China trade



Southeast Asia’s trade with China had taken place long before the Portuguese captured Melaka in 1511, paving the way for Western imperialism in the Malay archipelago.1 Trade with China was known as “Nanhai trade”, with nanhai referring to “southern seas”, an area roughly equivalent to what is today’s South China Sea.2

History
Nanhai trade and Malay entrepot
Since ancient times, the Chinese had been engaged in coastal trade with ports and markets between Annam and the tip of the Malay Peninsula.3 Maritime exploration of lands to its west in 200 BCE led the Chinese to discover the possibility of more direct trade with India and the Roman Empire. This discovery set the stage for the role Southeast Asia would play as facilitator of trade with China. While the earliest Chinese sailors had found Southeast Asian mainland to be a hindrance to their westbound voyage and might have sought shortcuts to cross the north of the Malay Peninsula at the Kra Isthmus, the discovery of valuable indigenous products from Southeast Asia inspired them to take the arduous route around the Malay Peninsula and through the Melaka Strait to call at the islands’ ports.4


In 1178 and 1226, Song Dynasty officials recorded two great emporiums of the Southern Seas: the Sumatran maritime state of Srivijaya to the south of China, and She-p’o (Java) to the southeast.5 There were also records alluding to Lo-yueh (possibly Johor) being an active port in the Nanhai trade, and that merchants from Lo-yueh boarded ships destined for Canton annually.6 In addition, archaeological findings have revealed forest and animal products from the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra as being amongst items presented as tribute by adventurers from the Mediterranean world to the Chinese Han emperor. These serve as evidence of an East-West maritime circulation connecting the Mediterranean to China, bringing individuals past the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra, where they might have spent considerable time.7

Malay maritime empires
Srivijaya was a great empire lying astride two strategic waters, the Melaka and Sunda straits.8 Between the 7th and 11th centuries, it flourished and almost eclipsed its neighbouring ports, wielding an influence as far as the Kra Isthmus.9 Srivijaya sent trade missions to Canton in China, where its traders commanded the respect of the Chinese and might have been leaders of the foreign merchant community.10 Srivijaya owed its success to its territories, which possessed products that were sought by East-West traders. The kingdom also dominated the Strait of Melaka – the primary artery of maritime trade between India and China – ensuring that it was free of pirates and hence a safe passage for shipping.11


Srivijaya’s influence over the region began to decline in the 11th century when areas under its control came under attack from the Chola rulers of South India, which led them to break away or distance themselves from Srivijaya.12

It was only in the 15th century when another great Malay empire, Melaka, emerged.13 Melaka’s reputation for spice and wealth attracted early European explorers, including the Portuguese.14 It flourished as a redistribution centre for the fabled “trinity of spices”: cloves, nutmeg and mace.15 In the early 15th century, Chinese envoys visited Melaka and gave it monopoly rights on Chinese goods, making it even more attractive to international traders.16 Wishing to control the ports on the international spice trade route, the Portuguese captured Melaka in 1511.17

Nanhai trade routes, merchants and commodities
The monsoon pattern dictated trade movements in the Strait of Melaka. Ships from China would sail southwest to the Malay Peninsula in January, and return to China from June to August. Vessels heading for South India would leave the Malay ports in April to August with the southwest monsoon, or in December with the northeast monsoon. It was thus impossible to make the trip from China to India in one season. The ports along the straits were halfway points for the ships, where they would unload goods and passengers, stock up on supplies and refill with cargo from the other end of the route which had been temporarily stored at these ports. The reversal of the monsoon would carry them back.18


Merchants of the Nanhai trade arrived from different areas, with South China receiving trade missions from Indo-China, Siam, Java, various states on the Malay Peninsula, Jambi and Srivijaya on Sumatra, as well as Ceylon. Persians and Arab traders were also active as middlemen.19 Chinese vessels are known to have visited Sumatra, Burma, Ceylon and southeastern India from as early as 200 BCE.20

Starting from the late 10th century, a gradual process of liberalisation allowed Chinese traders to begin making regular round trips to Southeast Asia.21 In the 13th century, the Chinese government gave private Chinese merchants the freedom to voyage to Southeast Asia, which resulted in growing prosperity in the Malay ports. This growth, however, suffered in the 14th century when the Chinese government of the new Ming dynasty restored the policy of forbidding Chinese merchants to go abroad. Only tributary trade was permitted, which Malay ports could not engage in as Javanese vassals. Items brought by Srivijayan traders to China included so-called “forest products” such as benzoin, camphor and dammar, which were used to make pharmaceuticals and incense, as well as spices, aromatic woods, ivory, tin and gold.22 In return, the Malay region received a wide range of Chinese ceramics.23

