The presence of Africans in Asia and their migration around it is one of the least-studied subjects in all of Asian history. The same is true for studies of the African diaspora, but that does not mean that African migration lacks significance in either field. Existing scholarship reveals that Africans traveled to and settled in various regions in Asia, from the Arabian Peninsula to Nagasaki. While there were free African migrants in Asia, a larger number of them arrived as slaves, transported there by both local and European traders. Conditions for the forced immigrants varied and not all of them remained permanently un-free, with some even eventually coming to obtain political power. To understand their dispersal and presence in Asia does more than simply broaden our current understanding of the African diaspora; it also enables us to understand that the African diaspora is a global phenomenon. That improved understanding can in turn break down the geographical boundary of Asian history and connect it not only to African history but to European history too. To do that, the topic requires scholars to challenge the methodological limits of current historical studies.
African Diaspora in Asia
Japanese Empire and Pan-Asianism
The Japanese colonial empire was composed of territories adjacent to the Japanese archipelago, ranging from Southern Sakhalin in the north to Taiwan in the south. Unlike most European powers, Japan did not acquire colonial territories that were far away from the metropolis; rather, it did so within the region in which it was located—East Asia. The geographical proximity between the metropolis and its colonial territories influenced not only the structure of the colonial administration, racial hierarchies in the empire, and colonial and metropolitan identities but also the rhetorical strategies that were used to legitimize colonial rule. Although the government generally envisioned a European-style empire, the creation of which would earn Japan the respect of the Great Powers and eventually lead to the recognition of Japanese equality, a significant number of politicians, writers, and activists argued that it was Japan’s mission to unite the Asian people and protect or liberate them from Western colonial rule. These discourses have been summarized under the term “Pan-Asianism,” a movement and an ideology that emerged in the late 19th century and became mainstream by the time World War I began. However, although some advocates of Pan-Asianism were motivated by sincere feelings of solidarity, the expansion of Japanese colonial rule and the escalation of war in China and throughout Asia in the 1930s brought to the fore an increasing number of contradictions and ambiguities. By the time World War II started, Pan-Asianism had become a cloak of Japanese expansionism and an instrument to legitimize the empire, a process that culminated in the Greater East Asia Conference of 1943. The contradictions between Japan’s brutal wars in Asia and the ideology of Asian solidarity continue to haunt that country’s relations with its neighbors, by way of ambiguous historical memories of the empire and war in contemporary Japanese politics and society.
Trade in the East and South China Seas, 600 CE to 1800 CE
Tamara H. Bentley
In the period from 600 ce to 1800 ce, the countries bordering the East and South China Seas were in frequent maritime communication, sharing in the process cultural practices and commodities. This article focuses on Chinese trade, with some attention to Japanese, Korean, Ryūkyūan, and Southeast Asian trade as well. In the early 7th century, Chinese Emperor Sui Yangdi expanded Chinese diplomatic connections in a variety of ways and overtook central Vietnam. During the ensuing Tang dynasty, south and west Asian maritime traders dominated the importing of aromatics, rare goods, and foodstuffs into China and the westward export of Chinese goods such as ceramics and silks. South Chinese ports such as Guangzhou were thriving international emporia. In the Five Dynasties, Song, and Yuan periods, Chinese shipping increased, and trade between China and Japan, as well as between China and Koryŏ, Korea, flourished. At the start of the Ming dynasty, a maritime trade ban was enacted, which led to an increase in tribute trade to China (which was not banned), as well as a high degree of contraband shipping. In 1567 the Chinese ban was lifted, and a period of vibrant China Seas trade ensued, which included Japanese red seal ships to Southeast Asia and Korea, and an increasing number of European merchants. In the mid-17th century, the Zheng family played a major role in intra-Asian trade, negotiating for advantage with both Japan and Spain, and largely competing with the Dutch VOC. With the consolidation of Qing dynasty power, China reopened her ports in 1684 and eventually established a central location for European trade in Canton, while allowing for Asian trade from other ports.
