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Maritime History : The South China Sea until the later 19th Century

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Lee, Hye Jin
Term Paper, AP World History Class, June 2012

Table of Contents
I. Introduction
I.1 Definition
I.2 Scope of the Study
I.3 Thesis
II. Early Development of Regional Trade : to the 600s
II.1 The Earliest Trade of this Region
II.2 Development of the "Maritime Silk Road"
II.3 The Emergence of Funan centered in Oc Eo
III. Consolidation of Trade by China and Southeast Asian States, 600s to 1500s
III.1 Development of the Tributary Trade System
III.2 Srivijayan Trade Centered at Malacca
III.3 Champa in modern Vietnam
III.4 Advent of the Compass and Improvement in Shipbuilding
III.5 The Peak of Maritime Expeditions : Zheng He's Voyages
IV. Interactions with the Outside World : 1500s to 1800s
IV.1 The Portuguese at Malacca and Macau
IV.2 The Dutch and their Trade Monopoly
IV.3 The Spanish in the Philippines
IV.4 Economic and Social Change Caused by Interaction
V. Conclusion

I. Introduction
            Recent news on the South China Sea mostly focus on territorial disputes between China and the Southeast Asian nations bordering the South China Sea. Why would so many countries claim the sea for themselves and dispute over it ? What makes it so important ? The answer is quite obvious if one considers the fact the one-third of the world's shipping transiting through water of the South China Sea. Not only that, the South China Sea has a great amount of natural resources under it. Indeed, the South China Sea has great strategic importance and is a land full of treasures and potentials. Then, since when the South China Sea started to gain such importance ? What is the historical source for its great importance ? These are the questions that drive me start the research on the South China Sea and write this paper.
            The answer to these questions is quite simple: the South China Sea has been important ever since. However, it is important in different ways in different periods. Though it has been always the center of trades and interactions among different peoples and nations, it has its unique patterns and features in each stage of history which drive to new patterns and features in the next period. This is how the South China Sea has developed into such a prosperous and busy sea today.
            The rest of the paper will give an explanation to the maritime history of the South China Sea until 1800s, with a special focus on human activities such as trades and interactions.

I.1 Definition
            It is necessary to define two terms in the title: the South China Sea and interaction.
            The South China Sea can be roughly defined as a portion of the Pacific Ocean which locates south of mainland China and the island of Taiwan, west of the Philippines, northwest of Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei, north of Indonesia, northeast of the Malay peninsula and Singapore, and east of Vietnam. A more detailed and precise definition of the limits of the South China Sea is given by the International Hydrographic Organization. (1)
            Interaction, to be defined more specifically, refers to how the trading countries are related with each other - for example, one country may be a vassal state or even a colony of another country or even in the case of two independent states, one might be dependent on the other, etc. It also includes the cultural, economical, social and political exchanges in which changes in religion, trade system, navigation, shipbuilding, and demography occur.

I.2 Scope of the Study
            The geographical scope for this paper includes the South China Sea as well as its coastal mainland and islands, such as present-day Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and the southern part of China. However, peoples from Europe and other western regions beyond the above geographical scope will be mentioned as well but only limited to those who had actively engaged in maritime affairs on the South China Sea. ¡°The outside world¡± in chapter four refers European peoples and regions beyond the geographical scope.
            This paper will cover the maritime history from when the earliest trade of this region is known until the nineteenth century.
            Though the this paper is on the maritime history which technically ought to encompass a very broad range of study like the history of fishing, shipbuilding, navigation, oceanography, international maritime law and any other sea-related human activities, but this paper will rather more focus on the maritime trades and interactions among various peoples across the South China Sea. To be more specific, maritime trades routes, seaports, navigation, shipbuilding, populations will be mainly discussed.

I.3 Thesis
            The South China Sea has been an important region for trade and interaction among different peoples ever since, while displaying a frequent shift of the leading maritime power to different peoples and to different ports or states in different time period and also showing an increasing sphere of influence to a greater part of the world.

II. Early Development of Regional Trade : until the 600s
            The early stage of trade in the South China Sea has very little existing written sources, most of which written in Chinese. So the research on this period has been largely relied on archeological findings.
            Despite the lack of written sources, the archeological findings reveal that the trade was greatly advanced since early history; the trade wasn't limited to regional trade in the South China Sea but went beyond the Malacca Straits and even reached India and the Arabian countries.
            The main parties of trades were the Chinese kingdoms and peoples from the west. The trade goods produced in Southeast Asia was not as well-known as those in China and India, so the Southeast Asian ports rather served as a place offering necessary supply for passing ships. Gradually, those Southeast Asian ports along the trade routes began to emerge as main transportation ports with busy traffic.

