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9-08-2015, 16:40

Europeans in Asia: merchants and missionaries

In the Indian Ocean, Portuguese mariners tried to dominate the centuries-old trade in gold, spices, silk, and other goods. They decided that the best way to do this was to build fortifi ed trading posts along coasts that ships sailed near or on narrow passageways between bodies of water. Under the leadership of Admiral Afonso de Albuquerque (1453–1515), Portuguese fl eets captured the port of Goa on the west coast of India, Malacca in what is now Indonesia, and Hormuz, at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. They quickly built forts at all these places, and required all merchant ships to buy licenses or risk having their cargoes confi scated and their captains executed if they met a Portuguese warship. Cannons and sturdy ships made this Portuguese protection racket possible. Indian, Turkish, and Arabic warships were usually long, light, rowed galleys with a few cannon, built for quick actions close to shore. Portuguese ships were bulkier and better able to withstand storms at sea, with more heavy, long-range guns, able to bombard cities as well as blast holes in other vessels. They often attacked quickly, before galleys were able to travel from their home ports, and threw their opponents off guard with new types of tactics, like blockading harbors. The Portuguese were far from home, with no backup if they lost, so they were ruthless or even foolhardy against what were always larger local forces. They also used disputes among local groups to their advantage, gaining bases or ports from one ruler in return for helping him attack his neighbors. After the Ottomans conquered Egypt in 1517 and became the offi cial protectors of the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina, they challenged Portuguese control of Indian Ocean trade routes. Sultan Selim I (r . 1512–20) and a series of grand viziers – the highest military and political offi cial in the Ottoman Empire – supported maritime explorations, map-making voyages, diplomatic missions, religious endeavors, and trade ventures in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, along the east African coast, and across the Indian Ocean eastward to Sumatra. Ottoman naval power was centered in the Mediterranean, so they built a new fl eet of ships in the Red Sea for these Indian Ocean expeditions. As did the Portuguese, the Ottomans often allied themselves with local political leaders and merchants, and gained supporters from Mombasa to Malacca. Support for these ventures faded in the later sixteenth century when the Mughal and Safavid empires became more pressing threats, and the Ottomans lost control of several key ports. Their main rival, the Portuguese, would soon decline in importance as well, as the Dutch and then the English gained preeminence in the Indian Ocean. Further eastward in Asia, though Chinese emperors did not support long ocean voyages after those of Zheng He, large Chinese cargo ships sailed all over the South China Sea, trading silk and porcelain for pepper, spices, and cotton. They also brought silver mined in Japan to be made into coins in China, although trade with Japan was technically illegal because Chinese rulers saw the Japanese as uncivilized raiders and pirates. Chinese merchants settled in port cities in what is now Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines, where they often introduced local rulers to Chinese art and culture. This rich trade attracted Portuguese merchants, and from their fortifi ed trading posts along the coasts of Africa, India, and Southeast Asia, Portuguese ships landed in China in the 1520s. The Chinese they fi rst contacted found them even more uncivilized than the Japanese, so it took them decades to get permission to trade. What changed the minds of Chinese offi cials was not an improvement in Portuguese manners, but the fact that in the 1540s the Portuguese landed by accident in Japan. They were given permission to trade by Japanese regional lords ( daimyo ), and European goods such as glassware, tobacco, clocks, and especially fi rearms were welcomed in Japan. The increasingly powerful daimyo Oda Nobunaga ( 1534–82), engaged in a military campaign to unify Japan, bought and then copied European artillery and handheld weapons, and also collected western European art and artifacts. The Portuguese sent large well-armed ships to handle this new trade with Japan, and Chinese offi cials recognized these ships could also provide safe transport for Japanese silver to China. They relaxed their restrictions on Portuguese traders, who grew wealthy on shipping products all over East and Southeast Asia, as well as to Europe and Africa. By the late sixteenth century, along with Japanese silver, Portuguese ships also brought American silver and new American crops such as sweet potatoes and maize, which came across the Pacifi c to the Philippines in Spanish ships. Along with merchants, members of various religious orders, especially the Jesuits, were welcome at the courts of some of the daimyos in Japan and the court of the Chinese emperor. In China, they discussed religious issues, astronomy, and other subjects with Confucian scholars. Other missionaries gained converts among more ordinary people. The emperors generally tolerated Christianity because it did not require people to give up their allegiance to the emperor, and Christianity joined Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and Islam as religions or philosophies practiced in China. Both missionaries and merchants operated within limits set by the government, however, and did not go far from major cities. Missionaries were also sent to other areas with Portuguese trading posts. The conversion of local people was a slow process in the early sixteenth century, and the Portuguese clergy were often quite lax, living with local women just as soldiers and merchants did. With the arrival of clergy inspired by the Catholic Reformation in the 1540s, more rigorous standards were demanded of the clergy, and rules governing converts became stricter. Bishoprics were established in many colonies, and even an archbishopric and a separate Inquisition in Goa, which held the fi rst auto da fé in Asia in 1563. Anyone who had converted and been baptized fell under its jurisdiction, which included former Hindus and animists as well as Portuguese “New Christians” whose ancestors had converted from Judaism or Islam decades earlier; autos da fé took place regularly until the late eighteenth century.

 

 

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