Extent of Tang and Song Chinas naval trade.

Sep 2018
17
Germany
#1
On the internet (even in Wikipedia Economy of the Song dynasty - Wikipedia) one can encounter claims, that Sing and even Tang merchants Trade Under the Tang Dynasty | World Civilization sailed as far as Egypt to sell their wares. But I have also seen historians claim, that there is no proof that Chinese merchants ever sailed beyond modern Sri Lanka or even Thailand and Malaysia, and that the Song only broke Arab trading dominance in east Asian seas, but never sailed even to India.


I wanted to ask the historians here for clarification on this topic. Is there any proof, that Tang or Song Chinese merchant ships sailed to India, east Africa or Egypt? If yes, how widespread were these kind of voyages?

Thanks in advance.
 
Oct 2018
56
Toronto/Shanghai
#2
The idea of what constitutes trade is difficult. Guangzhou (花城) and later Yangzhou were set up by the mid-Tang as major Arab trading ports for West-Asian goods. Though, many of these merchants were murdered or purged in the 9th century.
 
Feb 2011
6,116
#3
To add the specifics, the purge was only in Guangzhou and conducted by rebel forces under Huang Chao. He killed everyone, not just Arab Merchants.

Abu Zayd: He targted Guangzhou, among the cities in China, which was the town the Arab merchants headed for. Between Guangzhou and the sea is a journey of many consecutive days, and the city is located in a great valley near fresh water. Its citizens kept him [Huang Chao] at bay, and therefore he besieged them for a long period, this being in the year 264 (887 CE), until he conquered the city and put its inhabitants to the sword. Those who are experienced with the affairs (of China) related [to me] that in addition to the Chinese he killed one hundred and twenty thousand people - Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians who had sought refuge in the city.

The massacre did cause Arab merchants to second-guess their trade tactics. Instead of shipping all the way to China, they started meeting Chinese halfway instead. This implies that for most of Tang history the trade was mostly non-Chinese merchants going to China instead of Chinese merchants going far by sea. By the Song this story becomes different, as the government required alternative sources of revenue due to the lands lost.
 
Last edited:
May 2015
1,299
Germany
#4
Concerning East Africa it was during the Tang dynasty when Chinese knowledge of that region progressed from indirect to direct, with a few Chinese individuals traversing the region. During this period we also see the arrival of Chinese porcelain and coins in East Africa, probably the result of indirect trade originating from Egypt. During the Song period we see the rise of direct trade relations as far south as Madagascar. Source is Li Anshan: "A History of Overseas Chinese in Africa to 1911".
 
Oct 2018
56
Toronto/Shanghai
#5
To add the specifics, the purge was only in Guangzhou and conducted by rebel forces under Huang Chao. He killed everyone, not just Arab Merchants.

Abu Zayd: He targted Guangzhou, among the cities in China, which was the town the Arab merchants headed for. Between Guangzhou and the sea is a journey of many consecutive days, and the city is located in a great valley near fresh water. Its citizens kept him [Huang Chao] at bay, and therefore he besieged them for a long period, this being in the year 264 (887 CE), until he conquered the city and put its inhabitants to the sword. Those who are experienced with the affairs (of China) related [to me] that in addition to the Chinese he killed one hundred and twenty thousand people - Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians who had sought refuge in the city.
True, though the Yangzhou massacre in 760 was likely xenophobic in nature. There likely was a general xenophobia behind the Huang Chao massacre in Guangzhou as well, though that is harder to determine. Nonetheless, it was clearly a "foreigner" port, in the sense that it had a specific "foreign" population that was tied to Islamic maritime trade.
 
Feb 2011
6,116
#6
Probably. All the New Book of Tang says was that when warlord for hire Tian ShenGong took Yangzhou in 760 AD, his soldiers went on a looting spree. Taking food, digging up graves (for the loot), and surprising the populace: 神功兵至扬州,大掠居人,发冢墓,大食、波斯贾胡死者数千人. The fact that it also specifically mentioned that foreigners died in the thousands suggest that they were the hardest hit, perhaps because Yangzhou being a trade city meant that foreigners had the most to take, perhaps the soldiers of Tian ShenGong were xenophobic, probably both.
 
