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Portuguese and Chinese Maritime Imperialism: Camões's Lusiads and Luo Maodeng's Voyage of the San Bao Eunuch

  • Robert Finlay (a1)
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Shortly before Vasco da Gama returned to Lisbon in September 1499 from his great voyage to India, a Florentine merchant in the Portuguese capital reported troubling rumors that ‘certain vessels of white Christians’ had visited the port of Calicut on the Malabar coast only a couple of generations previously. If true, this would mean that some other European power had beaten Portugal in its long search for a maritime route to the Indies. After speculating that the mysterious mariners were Germans (although ‘it seems to me that we should have some notice about them’) or Russians (‘if they have a port there’), the merchant concluded that ‘on the arrival of the captain [da Gama] we may learn who these people are.’

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1 A Journal of the First Voyage of Vasco da Gama, 1497–1499, Ravenstein, E.G., trans, and ed. (London, 1899), 131.

2 Guy, John S., “Early Ming Policies and South-East Asian Trade,” Oriental Trade Ceramics in South-East Asia, Ninth to Sixteenth Centuries (Singapore, 1986), 39;Chaudhuri, K.N., Trade and Civilization in the Indian Ocean (Cambridge, Eng., 1985), 154–5;Digby, Simon, “The Maritime Trade of India,” The Cambridge Economic History of India, vol. I: c. 1200–1750, Chaudhuri, Tapan Ray and Habib, Irfan, eds. (Cambridge, Eng., 1982), 134; cf. Yamamoto, Tatsuro, “Chinese Activities in the Indian Ocean before the Coming of the Portuguese,” Diogenes, 111 (Fall 1980), 1934.

3 Mathew, K.S., “Trade in the Indian Ocean and the Portuguese system of Cartazes.” The First Portuguese Colonial Empire, Newitt, Malyn, ed. (Exeter, 1986), 72;Graça, Jorge, “The Portuguese Porcelain Trade with China,” Arts in Asia, 1 (1977), 45.

4 Mendoza, Juan Gonzales de, The Historic of the Great and Mightie Kingdome of China and the Situation thereof, Parke, Robert, trans. (1588), Staunton, G.T., ed. (London, 1853), 9295.

5 Zheng He was first called the “Vasco da Gama of China” in Debenham, F., Discovery and Exploration: An Atlas of Man's Journey into the Unknown (London, 1960), 121. The most thorough discussion in English of Zheng He's voyages is in Needham, Joseph, Civil Engineering and Nautics, vol. IV, pt. 3, of Science and Civilization in China (Cambridge, Eng., 1971), 389699; see also Mills's, J.V.G. introduction to Ma Huan, Ying-Yai Sheng-Lan: “The Overall Survey of the Ocean's Shores” [1433], Ch'eng-Chün, Feng, trans, and ed. (Cambridge, Eng., 1970), 166;Tsen-peng, Pao, “On the Ships of Cheng Ho,” Proceedings of the International Association of Historians of Asia, Second Biennial Conference (Taipei, Taiwan, 1962), 409–28;Pelliot, P., “Les grandes voyages maritimes chinois au début du XVe siécle,” T'oung Pao, 30 (1933), 237452, and Notes additionnelles sur Tcheng Houo et sur ses voyages,” T'oung Pao, 31 (1935), 274314. Material on Zheng He and his voyages is gathered in Zheng Hesheng and Zheng Yijun, Zheng He xia xiyang ziliao huibian (Collected Sources on Zheng He's Voyages) (Jinan, 1980), 2 vols.

6 Camões, Luis de, Os Lusiades, Pierce, Frank, ed. (Oxford, 1973). All further references to this work appear parenthetically in the text, by the number of canto and stanza. Unless otherwise noted, translations from the Lusiads in the text are from the prose version by Atkinson, William C., The Lusiads (New York, 1952). Luo Maodeng, San Bao taijian xia xiyang (The Voyage of the San Bao Eunuch to the Western Ocean), Shen Yunjia, ed. (Shanghai, n.d.). All further references to this work appear parenthetically in the text, by the number of volume and hui (equivalent to chapter). “San Bao” (“the Three Jewels”) is a title conferred on Zheng He in 1431 and may represent the Triratna of Buddhism (see Mills's introduction to Ma Huan's Ying-Yai Sheng-Lan, 7).