II.1 The Earliest Trade of this Region
            The first marine trade across the South China Sea, according to the few early records remaining which are mostly in Chinese as well as the contemporary archeological findings, emerged in the ancient Chinese kingdom of Nanyue, or Southern Yue. It lasted from 203 BC at the time of the collapse of the Qin dynasty until 111 BC when it was destroyed by the Han dynasty. Though Nanyue was culturally close to China, it was successful in resisting the political power of the early Han emperors, and it even extended its authority into what is now northern Vietnam. (2)
            The capital of Nanyue, known as Panyu, was located on the Pearl River in present-day Guangzhou. Panyu was a leading transportation hub and trading port of the time as it is now. Archeological discovery reveals that it had quite a large and technologically advanced shipbuilding industry. A dockyard ruin excavated in Panyu was found to produce flatboat suited for inland or coastal waters with a load of 30 to 60 tons. (3) It was the development of shipbuilding that made marine transportation and maritime trade possible.
            In the tomb of the second king of Nanyue, King Wendi, precious artifacts strongly suggesting a prosperous maritime trade in the South China Sea were unearthed. For example, a canister found in the tomb has the picture of four seafaring vessels of feathered people. There is also a silver box very different from metallic vessels from the Han Dynasty but similar to the ones popular in the Persian Empire. On the body of the entombed person, there was an adornment of 32 golden beads whose technique was originated in Ur in Mesopotamia and then passed onto Egypt, Crete, Persia other places. Also, artifacts like interlaced incense burners, ivory, frankincense, ivory, tusk-shaped pottery and so on are found from various Nanyue tombs. Since most of the above objects were from the oversea, it is very likely that a sea route from Nanyue Kingdom through the South China Sea and up to the Persian Gulf was already established then. (4)
            In the early stage of marine contacts of this region, Nanyue vessels didn't venture far beyond the coastal waters, thus coastal shipping rather than transoceanic voyages was typical. In other words, Merchants traded mainly along the coasts of the Southern China and those on India and further west. While trades between the riches of China and those of India, Persia, etc, were actively facilitated, Southeast Asia was a virtually unknown region. Its ports were mainly to provide facilities for foreign merchants passing by, providing suitable accommodations for sailors and traders: food, water, shelter, storage facilities and marketplaces.

II.2 Development of the "Maritime Silk Road"
            The early trade across the South China Sea gradually developed into the "Maritime Silk Road." The Maritime Silk Road began from the southwest coastal areas of China, particularly from the ports of Guangzhou (Canton) and Jiaozhou, present-day northern Vietnam, and then extended around the coast of Indochina, through the Straits of Malacca, and lastly entering the seacoast of the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf area. (5)
            Beginning from the Han Dynasty, there was another inland "Silk Road" along the central Asian caravan routes. However, its fall in the 2nd century AD shifted the transport of goods to the sea and made the passage through Southeast Asia more important than ever for international traders. The Maritime Silk Road resulted in the development of seaports along the coast of the South China Sea in Southeast Asia and several Southeast Asia countries flourished and profited from trades and interactions with merchants on their way of the Maritime Silk Road.

II.3 The Emergence of Funan centered in Oc Eo
            The most important state in Southeast Asia was Funan, a nation on the Indochina Peninsula and controlled the Mekong River Delta from the 1st to 7th centuries AD. Funanese were adept in fishing, rice cultivation as well as maritime trade. They shipped the products of the Mediterranean, India, the Middle East and Africa, such as frankincense, myrrh, resin, spices and more to China, in exchange for Chinese silk, porcelain, tea, etc.
            The emergence of Funan as a maritime power is attributed to the king Fan Man. He had ruled around 200 AD and he is said to have constructed a fleet of ships and to have attacked more than ten kingdoms, three of which were identified with the Malay Peninsula. These raids appear to have been an attempt to take control of the maritime trade flowing from India through the Malay Peninsula to China. (6)
            Funan started to show a sign of decline in the 6th century. Though multiple factors contributed to its decline, one of the main reason is that technological changes in sailing craft greatly increased efficiency and allowed trading ships to shift away from coastal routes to direct path across the South China Sea; such change in shipping routes may have cut Funan off from its economic lifeline. (7)
            Oc Eo, the capital of Funan, was a typical entrepot along the Maritime Silk Road between 1st and 7th centuries AD and it was in its height of power in the mid-3rd century. Oc Eo locates within a network of ancient canals that crisscross the low flatland of the Mekong Delta, halfway between the river and the coast of the Gulf of Siam, some 30 kilometers southwest of the provincial capital of Long Xuyen. With its important geographical location along the Southeast Asian sea routes, Oc Eo became a meeting place for craftsmen and traders. Trade provided adequate conditions for urbanization, and the foreign influences through trades stimulated the internal development and made it emerge as an economic and cultural centre of the Mekong Delta. In 1944, a large quantity of artifacts related to sea trade was discovered in the ruins of Oc Eo. These items included seals, product plates and more, most of which came from India, the Roman Empire or the Han Empire in China. It supported the interpretation that Funan was an important link in the trade between India and China.