The Peopling of Madagascar
Since the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century the observed ethnic complexity of the Malagasy, the Madagascan people, has been a subject of conjecture in several respects. When did people first reach Madagascar? Where did the different elements of the population originate? What was the sequence of their arrival? What was the nature of their maritime migrations? Early answers to these questions relied on the historical traditions of some Malagasy populations, especially of the Merina and highland groups, and on an extensive archive of historical and ethnographic observations. Recent approaches, through historical linguistics, palaeoecology, genomic history, and archaeology, especially in the last thirty years have provided new perspectives on the enduring issues of Madagascan population history. The age of initial colonization is still debated vigorously, but the bulk of current archaeological data, together with linguistic and genomic histories, suggest that people first arrived around the middle of the first millennium ce or later. Evidence of linguistic origins and human genetics supports the prevailing view that the first people came from Southeast Asia, the majority of them specifically from Borneo. Later Bantu migration from Africa was followed by admixture of those populations and other smaller groups from South Asia, in Madagascar. Admixture in East Africa before migration to Madagascar is no longer favored, although it cannot be ruled out entirely. Voyaging capability is a key topic that is, however, difficult to pin down. There is no necessity in the current data to envisage transoceanic voyages, and no evidence of Southeast Asian vessels in East Africa or Madagascar in the first millennium ce, although it is impossible to rule that out. The safest assumption at present is that contact between Southeast Asia and Madagascar during the period of colonization occurred through the established network of coastal and monsoon passages and shipping around the northern perimeter of the Indian Ocean.
Ships and Shipwrecks in the Pre-Modern Indian Ocean
The Indian Ocean and its adjoining seas, from the Middle East and East Africa to Southeast Asia, have been witness to the nautical ventures of most, if not all, major sea powers of world history. Progress in nautical archaeology in the past few decades has brought about a much better understanding of shipbuilding traditions of the Indian Ocean, until then limited to textual and ethnographic sources. Only a few shipwreck sites and terrestrial sites with ship remains have been studied so far along the shores of the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, or the Indian Ocean proper. Many more were found in recent excavations in the Southeast Asian seas, which were built along Southeast Asian or Indian Ocean shipbuilding traditions. Two main technical traditions can now be clearly identified for pre-modern times: the Arabo-Indian sewn-plank ships of the western Indian Ocean, which survived into our times, and the Southeast Asian vessels that evolved from a distinctive sewn-plank technology to fully doweled assemblages, as could still be observed in Indonesian vessels of the late 20th century. The still limited number of shipwrecks brought to light in the Indian Ocean as well as the considerable imbalance in archaeological research between the Indian Ocean proper and the Southeast Asian seas have hindered the advancement of the discipline. Considerable difficulties and interpretation problems have moreover been generated by biased commercial excavations and subsequent incomplete excavation records, not to speak of the ethical problems raised in the process. Such deficiencies still prevent solid conclusions being drawn on the development of regional shipbuilding traditions, and on the historical role of the ships and people who sailed along the essential Indian Ocean maritime networks.