7 There is a very large bibliography on the Lusiads but little on Voyage; see Ptak, Roderich, Cheng Hos Abenleuer im Drama und Roman der Ming-Zeit (Stuttgart, 1986), 167271, and Hsi-Yang Chi—An Interpretation and Some Comparisons with Hsi-Yu Chi,” Chinese Literature, 7 (1985), 117–41;Duyvendak, J.J.L., “A Chinese Divina Commedia,” T'oung Pao, 41 (1952), 255316;Shou-yi, Ch'en, Chinese Literature: A Historical Introduction (New York, 1961), 487–8.

8 There is considerable debate over the size of the treasure ships: see Needham, , Science and Civilization, IV, 481–2; Zhung Weiji and Zhuang Jinhui, “Zheng He baochuan chidu de tansuo” (A Brief Account of Zheng He's Fleet), in Zhenghe xia xiyang lunwenji (Essays on Zheng He's Voyages) (Beijing, 1885), 39; Qui Ke, “Zheng He baochuan chicun jizai de kekaoxin” (On the Reliability of the Records on Zheng He's Treasure Ship), Zhenghe xia xiyang lunwenji, 119–32; Zheng Hesheng and Zheng Yijun, “Liulun Zheng He xia xiyang de chuan” (On the Merchant Ship Used by Zheng He on His Western Voyages), Zhenghe xia xiyang lunwenji, 50–74.

9 Braudel, Fernand, Civilization and Capitalism, 15th–18th Century, vol. 2: The Wheels of Commerce, Reynolds, Siân, trans. (New York: 1983), 181. For similar speculation, see McNeill, William H., The Price of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000 (Chicago, 1982), 45;Needham, , Science and Civilization, IV, 501–2;Wallerstein, Immanuel, The Modern World-System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century, I, 54;Abu-Lughod, Janet L., Before European Hegemony: The World system, A.D. 1250–1350 (Oxford, 1989), 322;Crosby, Alfred, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900–1900 (Cambridge, Eng., 1986), 106.

10 On Zheng He's supply ships, see Zhung Weiji and Zhuang Jinhui, “Zheng He baochuan chidu de tansuo,” 67–69. The largest Portuguese fleets in Asia were the thirty-seven ships that attempted to intercept a Mameluke armada in the Red Sea in 1516 and the forty-three ships sent to raise a siege of Melaka in 1606 (Diffie, Bailey W. and Winius, George D., Foundations of the Portuguese Empire, 1415–1580 [Minneapolis, 1977], 274;Boxer, C.R., The Portuguese Seaborne Empire, 1415–1825 [London, 1969], 5253).

11 For a compilation of general estimates of port city populations in Asia, see Chandler, Tertius, Four Thousand Years of Urban Growth: An Historical Census, 2nd ed. (Lewiston, N.Y., 1987), 358411.

12 The European and Eurasian population of the Portuguese Asian empire has been estimated at about 10,000 in the sixteenth century (Boxer, C.R., Four Centuries of Portuguese Expansion, 1415–1825 [Johannesburg, 1961], 1920).

13 Aubin, Jean, “Le Portugal dans l'Europe des années 1500,” L'humanisme portugais et I'Europe (Paris, 1980), 224–5. The ranking of military power comes from a prospectus in 1500 on manpower for a crusade against the Turks.

14 Pearson, M.N., “India and the Indian Ocean in the Sixteenth Century,” India and the Indian Ocean, 1500–1800, Gupta, Ashin Das and Pearson, M.N., eds. (Calcutta, 1987), 86;Scammell, G.V., The World Encompassed: The First European Maritime Empires, c. 800–1650 (Berkeley, 1981), 290–3.

15 John Villiers, “The Estado da India in Southeast Asia,” The First Portuguese Colonial Empire, 36–67.

16 On the opposition before 1497, see Diffie and Winius, Foundations of the Portuguese Empire, 176; on the opposition after 1497, see Vitorino Magalhāes-Godinho, “Innovation et changement au XVe et au XVIe siécles,” L'humanisme portugais et l'Europe, 347–48.

17 On the idea of the Middle Kingdom, see Chiao-min, Hsieh, “The Chinese Exploration to the Ocean: A Study in Historical Geography,” Chinese Culture, 9 (1968), 123;Meserve, Ruth I., “The Inhospitable Land of the Barbarian,” Journal of Asian History, 16:1 (1982), 5161;Müller, C.C., “Die Herausbildung der Gegensätze: Chinesen und Barbaren in der frühen Zeit,” China und die Fremden, Bauer, W., ed. (Munich, 1980), 6675. On the tribute system, see the essays in China Among Equals: The Middle Kingdom and Its Neighbors, 10th–14th Centuries, Rossabi, Morris, ed. (Berkeley, 1983), and The Chinese World Order: Traditional China's Foreign Relations, Fairbank, John King, ed. (Cambridge, Mass., 1968).

