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Richard von Glahn, "The Transformation of the East Asian Maritime World in the 16th-17th Centuries"

Monday, February 20, 2017 - 5:00pm

Stiteler Hall, B26

Penn Humanities Colloquium

In the mid-sixteenth century three new developments fundamentally reshaped the international economy of East Asia: the rapid growth of China’s domestic economy, spurring commercialization and intensifying the demand for silver as a monetary medium; the arrival of the Portuguese and the formation of a global economy linking Asia, Europe, and Spain’s colonial empire in the Americas; and the emergence of “port polity” emporia that derived their economic strength and political independence from maritime trade rather than agrarian produce and revenues.  These developments had profound repercussions for trade networks, merchant communities, and commodity production, and also for political power and cultural exchange.  The powerful lure of trade undermined the Ming tributary trade system, leading to the abrogation of the maritime trade embargo in 1567.  Rapid growth in East Asian maritime trade—lubricated by the flow of Japanese and American silver to China—fostered the development of new institutional mechanisms for conducting international trade.  Port polities such as Ryukyu in the Okinawan archipelago, the Nguyen regime in central Vietnam, the Ōtomo daimyo in Kyushu, and the Zheng thalassocracy in coastal China sprang up to seize economic and political advantage from these changed circumstances—and (for a time, at least) offered an alternative to the Chinese model of the bureaucratically-ruled agrarian empire.

Richard von Glahn is Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles. His primary field of research is the economic and social history of premodern China, with a particular focus on the period 1000-1700. His most recent book is The Economic History of China from Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 2016). In addition, he pursues research in Chinese monetary history, especially the interrelationship between China’s monetary system and wider spheres of monetary circulation within Asia and on a global scale, and have embarked on a new project on the economic history of maritime East Asia from the ninth to the eighteenth centuries.