Port Cities and Trading Networks in China, Japan and Southeast Asia, 13th–21st Century
The Mediterranean, the Baltic and the East Asian maritime corridor, with their model of economic integration that transcends territorial boundaries, play a polyphonic music in which we have discerned an underlying harmony. The Mediterranean metaphor has made it possible to find the common thread in their apparently dissimilar histories and paths of economic development, namely that they escape the control of sovereign states, even when they are great empires. With their cosmopolitan cultures, networks of merchant diaspora, vast hinterlands, unstable hierarchies and capacity for self-renewal, maritime cities are also catalysts for change. Like today’s Hong Kong, they transcend their own administrative frontiers and participate in a broad spectrum of activities, from trading to financial operations. The Mediterranean model is therefore not just a geographical or historical representation that encompasses several areas and cultures. It is also, and above all, an institutional model characterised by the autonomy of numerous urban poles within the locally dominant state. This autonomy lies at the heart of a system of polycentric power, an assemblage of commercial laws developed by traders and a civil peace backed up by municipal, and sometimes private, armies. The gigantic leap in maritime trade experienced by Europe in the late Middle Ages was supported by a specific institutional conjuncture: 1. The cities were independent because they lay on the periphery of powers that were engaged in conflict; political fragmentation gave rise to competition between different legislative powers, namely the feudal lords, the bishops, the empire and the papacy, and led to...
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