III. Consolidation of Trade by China and Southeast Asian States : 600s to 1500s
            Maritime trade became more organized as Tang China consolidated its tributary trade system, whilethe following Song, Yuan, and Ming dynasties, all shared the characteristics of large-scale trades and continuously developing navigational and shipbuilding skills. China gained an irreplaceable position in trades in the South China Sea. J. Gernet once wrote about China in this period that: "The activity of the great ports of Fujian, Zhejiang, and Guangdong in this period cannot be compared with that of the European countries. The importance of river and sea traffic in the Song and Yuan periods, the role of the fleets of war in the defense of the Southern Song in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and during the Mongols¡¯ attempts to invade Japan and Java at the end of the thirteenth century, the great maritime expeditions of the Ming in the years 1405 to 1433, up to the Red Sea and as far as the eastern coast of Africa, obviously show that China was the greatest maritime power in history during the four and a half centuries between the consolidation of the Song empire and the great period of expansion in the Ming empire." (8) The following chapters will explain in detail "the great maritime expeditions of the Ming" as well as the development of technology right before it that made it possible.
            At the same time, several powerful Southeast Asian states were established which benefited greatly from maritime trade. The two most typical nations, Srivijava and Champa will be discussed in following chapters. Both China and these Southeast Asian countries were inseparable from the sea.

III.1 Development of the Tributary Trade System
            A large part of seafaring activities conducted on the South China Sea was Sino-foreign maritime trade. Hence it is necessary to examine the how Sino-foreign maritime trade was organized in order to understand the maritime order of the South China Sea. There were mainly two different types of Sino-foreign trades: government-sponsored trade and private trade.
            Government-sponsored trade was, to be more specific, tributary trade. Though tributary system in imperial China was more common as a political instrument of defense and diplomacy in China¡¯s overland relations, it functioned more as a commercial instrument for sponsoring and regulating foreign trades when it was implemented in the South China Sea. And it functioned more like an exchange of gifts between two countries.
            Tributary system could be dated early between Southeast Asian countries and ancient Chinese states. It has been long-lasting that it defined the exchange relationship between China and many Asian countries in the next two thousand years, including Srivijaya and Champa which will be introduced in the next two chapters. During the 7th century, the tribute missions came from various regions to China, marking one of the most prosperous period of the South China Sea trade, and in the early eighth century, this led to the establishment the office of superintendent of the shipping trade in Guangzhou in which way the close links between tribute and trade in Southeast Asia were confirmed. (9)
            Also, it is notable that government often sponsored oversea trade which was entirely profit oriented. An example is the Yuan policy of joint ventures between government and commercial sailors. Under this scheme, the Yuan government provided merchants with ships and capital and the merchants sailed overseas to trade; the profit gained out of the sail was shared between the two parties according to a 7 to 3 ratio. (10)
            Private activities were far more robust than government sponsored ones. The private Chinese merchants were entirely profit-oriented. They even went to the regions where the government couldn't which would yield greater profits and they were also never stopped by either heavy tax or the banning and criminalizing of maritime trade. (11)

III.2 Srivijayan Trade Centered at Malacca
            Srivijaya was a powerful ancient Malay empire based on the island of Sumatra, which influenced much of Southeast Asia. At its climax, it controlled Sumatra, Western java, the western and northern coast of Bomeo, the Philippines, the Malay Peninsula, and Sulu Archepelago and the Visayas islands. It dated from 7th century until 13th century. Its source of prosperity and maritime power is attributed to its control over the Straits of Malacca. While most east-west traffic route originally consisted of a portage across the Isthmus of Kra, the narrow portion of the Malay Peninsula, it diverted to the Straits of Malacca in around late 4th to early 5th centuries, leading to the rise of Srivijaya in southeastern Sumatra. (12)
            It was a thalassocracy with an economy based on maritime trade and piracy. It benefited from the lucrative maritime trade between China and India, and it also traded Indonesian archipelago products such as Maluku spices. It controlled the spice route traffic in Southeast Asia and charged a toll on passing ships. Srivijaya, in an attempt to maintain their maritime hegemony, had launched naval military expeditions against rival ports in Southeast Asia and absorb them within the Srivijayan mandala. The port of Malayu in Jambi, Kota Kapur in Bangka island, Tarumanagara and port of Sunda in West Java, Kalingga in Central Java, and port of Kedah and Chaiya in Malay peninsula are among regional ports that had been absorbed within Srivijayan sphere of influence. (13) Unfortunately, the wealth of Srivijaya attracted foreign piracy and naval raids which disrupted the trade and security of the region and eventually led to Srivijaya¡¯s decline. In 1025 AD, Rajendra Chola, the king of Coromandel in India, launched a massive raid on Srivijayan ports on both sides of the Straits of Malacca. Chola raids and conquests continued in Sumatra and Malay Peninsula. Though their invasion failed to completely conquer Srivijaya, they greatly weakened Srivijayan power

