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“Melaka” in Chinese Texts: Archivalisation and Macro Patterns Related to Records of Melaka in the Ming and Qing Periods (Fifteenth to Eighteenth Centuries)

In: Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient
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  • 1 Department of History, College of Arts & Letters, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ, USA
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Abstract

The reversion of the Chinese state, under the early Ming emperors, from private maritime shipping and trade to state-sponsored diplomatic and economic missions into Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean littoral under the Admiral Zheng He, has led to the Chinese textual documentation contains substantial information on the Sultanate of Melaka in the fifteenth century. However, this body of information, and the historical narrative of the Sultanate, has been based primarily on the extant records of the imperial Ming voyages, and the official bureaucratic records, such as the Ming shilu and Mingshi. Other texts post-dating the fifteenth century, including such encyclopedias as the Dongxi yangkao, draw their information on Melaka from these texts. The digitization of the Siku quanshu (Compendium of the Four Treasuries) commissioned in the late eighteenth century, has opened up the opportunity to discover hitherto unknown historical information, and the develop new paradigms and methodologies for the research of the history of Melaka. Importantly, the various entries of information on Melaka, found in the compendium that date after the fall of the Melaka Sultanate in 1511, provide insight into the lenses and experiences through which archivalisation, and the process in which Chinese officialdom collected information on the port-city, occurred through the course of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. This paper utilizes digital database search processes to elucidate new aspects of the history of Melaka’s trade and economic interactions with East Asia, and how Southeast Asia ports continued to feature in the memory landscape of the Chinese officialdom, long after the ceased to exist in the form of their original polities.

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