January 2014-2020

Seafaring, Trade and Knowledge Transfer

Maritime Politics and Commerce in Early Middle Period to Early Modern China

Shinkoku hyōryū zu 清国漂流図 (Map of drifting to Qing China; printed 1814), 3 juan 巻 (上,中,下), by Moriyama Teijirō 森山貞次郎 and Nishi Kiyoyoshi 西清美. Courtesy of the Waseda University Library.
This scroll describes and illustrates the adventures of the crew (28 Japanese and 1 Ryūkyūan) on a Satsuma 薩摩 ship, the “Chokyū maru” 長久丸, that sailed from Naha (Ryūkyū) back to Satsuma and got into distress in a taiphoon a few days after departure in summer 1810. Two people died in the storm and the remaining crew drifted to the coast of Jiangnan in China, where they were finally rescued by Chinese fishermen and handed over to the local authorities. After some bureaucratic procedures they were eventually sent back to their home countries.


Seafaring, Trade, and Knowledge Transfer

Maritime Politics and Commerce in Early Middle Period to Early Modern China

This project has been sponsored by the Gerda Henkel Stiftung.

Gerda Henkel Stiftung

In this project, we investigate the qualitative characteristics and changes of China’s maritime commerce and politics over time (c. 9th to 18th centuries) and space (South and Northeast China and its supra-regional, “global” integration), in order to obtain a much more detailed picture of China’s maritime politics and commerce. We apply a comparative chronological and spatial as well as an integrative perspective (China’s integration into foreign networks and interaction of Chinese and foreign agents) analyzing the practice of local trade and knowledge (science) transfer, the specific interrelation between seafaring and socio-economic and political-military purposes of Chinese governments and their integration into supra-regional foreign networks during periods of significant changes (transitions). Significant transitions occurred

  • (1) at a time period when maritime commerce experienced a significant upswing in the course of the late Tang to mid-Song,
  • (2) during the Southern Song and Yuan when China rose as real maritime power,
  • (3) during the shift from the Yuan period promotion of maritime trade to the early Ming maritime trade proscription, and
  • (4) eventually during a period when once again a foreign people (Manchus) ruled China, who allegedly concentrated only on continental borders and border security with little to no interest in maritime commerce and defense.

As a final step, we will comparatively scan and review the particular characteristics of the four major transition periods, subjecting them to the same criteria of analysis, to produce a broader, more integrative, and more thorough narrative of the Longue-durée dynamics of China’s historical maritime politics and commerce.

The comparative analysis of recently discovered archaeological (such as shipwrecks with their cargoes, grave objects, tombs, and tomb inscriptions) and textual sources from China and her “partner countries” will constitute a milestone of our research. Archaeological sources are relatively well documented and especially from the tenth century onwards we meanwhile possess important sites and recently discovered wrecks to be investigated. The sources to be investigated shall lead us to a better understanding of economic and political-military developments in China’s coastal regions, of influences and impacts on China from abroad, as well as the organization of commercial and human networks in the early middle period to early modern China.


Our list of publications concerning Seafaring, Trade and Knowledge Transfer is regularly updated.

International Conference

In 2017, the Crossroads Research Centre convened the international conference Seafaring, Trade and Knowledge Transfer. Maritime Politics and Commerce in Early Middle Period to Early Modern China at Het Pand, Ghent University, in Ghent.

Further Information

For more information, visit the project website on schottenhammer.net.

ZDF Dokumentation

Including an interwiev with Roderich Ptak and Angela Schottenhammer (in German) on the Zheng He expeditions

CMS Seminar Series

Muslims in Tang, Song and Yuan China, by Angela Schottenhammer

L’Asie maritime: les périls de la mer

On the Radio

Wim De Winter on Radio 1 about the Pirate Flag (07:42 min, Flemish).

Podcast archive

Xu Zhexin about his dissertation thesis – hosted by Alexander Jost.