III.3 Champa in Modern Vietnam
            Champa was one of the rival states of Srivijaya. Champa is a collection of smaller domains that shared linguistic and cultural traditions rather than a unified polity and it was also an Indianized kingdom that controlled what is now southern and central Vietnam, stretched from Hoanh Son in the north to the vicinity of present-day Ho Chi Minh City. It was founded by at least the 4th century and it was known largely from Chinese records and more recently, archeological evidence. It reached its peak in the 8th century when it covered the largest geographical area of its history. (14)
            Unlike most of the Straits of Malacca polities, the Cham coastal centers had located immediately adjacent to networked productive agricultural communities which made it self-sufficient and be able to supply the basic needs of the Cham ruling elite and their sustenance of the Cham temple networks; On the other hand, its open coastal city made it constantly subject to the raids of their neighbors. (15)
            The Cham were adept in farming and navigation and actively engaged in fishing, sea trades and even piracy. But the main source of the Cham income came from the sea. During the summers, monsoon winds propelled sea traffic north to china, while from the autumn to the spring, winds from the north made the Cham coast a natural landfall for the merchants travelling south to the archipelago and beyond. (16) Though Chinese sources always considered Cham ports to be secondary centers of international commercial exchange, they did have important products that Chinese and other international traders desired, notably luxury items such as ivory, rhinoceros, horn, tortoiseshell, pearls, peacock, kingfisher feathers, spices, and aromatic woods. (17) It is also notable that the maritime sojourner populations in Champa often engaged in piracy and thus Cham coast piracy was widely known among the international trade community of the time.

III.4 Advent of the Compass and Improvement in Shipbuilding
            A number of decisive changes for navigation occurred in China in the 10th and 11th centuries. First of all, the application of compass in navigation increased the safety of travel on the high seas. The first mention of the use of the compass on Chinese ships was by Zhu Yu and indicates that the instrument was used on ships from Guangzhou at the end of the eleventh centuries. (18) Not only that, Chinese cartography was also greatly improved. It displayed a deep understand of the seabed and ocean currents and showed improved methods of orientation and the calculation of distances. Lastly, the Chinese shipbuilding industries experienced rapid development. The main type of China¡¯s merchant and naval fleets was the junk, which been existed for centuries, but it was at this time the large ships based on this design were built. The best archeological evidence was the Quanzhou shipwreck. A Song ship found at Quanzhou was a three-masted compartmentalized 34-metre vessel with bamboo sails and rope made of palm, bamboo, rattan and flax. Not only that, the establishment of China's first official standing navy in 1132 AD also marked the rapid development in Chinese shipbuilding industry which in part due to the commercial and military policies of the Song dynasty.
            During the Song dynasty, China was completely cut off from the overland routes to the west via the Central Asia and thus southern Chinese interest was exclusively directed to the sea. As a result, for the first time a Chinese dynasty encouraged China-based traders to trade directly with the south rather than depending on the import of goods through the tributary trade network. (19) The Song government looked to the South China Sea not only as a source of tax revenue on the imports but also as a market for exported products and it also began to integrate the sea into China¡¯s defense strategy. (20)

