Port Cities and Trading Networks in China, Japan and Southeast Asia, 13th–21st Century
Chapter 5: The Organisation of Trade in Asia: The Weight of Government Monopolies
5. The organisation of trade in Asia: the weight of government monopolies The five examples of Asian strength in maritime trade that we have discussed are the only ones where a parallel can be drawn with their homologues in Europe, the repubbliche marinare, or the towns of the Hanseatic League. Yet, we should also note that Venice, as well as the Hanseatic League, had a merchant marine, traders and armed vessels. The Italian maritime republics and the Hanseatic cities also created institutions and an autonomous legal system. The routine commercial operations carried out by their subjects were entirely legitimate. Unlike these Mediterranean and Hanseatic examples, interregional trade developed according to two particular patterns in Asia, which did nothing to validate its legitimacy, and makes analysis difficult. One form, tributary trade, was enclosed in a tight-laced corset of bureaucracy, and was hidden behind a screen of diplomacy. The other, a non-official form, was sometimes called private trade, and sometimes smuggling, or even piracy. It flourished when the administration loosened its hold and shrivelled when the reins were tightened. In order to understand its origins and workings, we need to look back to the maritime policies of the two preceding dynasties, the Song (960–1279) and the Yuan (1279–1368). THE MARITIME POLICIES OF THE SONG AND THE YUAN: FOUNDATIONS OF THE MING TRIBUTARY SYSTEM China developed into a great naval power during the final years of the Song dynasty, under the Yuan and at the beginning of the Ming dynasty. The...
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