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Elke Papelitzky, Writing World History in Late Ming China and the Perception of Maritime Asia, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz, East Asian Maritime History 15, 2020, 240 p., Index, 38 Tables, 14 Figures. ISBN 978-3-447-11309-0

Claudine Salmon
p. 258-260
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Elke Papelitzky, Writing World History in Late Ming China and the Perception of Maritime Asia, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz, East Asian Maritime History 15, 2020, 240 p., Index, 38 Tables, 14 Figures. ISBN 978-3-447-11309-0

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  • 15 .The Ming dynasty was to be overthrown by the Manchus in 1644.
  • 16 Only the Shuyu zhouzi lu and the Xianbin lu, from which the other works borrow more or less extensi (...)

1In this ten-chapter book (based on her dissertation), Elke Papelitzky examines in great detail how certain late Ming scholars became interested in foreign countries and their relations with the Middle Kingdom after the lifting of the ban on maritime trade in 1567, i.e. at a time when the empire was threatened on its northern border15 and the tributary relations with the various Asian countries were undermined by the new situation of the global trade system. In order to do this, the author explains in the introduction (Chap. 1), how she selected seven works, some better known than others, from the 1570s to the first three decades of the 17th century, which she considers to be “world histories” although the term is hardly used by those concerned. These are, in chronological order, the Shuyu zhouci lu 殊域周諮錄 or “Records of the Dispatches Concerning Various Regions” the Xianbing lu 咸賓錄 or “Records of all Guests,” the Siyi guangji 四夷廣記 or “Extensive Records of All Barbarians,” the Yisheng 裔剩 or “Historical Records of Distant Peoples,” the Huangming xiangxu lu 皇明象胥錄 or “Records of the Interpreter of the Glorious Ming,” the Siyiguan kao 四夷館考 or “Thoughts from the Translation Office,” and finally the second part of the Fangyu shenglüe 方輿勝略 ou “Complete Survey of the World.”16

  • 17 For this purpose, the author uses the following bibliography: Wolfgang Franke and Foon Ming Liew-He (...)

2In Chapter 2, the author gives a historical overview of the tributary system and how, since the Han, the Chinese have written about “barbarians” and the categories into which they are placed. The next three chapters present the characteristics of the selected texts: editions, existing prints and manuscripts,17 biographies of the authors (all are from southern China: Zhejiang, Fujian, Jiangxi, Anhui, Hubei) all of whom except one served as officials, the structure of the texts, and paratexts including maps, illustrations, prefaces, and fanli 凡例, disclaimers, or explanatory notes.

3Chapter 6 (pp. 67-85) looks more specifically at the content of the books. The seven texts deal with some 205 countries, excluding the minority regions of the empire. Sixteen appear in all the books, these are China’s closest neighbours, some western countries, as well as some of those visited by Admiral Zheng He 鄭和 (1371-1433); others appear in only one or two books. A list of the most frequently appearing countries is given in Table 7 (p. 72). Next, the author considers at length how the said countries are broken down, generally more or less according to traditional categories, with the exception of Shen Maoshang 慎懋賞, the author of the Siyi guangji, who coined the haiguo 海國 or “maritime countries” category under which he places all those in the southern regions. Papelitzky notes that the countries the authors expand on the most are those in the north and west, presumably because of the military threat they pose to the empire’s borders.