III.5 The Peak of Maritime Expedition : Zheng He's Voyages
            The early Ming dynasty proposed haijin, literally "sea ban", to ban any private maritime activities. Under this policy, not only could any foreigner wishing to visit Ming China do so only via the tribute system, but also that coastal private merchants were forbidden from seafaring. This policy imposed a huge hardship on coastal communities and traders on the South China Sea. Prohibiting the private trades, the Ming government encouraged the government-sponsored expedition instead.
            Zheng he, was appointed by the Emperor to control a huge fleet and armed forces that undertook the seven expeditions lasted from 1403 to 1433. During these seven expeditions, Zheng he's fleet visited most major ports in the South China Sea and beyond, including Champa, Kelantan, Pahang, Java, Malacca, Semudera, Lambri, Ceylon, Quilon, Cochin, and Calicut. Parts of subsidiary fleets even reached Hormuz, Dhufar, Aden, Mogadishu, and Brava on the Somali coast of east Africa. Zheng he dispensed and received goods along the way. He presented gifts of gold, silver, porcelain, tea, iron wares, silk, etc, and in return, received ivory, spices, exotic animals, etc. as tributes to the Ming emperor. While exchanging such items and ideas along the way, these expeditions had facilitated cultural and economic interactions.
            Zheng he¡¯s expeditions, with such a large scale, proved to be among the most adventurous and costly navigational expeditions in human history. His extraordinarily large fleet which was sixty-two ships in the first expedition employed huge ships?the biggest had nine masts and was 133 meters long and 56 meters wide?that were manned by a crew of about 27,000. (21)
            Through these, Ming China wanted to demonstrate its wealth and power, establish a Chinese presence and extend the empire¡¯s tributary system. However, there was neither intention to expand neither territory nor commitment to continue the naval show of force. After 1433, Ming China never sent out such expeditions ever again.
            Zheng he's expeditions impacted the coasts of the South China Sea in three major ways. First, they spread Chinese culture, including the lunar calendar and Chinese poetry to the region. Second, Zheng he himself grew to be a kind of patron saint of the Chinese sojourners who migrated to Southeast Asia in increasing numbers following his expeditions. Temples worshipping him can still be found all over Southeast Asia such as in Java and Malacca. (22) And lastly, his expeditions had planted seeds of new settlements and consolidated all overseas Chinese settlements in Southeast Asia under Ming authority. (23)

IV. Interaction with the Outside World : 1500s to 1800s
            Traditional settlers and sojourners along the South China Sea were either mainly from Southeast Asian nations, China, or Arab, Persian, Indian merchants, etc. However, by the 16th century, colonizers from European countries landed along the coast of the South China Sea and established their monopoly over trades. A major impetus for European overseas expansion was the trade in spices - pepper, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and mace. The Europeans no longer wanted the dependence on the Muslims to involve in the spice trade, so they started to participate directly in the highly lucrative spice trade by moving into the sea route in Asia. Among those Europeans, the Portuguese, Dutch and Spanish had the most influence in this region and period and thus will be discussed in the following chapters.
            The interactions between the local people and the Europeans brought great changes to this area. Those changes were not only subject to political changes, but also to economical and social changes. Those changes can still be seen today in the Southern China and the Southeast Asian countries along the South China Sea.

IV.1 The Portuguese in Malacca and Macau
            The Portuguese were the first Europeans to settle along the South China Sea. Henry the Navigator encouraged the search for a sea route to Asia, which led Vasco de Gama to successfully land on the west coast of India in 1498. The Portuguese went further eastward and reached Malacca, a traditional trading port which had a strategic importance in dominating the spice trade. At the time of the Portuguese arrival there, Malacca was under the rule of a Muslim Sultanate. In April 1511, Albuquerque set sail from Goa to Malacca with a force of some 1200 men and seventeen or eighteen ships. And after 40 days of fighting, Malacca fell to the Portuguese on 24 August. From that day forth, Malacca was under the rule of Portuguese until 1641 when the Dutch occupied it.
            After establishing a stronghold at Malacca, the Portuguese met the need for a transshipment base in China for the newly opened Japan market. And the Portuguese successful combat against piracy helped the Chinese greatly and the Chinese government agreed to let the Portuguese establish a permanent settlement in Macau. Macau quickly developed into an international emporium, an entrepot serving three lucrative trade routes: Macau-Malacca-Goa-Lisbon; Guangzhou-Macau-Nagasaki; and Macau-Manila-Mexico. (24) Macau's importance as a trading port continued even after the Portuguese monopoly in the Southeast Asia was broken down by the Dutch, because it was the only port in China open to European traders of all nationalities, and it continued to flourish in the first half of the Qing dynasty when Guangzhou was made the only port open for trade.

IV.2 The Dutch and their Trade Monopoly
            The first Dutch fleet to reach the Malay Archipelago arrived in 1596 when three ships and a yacht anchored off Banten. Later it was followed by the fleets of the United Netherlands Chartered East India Company, or VOC. The VOC was a chartered company established in 1602 when it was granted a 21-year monopoly to carry out colonial activities in Asia. The VOC successfully removed the Portuguese from Maluku in 1605 and Malacca in 1641; and the Spaniards from the northern part of Taiwan by 1643 and Maluku in 1663. And these successes had helped secure the Dutch¡¯s spice monopoly and contributed to the ousting of the English and Portuguese. The Dutch succeed in occupying most of the Portuguese coastal forts along the spice trade routes and reduced the English influence to a single port on the southern coast of Sumatra.
            While Malacca was the key port under Portuguese domination, it became less important after conquered by the Dutch, because the Dutch preferred Batavia as their economic and administrative center in the region and thus they established it as their capital and a military fort in 1619. It also served as a base and headquarters for the expansion of the Company's economic empire in Asia. Commercial opportunities in Batavia attracted many Indonesian and especially Chinese immigrants. The population increased so much that the colonial government tried to restrict Chinese migration which led to intense tensions and even occasional massacres.

