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Author: Derek Heng

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.

In: Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient
Author: Derek Heng

Abstract

Premodern Southeast Asian history has primarily been predicated upon the exploitation of Chinese written documents. Reliance has been placed on several texts that detail Southeast Asian polities, products, and their respective societies. As indigenously generated sources of data have become available, primarily through archaeology, the trend has been to seek convergence between these two bodies of information. The availability of searchable digital databases has rendered Chinese documents to be open to the discoveries of new information previously unknown to historians of premodern Southeast Asia. This unutilized information has the potential of throwing new light on previously held conclusions. This article seeks to make an argument for the exploitation and potential of digitized Chinese textual databases, through keyword search methodologies, in expanding our understanding of Southeast Asia’s past, as well as the potential challenges that need to be addressed so that this new source base can be made sufficiently utilizable for Southeast Asian studies.

Open Access