To view this PAPER PRESENTATION, search for the session title in the Browse by Titlelisting. (See the session title located immediately below ["In Session:"])
In Session: Capture, Slavery, Bondage, and Forced Relocation in Asia (1400-1900), Part 2
1: Dispatched at Sea: Chinese Notices on the Maritime Trafficking in Slaves between the Thirteenth and Sixteenth Centuries
Thursday, March 25, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Don J. Wyatt
Middlebury College, United States
Ethnic Han Chinese, especially as seagoing travelers abroad during the mid-to-late imperial era, evinced considerable curiosity about the customary socio-institutional practices of foreign peoples they encountered. Whether for reasons of strategic advantage, economic exploitation, or gratuitous voyeurism, or simply for the purpose of drawing contrasts with their own practices, one of the most scrutinized conventions Chinese observers shared with the foreign peoples they met focused on slavery and human trafficking. Beginning as early as the close of the twelfth century, CE, and owing at least partially to the upsurge in maritime-based commerce China then experienced, the preserved records reflect the keen interest exhibited by seafaring Chinese in the varieties of slavery and trafficking among foreigners, thereby taking on unprecedented conspicuousness. Moreover, these observations on the conduct of others’ slaving and trafficking practices, gleaned expressly from the perspective of contact via maritime means, function to enlighten us regarding the extensive seaward reach achieved by the Chinese in those centuries leading up to early modern times. They thereby go against the countervailing and selectively-informed paradigm of China as hardly more than an empire “turned inward” upon itself. Despite being frequently terse, recondite, and deficient in informing about context, these notes on human bondage in littoral lands reveal at times at least as much about the assumptions, attitudes, and motives of the observers as they ever do about the slaving and trafficking practices of those observed.