
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Chapter 1: The Mediterraneans and Global Expansion

François Gipouloux


The idea of viewing maritime Asia through a comparison with the Mediterranean goes back to the 1930s. The Dutch historian, Jacob van Leur conceived of such a link, though somewhat tentatively.1 It was Georges Coedès, in his work of 1944 on the states of Indochina and Indonesia penetrated by Hinduism, who was the first to state it explicitly: On the other side of the natural barrier made up of the Malay peninsula and the islands which prolong it, there is a veritable Mediterranean formed by the China Sea, the Gulf of Siam, and the Java Sea. Despite its typhoons and its reefs, this enclosed sea has always provided a link, rather than an obstacle, between the peoples settled on its shores. Well before the arrival of the European navigators, these peoples had their own fleets, and in spite of the probable divergence of their distant roots, they had already developed a certain cultural community, thanks to their continual trading exchanges.2 To varying extents, Pierre-Yves Manguin and Anthony Reid have also had recourse to the Mediterranean metaphor in the Asian context.3 1 2 3 Jacob van Leur (1955) Indonesian Trade and Society: Essays in Social and Economic History, The Hague and Bandung, W. van Hoeve, Ltd, p. 147. See also Heather Sutherland (2003) ‘Southeast Asian history and the Mediterranean analogy’, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 34 (1), 2003, pp. 1–20. Georges Coedès (1944) Les états hindouisés d’Indochine et d’Indonésie, Paris, De Boccard, 1964, p. 16. See...

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