Oct 2018
56
Toronto/Shanghai
#7
Perhaps. All the New Book of Tang says was that when warlord for hire Tian ShenGong took Yangzhou in 760 AD, his soldiers went on a looting spree. Taking food, digging up graves (for the loot), and surprising the populace: 神功兵至扬州,大掠居人,发冢墓,大食、波斯贾胡死者数千人. The fact that it also specifically mentioned that foreigners died in the thousands suggest that they were the hardest hit, perhaps because Yangzhou being a trade city meant that foreigners had the most to take, perhaps the soldiers of Tian ShenGong were xenophobic, perhaps both.
I know Schafer wrote about this at length -- there are also parallel documents, but I do not have time right now to poke through them.
 
May 2009
1,241
#8
The nature of maritime trade changed dramatically between Tang and Sung. During Tang times the Chinese relied heavily on foreign merchants--mostly Arabs and Persians--to import foreign goods. But by the Sung, Chinese shipbuilding methods had become superior to those of the Arabs and Chinese merchants began taking to the sea themselves. The Sung's "Maritime Silk Road" extended all the way to Africa, but from what I've read the Chinese themselves rarely if ever went beyond the Persian Gulf. They definitely traveled further than India because Chinese merchants of that time write about having to switch to smaller ships at Kollam (something about Chinese junks being a bad fit for the waters beyond that point). But the main focus of Chinese maritime trade was southeast Asia, the "Nanhai routes", especially the kingdom of Srivijaya in modern Sumatra. There were also northern routes to Korea, Japan, and northern China that aren't shown here. Even after the Jin seized the north they still continued trading with the Sung, although many of those routes were inland river routes.

maritime-silkroad.jpg
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
3,398
Sydney
#9
from past readings it seems that Chinese merchants were mostly going to South East Asia
certainly a few might have gone further but as a money making proposition ,
it was not obvious going further than the Malacca straights made much sense
the few items coming from the gulf or the African coast could be obtained from the Malays , Arabs , Persians and Indus trade routes
actually going there to shave the price a bit was silly
 
Oct 2018
56
Toronto/Shanghai
#10
from past readings it seems that Chinese merchants were mostly going to South East Asia
certainly a few might have gone further but as a money making proposition ,
it was not obvious going further than the Malacca straights made much sense
the few items coming from the gulf or the African coast could be obtained from the Malays , Arabs , Persians and Indus trade routes
actually going there to shave the price a bit was silly
I would also add could be sourced through the Nanzhao-Dali - Burmese routes, and the Burmese-Nanzhao-Sichuan-Tibet overland route (as evidenced by Tea and spices moving, and the material records found in places like Ladakh).

That being said, defining "Chinese" is already problematic. The Turkish dominance in the North did not cease, and their major routes of exchange remained through both the changes toward Arabic/Islamic culture in Northwest China, as well as through the Mongolian conquest, and the opening up of further overland trade. I suspect, for example, that the Silk Road, as a trade route, was still very much open throughout the Tang-Song-Yuan transition, and, more importantly, Northern China -- the Kingdoms of Jin, Liao, Xixia, etc. were very much involved in spreading goods. Now, can we discuss these people's as Chinese? This becomes a trickier problem of definition -- the line before "barbarized" Chinese, or Sinicized Barbarian is one that only exists in retrospect. We know most of North China had been intermarried with "barbarians (a rough translation of 胡)since at least the 2nd century AD, and likely before that. The actual distinctions are far more difficult to determine, with the exception of acknowledging that Kaifeng earned its economic position from its commercial enterprises and trade as one of the last nodes of the northern silk road. It could be assumed that goods flowed both ways.