From Asian Goods to Asian Commodities in the Spanish Empire

in The Atlantic World and the Manila Galleons

Both the shipment of gifts and the commission of orders were common practice in the early modern era. In a society such as that of the Old Regime, where membership in guilds and social strata (and where the culture of honour and rank) were so important, it was common for gifts and specially requested products to be transferred to another member of the same family or socio-professional status. This chapter addresses the extent to which Asian products – including Chinese silk and porcelain as well as Japanese furniture, folding screens, and jewels – were involved in the transmission of products shipped under order and gift transfer in the Spanish Empire in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. A related concern is identifying which social groups took part in the transmission of Asian goods as gifts across the Empire from the Philippines to the viceroyalty of New Spain and then to Castile. This investigation informs us about the uses and meanings that Asian goods had at a time when the market for them was hardly developed in the Atlantic World and when goods in the form of gifts and merchandise were part of the same shipment; it also sheds light on how the demand for Asian goods increased during a time of limited expansion in the commercialisation of Asian goods in some parts of the West.