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 10: Forced Openings and Treaty Ports

François Gipouloux


The large port cities – Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tientsin, Yokohama, Pusan, Incheon – are the main nodes in Asia’s commercial networks. These centres are junctions between the domestic market and the world market, poles of development for domestic economies and places of contact and exchange between Western economy and culture and the Asian state and society. But what is a port? According to the Dictionnaire historique de la langue française, the term was borrowed early on (1050) from the Latin portus, the primary meanings of which are ‘passage’, port (harbour) and door.1 In other words, a port is not only a harbour for sheltering ships; it is also a transit point. We should therefore abandon the image of a port as simply an access to the sea, or an interface between the city and the sea. These are special aspects of a much wider definition. Geographers help us to escape the narrowness of the usual meaning. A port is a transit point, a junction where flows intersect: merchandise, finance and information. It is also a dock, that is a warehouse where merchandise is stored, to be consumed on site or to be redistributed. From this point of view, Seoul is a port that extends in the direction of Incheon, the port located on the west coast of Korea, in the same way that Kuala Lumpur has developed in the direction of Port Klang. The great ports of the 19th century – London or New York, for example – were places where most...

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