Chinese trade in early Singapore
Temasek, the name for Singapore, emerged as an important port in the early 14th century.24 It served as a gateway to the region around South Johor and the Riau Archipelago, making products from the area available to Asian traders. Temasek exported products such as hornbill casques and high-quality lakawood, both well known to Chinese traders, who obtained them for the Chinese market.25 In return, fine ceramics and coarse stoneware items such as basins and storage jars were exported to Temasek from the southern Chinese ports of Guangzhou and Quanzhou.26 By the end of the 14th century, however, Temasek had declined as a trading port. This was because the rise of the Ming dynasty caused trade to slow down, as China discouraged overseas trade through private merchants. Melaka had declared allegiance to the Ming court and hence established trade links with China, causing Temasek to lose its popularity as a port for maritime traders.27


Description
Portuguese
The Portuguese paved the way for European colonial expansion in Southeast Asia, pioneering a more advanced organisation of trade, with the state playing a central role. Rather than reinventing the China trade, the Portuguese sought to supplant their predecessors by imitating them, following the same trade routes, using the same ports and exchanging the same type of products. They initially used the China trade to procure products for Europe, but subsequently turned their focus to regional trade (or country trade) involving Asian markets and ports.28


Dutch
The Dutch aimed to build up a network of trading voyages between countries in the archipelago, all feeding Batavia (Jakarta) where goods would be redistributed to Europe.29 To achieve this, they made agreements with local ports that would allow them to monopolise trade, wherever possible.30


From the 17th century, the Dutch forced Malay rulers to divide the tin trade between Dutch ships and ships under Dutch protection.31 They also varied customs rates to benefit these ships, and bullied and cajoled the Chinese to set up in Batavia.32 While such agreements helped the Dutch to supersede the Portuguese in the region, the measures were effective only with country shipping by Asian traders, and less so with that by non-Dutch European traders.33 Ultimately, the Dutch were also unable to stop the Chinese from trading with other ports in the region.34

In 1641, the Dutch seized Melaka from the Portuguese, thus eliminating Melaka as a competitor to Batavia and firmly establishing Dutch country trade.35

British
The British struggled under the pressure of Dutch dominance in the 17th century, losing their foothold on most islands of the Malay Archipelago. Factories established in areas not under the Dutch also failed to survive. A factory set up in Bantam, Java, by the British East India Company in the early 17th century lasted only until 1682, when they were expelled by the Dutch.36 The British East India Company also commanded fewer resources than the Dutch, and had far fewer ships at its disposal in the Eastern seas.37 The disparity, however, encouraged many English traders to enter into country trading. The majority of these traders were British East India Company officials acting in their private capacity.38 By 1713, British country traders outnumbered their other European counterparts.39


At the start of the 18th century, even as Dutch country shipping continued to dominate, British country trade rose while non-British country trade remained as it was at the close of the 17th century.40

In 1761, an employee of the British East India Company, Alexander Dalrymple, signed a treaty with the sultan of Sulu. The treaty allowed the East India Company to set up a trading post on the island and carry out trade within the sultan’s dominions, which led to the establishment of a settlement in Balambangan in 1763.41 While the British eventually abandoned Balambangan in 1805, Dalrymple’s efforts pointed the way to subsequent British settlements including Penang, Singapore and Borneo.42



