The in the Beijing qingming scroll may well have been bringing wares from beyond China’s borders.
Trade between the Song dynasty and its northern neighbors was stimulated by the payments Song made to them. The Song set up supervised markets along the border to encourage this trade. Chinese in large quantities included tea, silk, copper coins (widely used as a currency outside of China), paper and printed books, porcelain, lacquerware, jewelry, rice and other grains, ginger and other spices. some of the silver that had originated with the Song and the horses that Song desperately needed for its armies, but also other animals such as camel and sheep, as well as goods that had traveled across the Silk Road, including fine Indian and Persian cotton cloth, precious gems, incense, and perfumes.
of the Silk Road: Silk Road Trade Routes [University
of Washington, Simpson Center for the Humanities]
Select the map at the top of the page to see the flow of goods
along the silk road trade routes.
“The new importance of the south [of China]
also encouraged China to face south toward the Southern Ocean
(the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean, and parts between)
for the first time, and Chinese maritime capabilities developed
steadily from the twelfth century to the fifteenth.”
— Lynda Noreen Shaffer
In “A Concrete Panoply of Intercultural
Exchange: Asia in World History,” in Asia in Western
and World History, edited by Ainslie T. Embree and Carol
Gluck (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1997), 840.
There was also vigorouswith
Korea, Japan, and lands to the south and southwest. From great coastal
cities such as boats carrying
Chinese goods plied the oceans from Japan to east Africa. (The major
port of Quanzhou that dominated trade in the Song dynasty is not to be
confused with . Guangzhou,
located further south on the Chinese coast, did not become an important
port until the Qing dynasty, when it was known to European traders as “Canton.” Note
the location of both cities on the map in the CITIES section.)
During Song times maritime trade for the first time exceeded overland
foreign trade. The Song government sent missions to Southeast Asian countries
to encourage their traders to come to China. Chinese ships were seen
all throughout the Indian Ocean and began to displace Indian and Arab
merchants in the South Seas. Shards of Song Chinese porcelain have been found as far away as eastern Africa.
• Watery Kingdom: China's Mariners from Antiquity to the Ming Dynasty [Vancouver Maritime Museum]
With text detailing advances in shipbuilding during the Song Dynasty and the significant 1974 excavation of a Song-dynasty ship near Quanzhou.
Underseas Archaeology [NOVA, PBS] The
importance of underseas archaeology to our understanding
of seaborne commerce and shipbuilding during the Song,
Yuan, and Ming dynasties. Includes information about the
1974 Quanzhou ship excavation.
Chinese ships were larger than the ships of most of their competitors, such as the Indians or Arabs, and in many ways were technologically quite advanced. In 1225 the superintendent of customs at Quanzhou, named , wrote an account of the countries with which Chinese merchants traded and the goods they offered for sale. Zhao's book, Zhufan Zhi (commonly translated as "Description of the Barbarians"), includes sketches of major trading cities from Srivijaya (modern Indonesia) to Malabar, Cairo, and Baghdad. Pearls were said to come from the Persian Gulf, ivory from Aden, myrrh from Somalia, pepper from Java and Sumatra, cotton from the various kingdoms of India, and so on.
Much money could be made from the sea trade, but there were also great risks, so investors usually divided their investment among many ships, and each ship had many investors behind it. In
1973 a Song-era ship was excavated off the south China coast. It had
been shipwrecked in 1277. Seventy-eight feet long and 29 feet wide, the
ship had twelve bulkheads and still held the evidence of some of the
luxury objects that these Song merchants were importing: more than 5,000
pounds of fragrant wood from Southeast Asia, pepper, betel nut, cowries,
tortoiseshell, cinnabar, and ambergris from Somalia.
• In the Footsteps of Marco Polo [The Metropolitan Museum of Art]
Follows the 24,000-mile journey of Marco Polo (1254-1324) from Italy through the Middle East and Central Asia to China and the court of Khubilai Khan.
Marco Polo a few decades later wrote glowingly of the Chinese
pepper trade, saying that for each load of pepper sent to Christendom,
a hundred were sent to China. On his own travels home via the sea route,
he reported seeing many merchants from southern China plying a thriving
Now when you quit Fuju and cross the River, you travel for five days south-east through a fine country, meeting with a constant succession of flourishing cities, towns, and villages, rich in every product. ... When you have accomplished those five days' journey you arrive at the very great and noble city of ZAYTON [or Zaitun, now Quanzhou], which is also subject to Fuju.
At this city you must know is the Haven of Zayton, frequented by all the ships of India, which bring thither spicery and all other kinds of costly wares. It is the port also that is frequented by all the merchants of Manzi [southern China], for hither is imported the most astonishing quantity of goods and of precious stones and pearls, and from this they are distributed all over Manzi. And I assure you that for one shipload of pepper that goes to Alexandria or elsewhere, destined for Christendom, there come a hundred such, aye and more too, to this haven of Zayton; for it is one of the two greatest havens in the world for commerce.
When you sail from Chamba [Champa, Vietnam], 1500 miles in a course between south and south-east, you come to a great Island called Java. And the experienced mariners of those Islands who know the matter well, say that it is the greatest Island in the world, and has a compass of more than 3000 miles. ... The Island is of surpassing wealth, producing black pepper, nutmegs, spikenard, galingale, cubebs, cloves, and all other kinds of spices.
This Island is also frequented by a vast amount of shipping,
and by merchants who buy and sell costly goods from which they reap
great profit. Indeed the treasure of this Island is so great as to
be past telling. ... The merchants of Zayton and Manzi draw annually
great returns from this country. (1)
(1) Marco Polo and Rustichello of Pisa, “Book
Second, Part III, Chapter LXXXII: Of the City and Great Haven of Zayton” and “Book
Third, Part I, Chapter VI: Concerning the Great Island of Java,” in The
Book of Ser Marco Polo: The Venetian Concerning Kingdoms and Marvels
of the East,
translated and edited by Colonel Sir Henry Yule, Volume 2 (London: John
Murray, 1903). This book is in the public domain and can be read online
Gutenberg. The excerpted text is from pages 220-221 and 252
of this online text.
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