søndag 11. juli 2021

Michael Schuman: China Has Dominated the West Before

In 1517, Portuguese traders appeared near the famed trading haven of Guangzhou, strange and unruly barbarians in wooden sailing ships. The language they spoke was an unintelligible mystery, their eight vessels puny by the standards of Zheng He’s treasure junks, and their ultimate origins a bit hazy. But like all other seaborne ruffians, they wanted to trade for the rich silks and the other wonders of China. The Chinese came to call them folangji, a generic term used at the time to refer to Europeans. More specifically, they were the Portuguese, and they were the first Europeans to sail all the way to China.

The adventurous mariners from the kingdom of Portugal had burst into the Indian Ocean in 1498, when Vasco da Gama rounded the cape of Africa and found his way to the southwestern coast of India. It was an Earth-rattling moment. Until then, Western Europe had been on the fringes of a global economy driven primarily by exchanges among China, India, and the Islamic world. Portugal was on the fringe of that fringe. All that would change. The arrival of the Portuguese in Asia heralded the coming ascendancy of the “West”—Europe, and later, America.