IV.3 The Spanish in the Philippines
            The Spanish enterprise in Asia was comparatively a modest affair, confined almost exclusively to the Philippines. The first recorded contact between the Spanish and the Philippines was on March 1521 when Magellan's expedition reached the Philippines. The successful circumnavigation of the globe and lucky return to Spain by the Magellan expedition drove the Spanish ruler's ambition to reach Maluku and monopolize the lucrative spice trade. Unfortunately, the Spice Islands were already occupied by the Portuguese at the time when they got there and they settled down in the Philippines instead. Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the first royal governor, in 1565 defeated the local Muslim ruler and established his capital at Manila which offered an excellent harbor of Manila Bay.
            Spain had three main objectives in its policy toward the Philippines, its only colony in Asia: to acquire a share in the spice trade, to develop contacts with China and Japan in order to further Christian missionary efforts there, and to convert the Filipinos to Christianity, of which only the last one was met. (25)
            The colony wasn't profitable for the Spanish. They found neither spices nor exploitable precious metals in the Philippines. And a long war with the Dutch in the seventeenth century and the internal conflicts weakened the colonial finance. So, instead of enriching themselves from local resources, the Spanish rather earned their colonial income from entrepot trade by playing middleman between the treasures of America and the luxuries of Asia, mainly China, which was known as "Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade." The Manila galleon was a Spanish sailing vessel that made an annual round trip across the Pacific between Manila and Acapulco in Mexico. It opened China-Philippine-Mexico sea route with Yue Port in Zhangzhou as the starting-point, Manila as the midpoint and Acapulco as the destination. (26)

IV.4 Economic and Social Change Caused by Interaction
            Though the South China Sea had always been a maritime region full of crucial trade routes, it became more important than ever since the 1500s with the Europeans¡¯ arrival since a dramatic expansion of commercial activity occurred. In the early 15th century, Chinese and Indian merchants actively engaged in trades, increasing the circulation of silver and other metals in the area and also the demand for Indian cloth in exchange for Southeast Asian spices. But the arrival of the Europeans intensified the situation and at the peak of the early 17th century, the Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese, and Indians all competed for domination over this region's commercial activity.
            One of the social changes that the interaction between the Europeans and the local brought about was a unique mixture of foreign and indigenous elements in its physical structure, government, economic affairs, and inhabitants. The best example of it is the Mestizo communities, especially popular in the European-controlled cities. In the Mestizo communities, a hybrid of different peoples can be seen: the Chinese, Indians, Persians, Europeans, etc. as well as their Southeast Asian wives. Since people came to Southeast Asia to trade rarely brought women along with them, they had to marry local women. Moreover, marrying a local wife benefitted the traders because the women often provided their foreign husbands with an entree into local society through blood-tied trust which was very important in trade. By the seventeenth century, Mestizo culture was prevalent in the European-controlled cities and in most Asian trade ports.
            The mix of peoples brought a hybrid of religions. Originally, Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms were prevailing on the coasts around the South China Sea. However, gradual Islamization expanded the influence of the Muslims in this area. Hinduism and Buddhism declined around the South China Sea in the fifteenth century due to the expansion of Islam marked by the conversion to Islam of the King of Malacca. From there Islam soon spread to other centers in the area, particularly those with which Malacca had close commercial relations. However, as long with the interaction with the outside world, Christianity began to spread. Christianity has been particularly dominant in the Philippines.
            Not only that, ideas and technologies flew between the Europeans and Asian peoples through frequent interactions. Christianity was introduced, and one thing more important than that to the maritime activities was transmission of ideas in shipbuilding and firearms technology. The Southeast Asian boats had constantly evolved but the increased presence of European and foreign Asian shipping in Southeast Asian waters provided an ideal opportunity for them to learn new foreign shipbuilding techniques.