18 Lo, Jung-pang, “The Decline of the Early Ming Navy,” Oriens Extremus, 5 (1958), 153.

19 Lo, “Decline of the Early Ming Navy,” 154–5. The profits made from the expeditions have prompted some historians to argue that such expeditions were mainly for commercial purposes: see Weihua, Zhang, Mingdai haiwai maoyi jianlun (An Essay on Overseas Trade in the Ming Dynasty) (Shanghai, 1956), 24, 3033;Zhenhua, Han, “Lun Zheng He xia xiyang de xinzhi” (On the Nature of Zheng He's Voyages to the Western Ocean), in Zhenghe yanjiu ziliao xuanbian (Selected Essays on Zheng He) (Beijing, 1985), 308–31.

20 Ju-kang, T'ien, “Chêng Ho's Voyages and the Distribution of Pepper in China,” The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, no. 2 (1981), 186–97.

21 McNeill, William H., The Rise of the West (Chicago, 1963), 619; see Pannikar, K.M., Asian and Western Dominance: A Survey of the Vasco da Gama Epoch of Asian History (London, 1952). Recent scholarship downplays the epoch-making significance of the Portuguese Asian enterprise, although not of da Gama himself: see, for example, Scammell, The World Encompassed, 291–3; Pearson, “India and the Indian Ocean in the Sixteenth Century,” 85–86, 89–91.

22 Braudel, Fernand, Civilization and Capitalism, vol. 3: The Perspective of the World, Reynolds, Sian, tr. (New York, 1984), 32.

23 Parry, J.H., The Age of Reconnaissance (Cleveland, 1963), 142;Moseley, William W., “‘O Rei do Mar’: Portugal, the Sea, and Gil Vicente,” Luso-Brazilian Review, 11 (Summer 1974), 98. For the rewards bestowed on da Gama, see A Journal of the First Voyage, 225–37.

24 For speculation on these subjects, see Xu Aoren, “Zheng He muyu liuli wa” (Zheng He's Tomb and Glazed Tile), Zhenghe yanjiu ziliao xuanbian, 351–4. Although Zheng He generally was forgotten in his homeland until after the 1911 revolution, he has been regarded as a protectorguard in the Chinese communities of Southeast Asia since at least the end of the seventeenth century. See Stevens, Keith, “Three Chinese Deities,” Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, no. 12 (1972), 193–4;Willmott, D.E., The Chinese of Semerang (Ithaca, N.Y., 1960), 23, 214–5;Young, I.W., “Sam Po Tong, la grotte de Sam Po,” T'oung Pao, 9 (1898), 9397.

25 On hostility between eunuchs and bureaucrats, see Dreyer, Edward, Early Ming China: A Political History, 1355–1435 (Stanford, 1982), 203, 212–3, 233; Needham, , Science and Civilization, IV: 524–7. On the mariners, see Lo, “Decline of the Early Ming Navy,” 167. On 1477, see Yang Xi, “Zheng He xia xiyang de mudi jiqi bei tinghang de yuanyin” (The Purpose of Zheng He's Expeditions to the Western Ocean and the Reason for Their Termination), Zhenghe xia xiyang lunwenji, 34.

26 On Camões's use of chronicles, see Pierce, Frank, “The Old Man of Restelo and the ‘Lusiads,'“ Aufsätze mr Portugiesischen Kulturgeschichte, no. 14 (19761977), 1820;Livermore, H.V., “Epic and History in The Lusiads,” Adas da I Reuniāo Internacional de Camonistas (Lisbon, 1973), 355;Castel-Branco, Fernando, “A visāo camoniana da Història,” Adas da IV Reuniao Internacional de Camonistas (Ponte Delgado, 1984), 116;Braz da Silva, A.M., Camões Marinheiro: Navegação e marinharia em ‘Os Lusiades’ (Brasilia, 1972). On Luo Maodeng's use of historical sources, see Ptak, Roderich, “The Maldive and Laccadive Islands (Liu-shan) in Ming Records,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 107 (1012 1987), 692. n. 111;Duyvendak, J.J.L., “Desultory Notes on the Hsi-Yang Chi,” T'oung Pao, 42 (1954), 4.

27 Luo Maodeng's novel relates the story of a single voyage; no mention is made of the other six expeditions. The author's principal source, Ma Huan's Ying-Yai Sheng-Lan, is an account of places visited in the fourth voyage, in 1413.