Author
Nor-Afidah Abd Rahman



References
1. Moore, W. K. (Ed.). (1998). The encyclopedia of Malaysia (Vol. 4). Singapore: Archipelago Press, pp. 122–123. (Call no.: RSING 959.5003 ENC)
2. Wang, G. (2003). The Nanhai trade: Early Chinese trade in the South China Sea. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, p. xv. (Call no.: RBUS 382.0951059 WAN)
3. Wang, G. (2003). The Nanhai trade: Early Chinese trade in the South China Sea. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, p. 107. (Call no.: RBUS 382.0951059 WAN)
4. Suárez, T. (1999). Early mapping of Southeast Asia. Hong Kong: Periplus Editions, pp. 45–47. (Call no.: RSING 912.59 SUA)
5. Suárez, T. (1999). Early mapping of Southeast Asia. Hong Kong: Periplus Editions, p. 47. (Call no.: RSING 912.59 SUA)
6. Wang, G. (2003). The Nanhai trade: Early Chinese trade in the South China Sea. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, p. 111. (Call no.: RBUS 382.0951059 WAN)
7. Stargardt, J. (1985). The isthmus of the Malay Archipelago in long-distance navigation: New archaeological findings. In ‘Trade and shipping in the Southern Seas’: Selected readings from Archipel 18 (1979) for SPAFA Consultative Workshop on Research on Maritime Shipping and Trade Networks in Southeast Asia. Bangkok: SPAFA Co-ordinating Unit, p. 5. (Call no.: RSING 387.50959 TRA)
8. Wang, G. (2003). The Nanhai trade: Early Chinese trade in the South China Sea. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, p. 113. (Call no.: RBUS 382.0951059 WAN)
9. Chee, A., & Buerger, D. (Eds.). (2001). The encyclopedia of Malaysia (Vol. 6). Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 10. (Call no.: RSING 959.5003 ENC); Lyons, K., & Sarwal, A. (Eds.). (2001). The encyclopedia of Malaysia (Vol. 7). Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 15. (Call no.: RSING 959.5003 ENC)
10. Wang, G. (2003). The Nanhai trade: Early Chinese trade in the South China Sea. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, p. 113. (Call no.: RBUS 382.0951059 WAN)
11. Moore, W. K. (Ed.). (1998). The encyclopedia of Malaysia (Vol. 4). Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 118. (Call no.: RSING 959.5003 ENC)
12. Moore, W. K. (Ed.). (1998). The encyclopedia of Malaysia (Vol. 4). Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 119. (Call no.: RSING 959.5003 ENC)
13. Lyons, K., & Sarwal, A. (Eds.). (2001). The encyclopedia of Malaysia (Vol. 7). Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 15. (Call no.: RSING 959.5003 ENC)
14. Chee, A., & Buerger, D. (Eds.). (2001). The encyclopedia of Malaysia (Vol. 6). Singapore: Archipelago Press, pp. 10–11. (Call no.: RSING 959.5003 ENC)
15. Lyons, K., & Sarwal, A. (Eds.). (2001). The encyclopedia of Malaysia (Vol. 7). Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 15. (Call no.: RSING 959.5003 ENC)
16. Moore, W. K. (Ed.). (1998). The encyclopedia of Malaysia (Vol. 4). Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 123. (Call no.: RSING 959.5003 ENC)
17. Lyons, K., & Sarwal, A. (Eds.). (2001). The encyclopedia of Malaysia (Vol. 7). Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 959.5003 ENC)
18. Moore, W. K. (Ed.). (1998). The encyclopedia of Malaysia (Vol. 4). Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 116. (Call no.: RSING 959.5003 ENC)
19. Wang, G. (2003). The Nanhai trade: Early Chinese trade in the South China Sea. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, p. 87. (Call no.: RBUS 382.0951059 WAN)
20. Suárez, T. (1999). Early mapping of Southeast Asia. Hong Kong: Periplus Editions, p. 46. (Call no.: RSING 912.59 SUA)
21. Suárez, T. (1999). Early mapping of Southeast Asia. Hong Kong: Periplus Editions, p. 46. (Call no.: RSING 912.59 SUA)
22. Moore, W. K. (Ed.). (1998). The encyclopedia of Malaysia (Vol. 4). Singapore: Archipelago Press, pp. 119, 123. (Call no.: RSING 959.5003 ENC)
23. Heng, D. T. S. (2004). Economic networks between the Malay region and the hinterlands of Quanzhou and Guangzhou: Temasek and the Chinese ceramics and foodstuffs trade. In J. N. Miksic & C.-A. M. G. Low (Eds.), Early Singapore, 1300s–1819: Evidence in maps, text and artefacts. Singapore: Singapore History Museum, p. 77. (Call no.: RSING 959.5703 EAR-[HIS])
24. Moore, W. K. (Ed.). (1998). The encyclopedia of Malaysia (Vol. 4). Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 123. (Call no.: RSING 959.5003 ENC)
25. Kwa, C. G., Heng, D. T. S., & Tan, T. Y. (2009). Singapore, a 700-year history: From early emporium to world city. Singapore: National Archives of Singapore, pp. 27–28. (Call no.: RSING 959.5703 KWA-[HIS])
