China on the Sea

How the Maritime World Shaped Modern China


Generations of Chinese scholars have made China synonymous with the Great Wall and presented its civilization as fundamentally land-bound. This volume challenges this perspective, demonstrating that China was not a “Walled Kingdom”, certainly not since the Yongjia Disturbance in 311. China reached out to the maritime world far more actively than historians have acknowledged, while the seas and what came from the seas—from Islam, fragrances and Jesuits to maize, opium and clocks—significantly changed the course of history, and have been of inestimable importance to China since the Ming. This book integrates the maritime history of China, especially the Qing period, a subject which has hitherto languished on the periphery of scholarly analysis, into the mainstream of current historical narrative. It was the seas that made Tang China a “Cosmopolitan Empire” (Mark Lewis), the Song dynasty China’s “Greatest Age” (John Fairbank), China at 1600 “the largest and most sophisticated of all unified realms on earth” (Jonathan Spence), and the reign of the three Qing emperors (Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong) China’s “last golden age” (Charles Hucker).

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Zheng Yangwen is Senior Lecturer at the University of Manchester. She is the author of The Social Life of Opium in China, which has been translated into Italian and Korean. She is also the editor of Negotiating Asymmetry: China’s Place in Asia (with Anthony Reid); The Body in Asia (with Bryan S. Turner); Personal Names in Asia: History, Culture and Identity (with Charles J-H Macdonald); The Cold War in Asia: the Battle for Hearts and Minds (with Hong Liu and Michael Szonyi); and The Chinese Chameleon Revisited: from the Jesuits to Zhang Yimou.
"A useful guide for others wanting to explore an understudied subject, the book offers much fascinating information buttressed with an excellent bibliography, including many works in Chinese. Zheng interposes many questions...nicely illustrating the extensive but ill-defined reach of maritime history."
J.C. Perry, Tufts University, Choice (July 2012)

"The author is to be lauded for having flagged both the importance of maritime trade to Qing China and the consequent boom in consumerism. It will be of interest mainly for historians of global economic and consumer history and of relations between China and Europe."
Joanna Waley-Cohen, New York University, The Journal of Asian Studies Vol. 71, No. 4 (November 2012)

"[...] includes considerable new material on the growth of Chinese taste for European goods in the early modern era, [...] Zheng’s informative treatment of how European goods transformed early modern Chinese patterns of consumption also reminds us that Chinese emperors possessed great curiosity about European products and valued their cultural activities, including music and oil painting."
R. Bin Wong, Journal of Global History Vol. 11.1 (March 2016)

"[This book] bridges many gaps in knowledge about the transition from imperial China under the Qing to modern China, portraying these changes in more gradual and comprehensible terms than usual. Second, it intersects unexpectedly with people and phenomena familiar from other contexts. [...] The book makes an important contribution to deepening knowledge of the late Ming and Qing periods."
Sally K. Church, Landscape History Vol 37.1 (May 2016)

"Zheng’s research transcends conventional disciplinary boundaries maintaining an idée fixe on the background: the relationship between the Sea and China’s modernisation. [...] Zheng offers fresh details about China’s maritime activities"
Elisabetta Colla, Lisbon University, Monumenta Serica: Journal of Oriental Studies Volume 65, 2 (2017)
Chapter One–Facing the Seas
Chapter Two–“Inconsistency of the Seas”
Chapter Three–Feeding China
Chapter Four–“Cette Merveilleuse Machine”
Chapter Five–“Les Palais Européens”
Chapter Six–“Wind of the West” [西洋风]
Chapter Seven–Pattern and Variation: Indigenisation
Chapter Eight–“Race for Oriental Opulence”
All those interested in maritime China, European expansion in Asia, the Jesuits mission to Ming-Qing China , Chinese Diaspora to and China’s relationship with Southeast Asia.
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