28 Livermore, “Epic and History in The Lusiads,” 349–50; Hart, Thomas R., “The Author's Voice in The Lusiads,” Hispanic Review, 44 (Winter 1976), 4849.

29 On the elite's view of the genre, see Wu-chi, Liu, An Introduction to Chinese Literature (Bloomington, Ind., 1966), 198;Bishop, John L., “Some Limitations of Chinese Fiction,” Studies in Chinese Literature (Cambridge, Mass., 1965), 237–45.

30 On the troubles of the Ming in the late sixteenth century, see Huang, Ray, 1587, The Year of No Significance: The Ming Dynasty in Decline (New Haven, 1981);Gernet, Jacques, A History of Chinese Civilization, Foster, J.R., trans. (Cambridge, Eng., 1985), 429–36.

31 Luo Maodeng, SanBao taijian xia xiyang, 1; see also, Ptak, Cheng Hos Abenteuer, 236–7; Duyvendak, “Desultory Notes on the Hsi-Yang Chi,” 2–4.

32 Tomlins, Jack E., “Gil Vicente's Vision of India and Its Ironic Echo in Camões's ‘Velho do Restelo,’” Empire in Transition: The Portuguese World in the Time of Camões, Hower, Alfred and Preto-Rodas, Richard A., eds. (Gainesville, Fla., 1985), 174–5.

33 Atkinson, Lusiads, 249.

34 Camōes's last poem, written at the time of the battle, is a bitter condemnation of his own day of birth (Hart, Henry H., Luis de Camoëns and the Epic of the Lusiads [Norman, Okla., 1962], 206). On the battle and its aftermath, see Diffie and Winius, Foundations of the Portuguese Empire, 428–29.

35 For similar estimations of da Gama in the Lusiads, see Azevedo, Silvia Maria, “O Gama da História e o Gama d'Os Lusiades,” Revista Camoniana, no. 1 (1978), 135–40; Pierce, ed., Os Lusiades, xxiv–xxv; Piper, Anson C., “Direct Discourse in the Lusūades,” Luso-Brazilian Review, 2 (Summer 1965), 57;Greene, Thomas M., The Descent from Heaven: A Study in Epic Continuity (New Haven, 1963), 226;Saraiva, Antonio José, Camōes (Lisbon, 1963), 188.

36 In general, Chinese novelists were not concerned with psychological delineation. On the nature of the individual and the hero in traditional Chinese literature, see Ropp, Paul S., “The Distinctive Art of Chinese Fiction,” Heritage of China: Contemporary Perspectives on Chinese Civilization, Ropp, Paul S., ed. (Berkeley, 1990), 313–4;Wang, C.H., “Towards Defining a Chinese Heroism,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 95 (03 1975), 2535.

37 Needham (Science and Civilization, IV, 417–9) points out that European ships were constructed with the outline of a fish (with the fullness of the vessel toward the bow), but Chinese ships followed the outline of a swimming bird at water level (with the fullness of the vessel toward the stern); see also, Poujade, J., La route des Indes et ses navires (Paris, 1946), 210–2.

38 On the Heavenly Queen, see Hansen, Valerie, Changing Gods in Medieval China, 1127–1276 (Princeton, 1990), 133–46. On Zheng He and the Heavenly Queen, see Wu Xiangze, Lin Zhangkan, and Zhang Yongqing, “Zheng He xia xiyang yu Fujian guanxi de tantao” (Relations between Zheng He's Voyages and Fujian), Zhenghe xia xiyang lunwenji, 294–307; Watson, James L., “Standardizing the Gods: The Promotion of T'ien Hou (‘Empress of Heaven’) Along the South China Coast, 960–1960,” Popular Culture in Late Imperial China, Johnson, David, Nathan, Andrew J., and Rawski, Evelyn S., eds. (Berkeley, 1985), 303.

39 There is no agreement on the reason for the expeditions. The above formulation is not intended to exclude other possible motives, such as the desire to export Chinese products. Wang Gungwu (“China and South-East Asia, 1402–1424,” Studies in the Social History of China and South-East Asia: Essays in Memory of Victor Purcell, Ch'en, Jerome and Tarling, Nicholas, eds. [Cambridge, Eng., 1970], 375401) argues that Yongle originally aimed to impose Chinese military hegemony throughout Southeast Asia, not unlike Kubilai Khan's campaign against Java in 1293. It is difficult, however, to regard the Mongol campaigns against Java, Vietnam (in 1257 and 1281), and Japan (in 1274 and 1281) as precedents for the generally peaceful voyages of Zheng He. For a discussion of possible reasons for the voyages, see Ptak, Cheng Hos Abenteuer, 13–14; Huang Huizhen and Xue Jindu, “Zheng He yanjiu bashi nian” (Research on Zheng He for Eighty Years), Zhenghe yanjiu ziliao xuanbian, 1–19.