V. Conclusion
            The following conclusion can be drawn about the South China Sea :
            First of all, the South China Sea a part of the transoceanic sea routes with busy maritime traffic for a very long time. Bordered by the massive Indochina mainland and by the rich Southeast Asian islands and linked by a narrow strait to the wide Indian Ocean, the South China Sea was a naturally important spot. It has been demonstrated by a variety of archeological evidence found in its coastal area before the emergence of written sources. The Maritime Silk Road emerged shortly after and its consolidation as well as expansion by establishing a systematic tributary trade and improvement in navigation and shipbuilding skills helped ensure the strategic importance of the South China Sea. Much later, the arrival and settlement of the Europeans increased the influence of the South China Sea trades and interactions and pushed it into a global context.
            Secondly, while the Chinese controlled the region for most of the time, but still different groups of peoples other than the Chinese have emerged at different times and shared the hegemony of the region. The Chinese have always had a great impact in the South China Sea. It controlled the majority of trade, forced other neighboring countries to pay tribute to it, and served as a regulator of trade in this region. However, it is important to note that some bias or even errors might exist because the research on maritime history of the South China Sea is mostly relied to Chinese written sources, which means that most of their contents were written from solely a Chinese perspective. Anyway, despite the presence of China, different Southeast Asian countries had emerged as the most important power of the time and succeeded in competing maritime influence with other countries.
            Thirdly, the sea routes changed constantly that the central and leading port of trade changed as well. At first the Southern Yue was the main trade center and then the maritime power shifts to coastal island like Oc Eo which though was not a source of trading items but controlled where the maritime traffic was concentrated. The increasing trade with the foreign countries established Guangzhou as a typical commercial city and trading port, but other ports in the Southeast Asian nations had a considerable influence as well. The arrival of the Europeans marked several newly developed cities such as Manila and Batavia. The Europeans built a new city and developed it into an important trading port which would help them gain profits or establish administrative and controlling center of the region.
            Lastly, the South China Sea sphere of influence has been expanding over time. In the early development of the regional trade, the South China Sea merely provided a starting point for the West-East trade. But as trade was consolidated by China and the Southeast Asian nations, the countries and peoples along the trade route also engaged actively in the trade. The trade brought new ideas and items to where it passed by and impacted the peoples living there. As the interactions with the outside world began, the South China Sea gained its importance in a global context. It influenced the European countries in the far West by providing them colonial profits and even played a central role in Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade, a trans-Pacific trade.
            The above conclusions combine to yield the following new conclusion : The South China Sea has been an important maritime region for trade and interaction among different peoples ever since, while displaying a frequent shift of the leading maritime power to different peoples and to different ports or states in different time period and also showing an increasing sphere of influence to a greater part of the world

(1)      International Hydrographic Organization. Limits of Oceans and Seas. p.49.
(2)      Glover 2004 p.214
(3)      Lee 2006 p.19.
(4)      Ibid. p.20
(5)      Ibid. p.24
(6)      Ooi 2004 p.529.
(7)      O'Reilly 2007 p.109.
(8)      Jacq-Hergoualc'h 2002 p.59
(9)      Ooi 2004 p.350.

(10)      Deng 1997 p.86.
(11)      Ibid. p.87.
(12)      Hall 1985 pp.20-23 & 26.
(13)      Wikipedia : Srivijaya
(14)      O'Reilly 2007 p.135.
(15)      Ibid.
(16)      Ibid.
(17)      Ibid.
(18)      Jacq-Hergoualc'h 2002 p.60.
(19)      Hall 2011
(20)      Ibid.
(21)      Ooi 2004 p.32.
(22)      Ibid.
(23)      Widodo 2003
(24)      Ooi 2004 p.810.
(25)      Country Studies : The Philippines, The Early Spanish Period
(26)      Liao 2001


Websites listed below were visited in April to June 2012

General Sources on the South China Sea (websites)

Wikipedia Article: Shipbuilidng The Political Economy of Piracy in the South China Sea 1.      Wikipedia Article : Maritime History,
2.      Wikipedia Article : South China Sea,
3.      Wikipedia Article : South China Sea Islands,
4.      Wikipedia Article : South China Shipwrecks,
5.      Wikipedia Article : Shipbuilding,
6.      Limits of Oceans and Seas, 3rd edition. Published by International Hydrographic Organization, 1953.
7.      The South China Sea.
8.      Trading Ships of the South China Sea, from China Culture,
9.      The Political Economy of Piracy in the South China Sea, China History Forum,

Books, Encyclopedic

10.      Zumerchik, John. Steven Laurence. Seas and Waterways of the World : an Encyclopedia of Histories, Uses, and Issues. ABC-CLIO, 2010.

