Profits, Power, and Legitimacy: The Zheng Maritime Empire in Seventeenth-Century Maritime East Asia.

Author:Rodell, Paul A.
Position:ASIA - Book review

Hang, Xing. Profits, Power, and Legitimacy: The Zheng Maritime Empire in Seventeenth-Century Maritime East Asia. Washington, DC: American Historical Association, 2016.

This slim volume is the sixth in the series "Regions and Regionalisms in the Modern World" issued by the American Historical Association. Each tome is similarly short and all are distillations of previous works by noted authors in their fields. In their series introduction, coeditors Sebastian Conrad and Prasenjit Duara note that under the dominant narrative of modern nationalism, regionalism has been obscured. Ironically, however, even in this age of rapid globalization, there seems to be a rediscovery of regionalism as an active dynamic that can shape local relationships of trade, cultural exchanges and conflict. The series, therefore, intends to explore the interrelationship between the global, regional and national. It also seeks to define what creates and characterizes a region beyond the geographic obvious.

Xing Hang, assistant professor of history at Brandeis University, brings his knowledge and insights to produce a short work that nonspecialists can utilize for their own projects and, perhaps, additional insights and material for world history courses. His subject is the Zheng family's large commercial empire that rose during the critical interregnum between the fall of the Ming dynasty in 1644 and the founding and consolidation of the Qing dynasty. This commercial operation was based in Chinas southeast coastal province of Fujian and the island of Taiwan across the straits from each other with significant operations along the Chinese coast and on to Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand. Strategically, this period also witnessed the coming of the West to Asia, most notably the Dutch and the Spaniards.

The Zheng empire is as an excellent object of study coming as it does between the major actors in the sub-region of Southeast Asia and indigenous regimes and trade patterns versus the new European intrusion. Also important was the relationship between the Zheng family and the new ruling Qing dynasty, founded by Manchurian invaders. At that time the Manchus were assisted by key Chinese generals who saw the Manchurians as more acceptable than the increasingly corrupt and incompetent Ming rulers and preferable to any new regime that might be created by peasant rebels who were quite literally at the gates of Beijing's Forbidden City. While the Qing restored order...

To continue reading