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 4: Asian Trading Kingdoms and Independent Urban Entities: From the 7th to the 17th Century

François Gipouloux


The repubbliche marinare and the Hanseatic League were only able to prosper because there was a tradition of independent cities in Europe. In addition, these two urban models created a legal framework which protected the interests of traders. In both of these cases, in the Mediterranean and the Baltic, the city freedoms provided the outlines for an urban sovereign power with four defining features: a navy organised on military lines; a determination to control the sea-lanes and their strategic sites purely for market operations without any territorial ambitions; the preservation and consolidation of a tradition of civic law; and various tried and tested instruments of commercial law. Did Asia also have a tradition of independent cities? And what were the institutional supports for the trading system in Asia? The examples are rather scarce, and they do not allow for a point by point comparison with European history. Yet, they do show the existence of vigorous autonomous trading entities such as: the Sumatran kingdom of Srivijaya from the 7th to the 14th century; Malacca in the 15th century, before it was conquered by the Portuguese in 1511; Naha, capital of the Ryūkyū islands (modern Okinawa) which was a major trading post between Japan and China from the 15th to the 17th century; Sakai, a Japanese port city located on the gulf of Ōsaka; and finally, the island of Taiwan during the brief period under the Zhengs, a powerful merchant family loyal to the Ming Dynasty from 1661 to 1683 and...

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