Sources on China, Related to the South China Sea


11.      Wikipedia Article : Compass,
12.      Wikipedia Article : Zheng He,
13.      Wikipedia Article : Nanyue,
14.      Wikipedia Article : Haijin,
15.      Wikipedia Article : Imperial Chinese Tributary System,
16.      China's Maritime History Until the Ming Period. China History Forum.
17.      Shipbuilding in Ancient China. China Culture,
18.      The Sea Route : China and its Ancient Trading Partners. Harvard Asia Quarterly 2011.

Books, Bibliographic

19.      Wilkinson, Endymion Porter. Chinese History: A Manual. Harvard University Asia Center, 1998.

Books, Narrative

20.      Li, Qingxin. Translated by William W. Wang. Maritime Silk Road. 2006
21.      Konstam, Angus. 'The Chinese Pirates', from Piracy: The Complete History. Osprey Publishing, 2008.

Books, Academic

22.      Wills, John E. China and Maritime Europe, 1500-1800 : Trade, Settlement, Diplomacy, and Missions. Cambridge UP, 2010.
23.      Kivimaki, Timo. War or Peace in the South China Sea ? Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, 2002
24.      Li, Qinxin. Nanhai I and the Maritime Silk Road. China Intercontinental Press. 2010
25.      Tagliacozzo, Eric, Wen-China. Chinese Circulations : Capital, Commodities, and Networks in Southeast Asia. Duke UP. 2011.
26.      Deng, Gang. Chinese Maritime Activities and Socioeconomic Development, C. 2100 BC - 1900 AD. Greenwood, 1997
27.      Lee, Qingxin. (The Seaside World: Studies on the History of Trade in South China Sea and Sino-Foreign Relations.) Zhong Hua Shu Ju, 2010.
28.      Situ, Shangji. (The Maritime Culture of the South China Sea.) Zhongshan UP, 2009.
29.      Muller, Shing. Thomas O. Hollmann, Putao Gui. Guangdong: Archaeology and Early Texts. Harrassowitz, 2004.
30.      Suryadinata, Leo. Admiral Zheng He & Southeast Asia. Institute of Southeast Asia Studies, 2005.

Sources on Southeast Asia and its history related to the South China Sea


31.      Wikipedia Article : Oc Eo,
32.      Wikipedia Article : Srivijaya,
33.      Wikipedia Article : Champa,
34.      Wikipedia Article : Melaka,
35.      Wikipedia Article : Kingdom of Funan,
36.      Wikipedia Article : Islam in Southeast Asia,
37.      Wikipedia Article : Portuguese Malacca,
38.      Wikipedia Article : Dutch Malacca,
39.      Wikipedia Article : Dutch East India Company,
40.      Wikipedia Article : Manila-Acapulco Galleon,
41.      Liao, Dake. Fujian and the Sino-Latin-American Exchange in the Times of Great Galleon Trade. Southeast Asian Affairs 2001-2002,
42.      Danny Wong Tze Ken, Vietnam-Champa Relations and the Malay-Islam Regional Network in the 17th-19th Centuries, Kyoto Review 2004,
43.      Library of Congress, Country Studies L The Philippines : The Early Spanish Period

Papers, Theses

44.      Widodo, Johannes J. Admiral Zheng He and Pre-Colonial Coastal Urban Development in Southeast Asia, 2003,
45.      Evers, Hans-Dieter, Traditional Trading Networks of Southeast Asia, Archipel 1988 pp.89-100, Persee,

Books, Encyclopedic

46.      Ooi, Keat Gin. Southeast Asia: A History Encyclopedia, from Angkor Wat to East Timor. ABC-CLOI, 2004.

Books, Narrative

47.      Tarling, Nicholas. The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia. Volume 1, Part 1. From Early Times to c. 1500. Cambridge UP, 1992.
48.      Tarling, Nicholas. The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia. Volume 1, Part 2. From c.1500 to c. 1800. Cambridge UP, 1992.
49.      Hall, Kenneth R. A History of Early Southeast Asia: Maritime Trade and Societal Development, 100-1500. 2011.

Books, Academic

50.      Hall, Kenneth R. Maritime Trade and State Development in Early Southeast Asia. University of Hawaii Press, 1985.
50.      O¡¯Reilly, Dougald J. W. Early Civilizations of Southeast Asia. Rowman Altamira, 2007.
50.      Jacq-Hergoualc'h, Michel. Victoria Hobson. The Malay Peninsula: Crossroads of the Maritime Silk Road (100 BC-1300 AD). Brill, 2002.
50.      Glover, Ian. Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History. Routledge. 2004.
50.      Warren, James Francis. The Sulu Zone, 1768-1898. New Day Publishers, 1985
50.      Suryadinata, Leo. Admiral Zheng He & Southeast Asia. Institute of Southeast Asia Studies, 2005.

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