26. Heng, D. T. S. (2004). Economic networks between the Malay region and the hinterlands of Quanzhou and Guangzhou: Temasek and the Chinese ceramics and foodstuffs trade. In J. N. Miksic & C.-A. M. G. Low (Eds.), Early Singapore, 1300s–1819: Evidence in maps, text and artefacts. Singapore: Singapore History Museum, pp. 77–78. (Call no.: RSING 959.5703 EAR-[HIS])
27. Kwa, C. G., Heng, D. T. S., & Tan, T. Y. (2009). Singapore, a 700-year history: From early emporium to world city. Singapore: National Archives of Singapore, pp. 31–32. (Call no.: RSING 959.5703 KWA-[HIS])
28. Stargardt, J. (1985). The isthmus of the Malay Archipelago in long-distance navigation: New archaeological findings. In ‘Trade and shipping in the Southern Seas’: Selected readings from Archipel 18 (1979) for SPAFA Consultative Workshop on Research on Maritime Shipping and Trade Networks in Southeast Asia. Bangkok: SPAFA Co-ordinating Unit, pp. 81–82, 86. (Call no.: RSING 387.50959 TRA)
29. Furber, H. (1976). Rival empires of trade in the Orient, 1600–1800 (Vol. 2). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, p. 268. (Call no.: RSING 382.09405 FUR)
30. Furber, H. (1976). Rival empires of trade in the Orient, 1600–1800 (Vol. 2). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 268–269. (Call no.: RSING 382.09405 FUR)
31. Furber, H. (1976). Rival empires of trade in the Orient, 1600–1800 (Vol. 2). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 268–269. (Call no.: RSING 382.09405 FUR)
32. Blusse, L. (1985). Chinese trade to Batavia during the days of the VOC. In ‘Trade and shipping in the Southern Seas’: Selected readings from Archipel 18 (1979) for SPAFA Consultative Workshop on Research on Maritime Shipping and Trade Networks in Southeast Asia. Bangkok: SPAFA Co-ordinating Unit, p. 124. (Call no.: RSING 387.50959 TRA); Furber, H. (1976). Rival empires of trade in the Orient, 1600–1800 (Vol. 2). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, p. 269. (Call no.: RSING 382.09405 FUR)
33. Furber, H. (1976). Rival empires of trade in the Orient, 1600–1800 (Vol. 2). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 268–269. (Call no.: RSING 382.09405 FUR)
34. Blusse, L. (1985). Chinese trade to Batavia during the days of the VOC. In, “Trade and shipping in the Southern Seas”: Selected readings from Archipel 18 (1979) for SPAFA Consultative Workshop on Research on Maritime Shipping and Trade Networks in Southeast Asia. Bangkok: SPAFA Co-ordinating Unit, p. 124. (Call no.: RSING 387.50959 TRA)
35. Furber, H. (1976). Rival empires of trade in the Orient, 1600–1800 (Vol. 2). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, p. 268. (Call no.: RSING 382.09405 FUR); Lyons, K., & Sarwal, A. (Eds.). (2001). The encyclopedia of Malaysia (Vol. 7). Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 959.5003 ENC)
36. Fell, R. T. (1991). Early maps of South-East Asia. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 44, 46. (Call no.: RSING 912.59 FEL); Furber, H. (1976). Rival empires of trade in the Orient, 1600–1800 (Vol. 2). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 271–272. (Call no.: RSING 382.09405 FUR)
37. Furber, H. (1976). Rival empires of trade in the Orient, 1600–1800 (Vol. 2). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 269–270. (Call no.: RSING 382.09405 FUR)
38. Furber, H. (1976). Rival empires of trade in the Orient, 1600–1800 (Vol. 2). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 270, 273. (Call no.: RSING 382.09405 FUR)
39. Furber, H. (1976). Rival empires of trade in the Orient, 1600–1800 (Vol. 2). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, p. 273. (Call no.: RSING 382.09405 FUR)
40. Furber, H. (1976). Rival empires of trade in the Orient, 1600–1800 (Vol. 2). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, p. 274. (Call no.: RSING 382.09405 FUR)
41. Fry, H. T. (1970). Alexander Dalrymple (1737–1808) and the expansion of British trade. London: Cass for the Royal Commonwealth Society, pp. 31, 44–45, 65. (Call no.: RCLOS 382.0942 DAL.F)
42. Fry, H. T. (1970). Alexander Dalrymple (1737–1808) and the expansion of British trade. London: Cass for the Royal Commonwealth Society, p. xv. (Call no.: RCLOS 382.0942 DAL.F); Lyons, K., & Sarwal, A. (Eds.). (2001). The encyclopedia of Malaysia (Vol. 7). Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 15. (Call no.: RSING 959.5003 ENC)



Further resource
Ishii, Y. (Ed.). (1998). The junk trade of Southeast Asia: Translations from the Tôsen Fusetsu-gaki, 16741723. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies; Canberra: Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australia National University.
(Call no.: RSING 382.0959 TOS)



The information in this article is valid as at 12 February 2018 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Trade and industry
Commerce and Industry>>Trade
Singapore--Commerce--China
Business, finance and industry>>Business organization>>Business enterprises