4This then leads her to ask the question of the authors’ motivations, which are in fact quite diverse and not always obvious. For some, these are clearly expressed in their preface or warning. For example, Yan Congjian 嚴從簡 (fl. 1559-1575), the author of the Shuyu zhouzi lu, who has a great deal of professional experience ̶ he had access to the official archives and reproduces various extracts from imperial edicts and memorials ̶ stated that he wished to transmit his knowledge to posterity. Indeed, this work was widely used by the other authors. Luo Yuejiong 羅曰褧 (fl. 1585-1597), the author of the Xianbin lu explained that he was exclusively interested in foreigners who continued to bring tribute, hence the title given to his work. He was convinced that foreigners were descendants of Chinese, a worldview that dates back to the Han. Mao Ruicheng 毛瑞徵 (fl. 1597-1636), the author of the Huangming xiangxu lu, on the other hand, was dissatisfied with the existing accounts and intended to add to them. He deplored the fact that the Portuguese were not included and that, more generally, the information was not up to date. He was concerned about national security and the threats posed by the “barbarians of the north” and pirates along the coasts of Zhejiang and Fujian. This is why he decided to write his own book to improve knowledge. This concern for safety and knowledge was shared by Wang Zongzai 王宗載 (fl. 1562-1582), the author of the Siyi guangji who interviewed a Siamese envoy to complete the written sources.

  • 18 Under the Ming, the rumor was that the Portuguese ate children, and they were considered to be very (...)

5Chapters 7-9 (pp. 86-168) constitute three case studies relating to Siam, Malacca and Portugal. The way in which the seven works presented these entities geographically and historically, as well as their diplomatic, tributary, and even commercial links with China, their customs, their productions, and their foreign policy, and finally the maritime routes linking them to the Ming Empire (sometimes presented in great detail, see Figure 13, p. 17), is analyzed here in a comparative manner. In some cases, the authors give an overall assessment (mitigated for Siam, often judged too bellicose towards its neighbours, good for Malacca and rather negative for Portugal).18

6Although these world histories have many differences, they share some commonalities as well. While the authors have made an effort to enrich their documentation, some even taking the trouble to list their sources, they do not, strictly speaking, criticize them and simply accumulate them in their own work. Moreover, they remain attached to the traditional worldview according to which foreigners must bring tribute to the glorious Ming. Their worldview is therefore selective, to the extent that they sometimes deliberately ignore facts; for example, some authors refuse to give information about the Portuguese, whose presence on the southern coasts threatens the established order. However, the author of the Siyi guangji, as well as those of the Fangyu shenglüe and the Huangming xiangxu lu are more open and accept reality. These are the main lines drawn by the author.

7Overall, these texts reveal the world view of a group of scholars who had never crossed borders but who had certain intellectual and even kinship links between them. This overall vision of the Asian maritime regions would undoubtedly benefit from being considered in relation to that (or those) emerging from contemporary Portuguese narratives. Moreover, if we move from a macro view of maritime Asia to a micro view of the various “maritime countries”, it must be said that the notes contained in these works are very rich in original historical details, which would benefit from being more widely used by historians working on South-East Asia in general and Insulindia in particular. In short, this study by Papelitzky opens the way to new and promising research.

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Notes

15 .The Ming dynasty was to be overthrown by the Manchus in 1644.

16 Only the Shuyu zhouzi lu and the Xianbin lu, from which the other works borrow more or less extensively, have been the subject of a modern edition punctuated and annotated. Some of the other “world histories” are available online.

17 For this purpose, the author uses the following bibliography: Wolfgang Franke and Foon Ming Liew-Herres, Annotated Sources of Ming History. Including Southern Ming and Works on Neighbouring Lands 1368-1661, 2 vols, Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press, 2011.

18 Under the Ming, the rumor was that the Portuguese ate children, and they were considered to be very violent, well-equipped militarily, and therefore dangerous.

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Claudine Salmon, « Elke Papelitzky, Writing World History in Late Ming China and the Perception of Maritime Asia, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz, East Asian Maritime History 15, 2020, 240 p., Index, 38 Tables, 14 Figures. ISBN 978-3-447-11309-0 »Archipel, 101 | 2021, 258-260.

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Claudine Salmon, « Elke Papelitzky, Writing World History in Late Ming China and the Perception of Maritime Asia, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz, East Asian Maritime History 15, 2020, 240 p., Index, 38 Tables, 14 Figures. ISBN 978-3-447-11309-0 »Archipel [En ligne], 101 | 2021, mis en ligne le 30 juin 2021, consulté le 17 août 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/archipel/2450 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/archipel.2450

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Claudine Salmon

CASE, CNRS

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