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9-08-2015, 16:50

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.

SOURCE 18 Matteo Ricci on differences between the Europeans and the Chinese

Matteo Ricci (1552–1610) was a highly educated Jesuit who joined the mission in China in 1583. He had studied astronomy and mathematics, and could build his own scientifi c equipment. He learned Chinese, translated and composed scientifi c, historical, and religious works, and in 1601 was given permission to join the emperor’s court in Beijing, where he remained for the rest of his life. Ricci kept journals during his entire stay in China, which were edited and published by a fellow Jesuit after his death. Here he talks about differences between Chinese and European political systems; he is particularly impressed with the respect accorded scholars in China. The Chinese place absolutely no trust in any foreign country, and thus they allow no one at all to enter and reside here unless they undertake never again to return home, as is the case with us. Their conception of the greatness of their country and of the insignifi - cance of all other lands made them so proud that the whole world seemed to them savage and barbarous compared with themselves; it was scarcely to be expected that they, while entertaining this idea, would heed foreign masters … Only such as have earned a doctor’s degree or that of licentiate are admitted to take part in the government of the kingdom, and due to the interest of the magistrates and of the King himself, there is no lack of such candidates. Every public office is therefore fortified with and dependent upon the attested science, prudence, and diplomacy of the person assigned to it, whether he be taking office for the first time or is already experienced in the conduct of civil life … Civil and military accounts and the expenses of all government departments are paid out of the national treasury, and the size of the national budget is far in excess of what Europeans might imagine. Public buildings, the palaces of the King and of his relations, the upkeep of city prisons and fortresses, and the renewal of all kinds of war supplies must be met by the national treasury, and in a kingdom of such vast dimensions the program of building and restoration is continuous … Before closing the chapter on Chinese public administration, it would seem to be quite worthwhile recording a few more things in which this people differ from Europeans. To begin with, it seems to be quite remarkable when we stop to consider it, that in a kingdom of almost limitless expanse and innumerable population and abounding in copious supplies of every description, though they have a well-equipped army and navy that could easily conquer the neighboring nations, neither the King nor his people ever think of waging a war of aggression. They are quite content with what they have and are not ambitious of conquest. In this respect they are much different from the people of Europe, who are frequently discontent with their own governments and covetous of what others enjoy. While the nations of the West seem to be entirely consumed with the idea of supreme domination, they cannot even preserve what their ancestors have bequeathed them, as the Chinese have done through a period of some thousands of years … Another remarkable fact and quite worthy of note as marking a difference from the West, is that the entire kingdom is administered by the Order of the Learned, commonly known as the Philosophers. The responsibility for orderly management of the entire realm is wholly and completely committed to their charge and care. The army, both offi cers and soldiers, hold them in high respect and show them the promptest obedience and deference, and not infrequently the military are disciplined by them as a schoolboy might be punished by his master. Policies of war are formulated and military questions are decided by the Philosophers only, and their advice and counsel has more weight with the king than that of the military leaders. In fact very few of these, and only on rare occasions, are admitted to war consultations. Hence it follows that those who aspire to be cultured frown upon war and would prefer the lowest rank in the philosophical order to the highest in the military, realizing that the Philosophers far excel military leaders in the good will and respect of the people and in opportunities of acquiring wealth. (From China in the Sixteenth Century: The Journals of Matteo Ricci, trans. Louis J. Gallagher, SJ [New York: Random House, 1942]. Reprinted with permission.) Goa was just north of the province of Malabar, where there had been well-organized Christian churches since missionaries had come here from Syria in the fi fth century, or even earlier; the Christians here regarded the New Testament apostle Thomas as the true founder of their church, and so are often called the St. Thomas Christians. Throughout their history, the St. Thomas Christians had loose affi liations with eastern patriarchs, but they had no bishops. Each congregation was largely independent, led by married hereditary archdeacons rather than celibate priests. They were, of course, not under the authority of the pope, a situation that disturbed Portuguese offi cials. In 1599 the archbishop of Goa persuaded some church leaders to swear allegiance to Rome, agree to the principle of a celibate clergy, and recognize the decrees of the Council of Trent. This was not acceptable to every congregation, however, and gradually two separate Christian communities developed in southwest India, one allied with the papacy and one not. In the early years of Portuguese colonial ventures, there was an expectation that an indigenous clergy would develop, and a seminary was opened in Portuguese Goa, soon taken over by the Jesuits. Most seminarians were of high-caste groups or had European fathers, so this situation provides a good example of Antonio Gramsci’s notion of hegemony: local elites participated in enforcing European authority. Non-Europeans were never accepted as full members of religious orders in any Portuguese colony, however; no amount of training could alter their subaltern ethnic status. The Portuguese “empire” in Asia, then, altered trading patterns somewhat, but had little signifi cant impact on powerful states such as China and Japan, except for the relatively small number of converts to Christianity. European ventures in Asia did not alter people’s daily lives signifi cantly, and most Asian people were probably not aware that Europeans had now been added to the international mixture of merchants and traders that had been active in coastal cities for more than a thousand years. If European traders stayed long enough, in fact, they often married local women, raised mixed-race children that spoke the local language, and sometimes converted to Islam, so that they blended even more easily into the multi-ethnic urban populations. In Europe, Portuguese voyages provided wealth to merchants and a few mariners, and some taxes and fees to the rulers of Portugal, especially from the silver trade with China. This infl ux of money was not enough to allow Portugal to withstand a Spanish invasion and conquest in 1580, however, though the conquest did make the fl ow of silver and other goods in and out of Asia in European ships even smoother.

 

 

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