The Dutch East India Company in South Asia
Guido van Meersbergen
The Dutch East India Company (VOC, 1602–1799) developed into Europe’s largest commercial and colonial power in 17th-century Asia. Within its extensive intra-Asian trading network centered on Batavia (Jakarta), the Indian subcontinent and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) occupied a pivotal position. The VOC’s desire to tap into the exchange of Indian cloth for fine spices from the Maluku Islands first drove the Dutch to the Coromandel Coast, while Surat’s position as the preeminent maritime hub of the western Indian Ocean and Bengal’s status as a major exporter of silk and cottons attracted the Company to the Mughal Empire. Between 1638 and 1663, the VOC also displaced the Portuguese from their colonial holdings in Ceylon and the Malabar Coast, the world’s only source of high-quality cinnamon and an important producer of pepper, respectively. In Mughal India, the Dutch presence was limited to trading posts from which it conducted trade on conditions set by the imperial authorities, whereas along the Coromandel and Malabar Coasts the VOC possessed fortresses, and in Ceylon it acted as a territorial power exercising colonial rule over several hundred thousand Sinhalese and Tamil inhabitants. In all parts of South Asia, the Company’s position relied on and was maintained through diplomatic relations with local rulers. The various commercial, diplomatic, and colonial interactions gave rise to important forms of cultural exchange and knowledge production in the realms of art, religion, language, and botanical science, which testify to significant cross-cultural connections and mutual influences. The VOC maintained a dynamic trade in South Asia until the final quarter of the 18th century, when its Indian possessions were captured by the British first during the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War (1780–1784) and again in 1795 to 1796 during the French Revolutionary Wars.
Chinese Charting of Maritime Asia
Navigation played a major role in the integration of East Asian polities and economies prior to and during the arrival of European traders in the 16th and 17th centuries. That arrival stimulated an increase in the volume of intra-regional trade in East Asia as Chinese merchants organized exports on a large scale to meet European demand, yet the history of the production of nautical charts in China has been little studied, due in no small part to the poor survival of sea charts and other documentation. The most important new addition to maritime charting in the past decade is the rediscovery of the Selden Map in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. This map of navigation routes throughout East Asia is unprecedented, and may be seen as marking the beginning of the transformation of Chinese cartography under the influence of European mapping techniques.
Chinese Merchants in Japan and Korea
In the mid-19th century, Chinese merchants moved to the treaty ports of Japan and Korea to expand the domestic commercial network abroad. They made significant profits by importing and distributing British cotton clothes via Shanghai to Japan and Korea. While Chinese merchants in Japan remained purely economic immigrant groups, those in Korea took an active political role since their advance to Korea on business was part of an effort by the Qing dynasty to strengthen its influence in Korea. Before the Mukden Incident in 1931, Chinese merchants in Kobe, Japan, engaged in trade with China and Southeast Asia and continued to be a powerful commercial group in Asian trade. However, Chinese merchants in Korea suffered from business crisis earlier on. They were hit hard by the sharp decline in import trade from China, which was their primary business, due to Japan’s protective tariff policy introduced in 1924. Until 1930s, both Chinese merchants in Japan and Korea were forced to gradually revise their business strategies to sell Japanese products in Greater China and Korea. The outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937 turned out to be a decisive blow to the already struggling businesses of the Chinese merchants in Japan and Korea.
Transnational Film in East Asia
To most Western scholars, “East Asian cinema” calls to mind either a small number of globally recognized art house auteurs or specific genres that have found cult audiences in the West. However, this overlooks the enormously complex history of the popular film industries in the region. The tendency to group together films from the region as East Asian cinema can elide some important differences in the film industries and cultures in individual parts of the region, but, at the same time, the “national cinema” framework fails to appreciate the interconnectedness of these cinemas both to each other and beyond the region. The earliest film screenings in China, Japan, and Korea were in the last decade of the 19th century, within a few years of the Lumière Brothers’ first demonstration of their new invention in Paris in 1895. Japan and China both developed robust popular film industries by the mid-1920s. Colonized by Japan in 1910, Korea nevertheless also developed a popular film industry by the mid-1920s, albeit one that was dominated by business interests (if not necessarily talent) from Japan, and subject to the censorship laws of the colonial government. It is impossible to extricate the networks of commodity and artistic exchange from the history of colonialism in the region—both the colonial designs of Western powers on East Asia, and the reach of the Japanese Empire, whose ascendance coincided precisely with the first half-century of film history, and whose shadow has continued to have implications for cultural exchange within the region ever since. Major geopolitical events such as World War II and the Cold War have also played an important role in shaping film production, and its circuits of exchange, in the region.