Compte rendu : The Asian Mediterranean

Schottenhammer, Angela. « François Gipouloux, The Asian Mediterranean: Port Cities and Trading Networks in China, Japan and Southeast Asia, 13th-21st Century, ». China Perspectives [en ligne], 2014, 2, p. 78-79 . Consulté le 16 juin 2014. URL :

In 2009, François Gipouloux published his La Méditerranée asiatique. Villes portuaires et réseaux marchands en Chine, au Japon et en Asie du Sud-Est, xviexxie siècle (Paris, CNRS Éditions), providing scholars for the first time with a general Braudelian synthesis that compared the European and the Asian “Mediterraneans.” He distinguished three different Mediterranean spaces: the European Méditerranées of the repubbliche marinare, the Hanseatic League in the Baltic Seas, and the Asian Mediterranean comprising the Sea of Japan, the Yellow Sea, the South China Sea, the Sulu Sea, and the Sea of the Célèbes. The present volume is basically an English translation of the French version published in 2009. I say basically because the book constitutes a slightly updated and revised version of the French original. I previously criticised Gipouloux’s analysis of historical periods, saying that it “frequently remains general and seems to have drawn basically on older publications. In this context, it is astonishing that there is almost no mention of the more recent publications concerning aspects of an Asian Mediterranean (including those of my former research team at Munich University), as well as more specific topics of historical phases that are discussed, even though they were published before 2008. Consequently, the historical part of this book does not really represent the actual state of scholarship and knowledge.”1 In his English edition, Gipouloux has reviewed recent literature and has at least updated the bibliography as well as some references. The 12 maps that were originally published as a coloured set in the middle of the book are definitely better in the French version, having been replaced with simple black-and-white maps in the English edition.

The volume is divided into five main parts with a total of 20 chapters. Part 1 (The Models of Expansion without Borders: The European Mediterraneans) introduces the general geographical, political, and economic framework and then discusses the two European “models of expansion without borders,” the European Mediterranean republics (repubbliche marinare), and the Hanseatic League. With Part 2 (Early Outlines of an Asian Mediterranean: The Predominance of Tributary Trade), Gipouloux moves to the “Asian Mediterranean,” emphasising government monopolies – in contrast to the free private trade of the European Mediterraneans – and discusses the role of tributary trade and smuggling. A special section is dedicated to Japan and its reluctance to simply follow the Ming Chinese “tribute order.” Japan initiated her own system and “selectively closed” herself off from the outer world – it is refreshing to read that Gipouloux is aware of the fact that this closure was not a complete and total one. The last section of this part summarises the characteristics of the Asian “maritime system,” which, according to Gipouloux, appears as an interwoven, complex network of Chinese, Japanese, and also Western activities based on a limited number of large emporia. I would like to highlight here that he correctly views Ming China’s maritime trade proscription as the reason for the rise of piracy and disorder and not vice versa, as is often claimed (“The policy of banning maritime trade, the purpose of which was to prevent exchange, had unexpected consequences: the blockade of all commercial activity along the coast of China let to a state of disorder caused by pirates,” p. 108).

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Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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Monique Abud (1 juillet 2014). Compte rendu : The Asian Mediterranean. Carnets du Centre Chine (CNRS/EHESS). Consulté le 13 juillet 2024 à l’adresse

Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

1 réponse

  1. 2 juillet 2014

    […] Read Angela Schottenhammer’s report over The Asian Mediterranean: Port Cities and Trading Networks in China, Japan and Southeast Asia, 13th-21st Century, initially published on China Perspectives via the Carnets du Centre de Chine’s page.  […]

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