This essay analyzes one of the main elements of the economic relationship between China and colonial Latin America: the Chinese Silk Road. The road demonstrated a bipolarity of early globalization, and its impact across the Pacific enhanced the material culture of Hispanic American society from Mexico to Buenos Aires. The route of circulation was largely informal, due to prohibitions imposed by metropolitan Spain designed to guarantee the growth of European economic connections across the Atlantic Ocean. Quality variations and affordable prices made Chinese silks among the most valuable articles in Latin American markets before the nineteenth century, when British-Indian cotton emerged as the main textile of the global era.
This chapter presents the transcendent economic function that Potosí silver acquired in the circuits and markets of early globalization. First, it analyzes the levels of production and external circulation of Potosí silver between 1580 and 1630 comparing with the general production of Peru, México and the whole of Latin America. During those decades, it is shown that potosine silver constituted practically all the silver produced in Peru so the mentions of legal exports or losses of “silver from Peru” refer in particular to potosine metal. As for its export circuits, three flanks are recognized: 1) its illegal exportation through the Pacific to New Spain and China, 2) the Portobelo connection with Seville, 3) the route from Buenos Aires to the Iberian Peninsula and Africa. In a folowing section, it is analyzed the case of the peruleros who were the responsible agents in the mobilization of that metal capital towards the mercantile plazas of the globe, especially China. Potosí, as the main producer and distributor of silver and as one of the main cities of consumption for international goods in Latin America, was a crucial piece of early economic globalization.