Port Cities and Trading Networks in China, Japan and Southeast Asia, 13th–21st Century
Chapter 9: European Expansion or Asian Force of Attraction?
Was the arrival of Europeans in Asia the result of the dynamics of their expansionism, as has long been thought, or was it rather the consequence of an attraction of which Asia was the pole? Two conditions are necessary in order to answer this question: first, we must abandon the dichotomy between dynamic – if not to say, aggressive – European powers and passive – even subordinate – Asian countries. Secondly, we must re-adjust the focus of history so that it is not centred on Europe. At the beginning of the 16th century, the spice trade in the Indian Ocean was in the hands of Arab dealers, who had a monopoly on trade between the eastern Mediterranean (Alexandria), East Africa (Zanzibar) and the coast of India. This monopoly would be undermined, and eventually broken up, by the Portuguese. Portugal’s maritime expansion would begin with the seizure of Ceuta (1415), a trading post located on the Atlantic coast of North Africa opposite Gibraltar, and would end with the discovery of Japan in the middle of the 16th century. PORTUGUESE EXPANSION It was in a small boat in 1434 that Gil Eanès rounded Cape Bojador, a terrifying promontory of projecting reefs, and made his way through violent currents that hindered the return of ships towards Europe. The slow but steady progress towards the southern part of the African continent had begun. In 1488 Bartolomeo Diaz sailed round the Cape of Good Hope and opened up the route to India via southern Africa. Then in 1494...
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