40 On the tribute system, see note 17 above.

41 On tensions between the didactic and the popular in Chinese novels, see Ropp, “The Distinctive Art of Chinese Fiction,” 312.

42 Ptak, Cheng Hos Abenteuer, 198–200.

43 Zheng He xia xiyang ziliao huibian, II:1360–1.

44 A Journal of the First Voyage, 48.

45 A Journal of the First Voyage, 55.

46 A Journal of the First Voyage, 72; see also, pp. 60, 63, 68, 69–70. In writing to the monarchs of Castile in July 1499, King Manuel passed over the Indian scorn for Portuguese goods, stating merely that da Gama's men did not bring back as many spices and precious stones “as they could have done, for they took no merchandise with them” (A Journal of the First Voyage, 113). Of course, da Gama had come equipped with merchandise for the sub-Saharan African coast, an area with which the Portuguese were familiar, but he underestimated what was required in the sophisticated markets of India.

47 A Journal of the First Voyage, 58, 62.

48 Portuguese wares are also mentioned, but not named, at VIII:77, 82, 92–94. The only hint of what the Portuguese had for sale aboard their ships are the presents of cloth and coral that da Gama gave to the king of Malinde (II:77).

49 Atkinson, Lusiads, 192, 197.

50 Atkinson, Lusiads, 189–90.

51 Diffie and Winius, Foundations of the Portuguese Empire, 222. On Camões and Barros, see Ventura, Margarida Garcez, “Camōes e Joāo de Barros—Teóricos do Poder Politico,” Adas IV Reuniāo Internacional de Camonistas, 707–32.

52 Atkinson, Lusiads, 220, 223–4.

53 Atkinson, Lusiads, 219. The phrase reads as follows: “Matéria é de coturno e nao de soco.” “Coturno” refers to the shoe worn by actors in tragedies, and the “soco” was wom by those in comedies.

54 Atkinson, Lusiads, 247.

55 On the passages written after Camōes's return to Portugal, see Tomlins, “Gil Vicente's Vision of India and Its Ironic Echo in Camoes's ‘Velho do Restelo,' “ 173–4.

56 On the Old Man of Restelo, see Greene, , The Descent Heaven, 229–31; Pierce, “The Old Man of Restelo and the ‘Lusiads’“; Moser, Gerald M., “What Did the Old Man of Restelo Mean?” Luso-Brazilian Review, 17 (Winter 1980), 139–51;Larsen, Neil and Krueger, Robert, “Camōes's Os Lusiades and the Break-up of Epic Discourse,” Rivista Camoniana, no. 5 (19821983), 4555;Martins, Mário, “Os Lusiades na tragicomedia del-rei D. Manuel I,” Rivista Camoniana, no. 2 (1979), 99105.

57 On the mingling of criticism and celebration of maritime imperialism in the Lusiads, see Quint, David, “Voices of Resistance: The Epic Curse and Camōes's Adamastor,” Representations, 27 (Summer 1989), 118–41.

58 See Ropp, “The Distinctive Art of Chinese Fiction,” 314.

59 Dixon, Paul B., “History and Prophecy in Camōess Os Lusiades,” Luso-Brazilian Review, 22 (Winter 1985), 145–50.

60 Atkinson, Lusiads, 139.

61 Cf. Hart, Thomas R., “The Idea of History in Camōes's Lusiads,” Occidente, 36 (1972), 8397.

62 Prusek, Jaroslav (“History and Epics in China and the West,” Diogenes, 42 [Summer 1963], 2043) suggests that the disdain for subjectivity (or for a personal literary voice), the disregard for the flow of history, and the low estimation of an epic perception of reality were closely related in the cultural assumptions of the Chinese elite.

63 Gungwu, Wang, “The Chinese and the Countries across the Indian Ocean,” Historical Relations across the Indian Ocean (Ghent, 1980), 63.

64 Cf. Margarido, Alfredo, “La vision de l'autre (Africain et Indien d'Amerique) dans la Renaissance portugaise,” L'humanisme portugais et I'Europe (Paris, 1980), 505–55.

65 “E se mais mundohouvera lá chegara!” Atkinson's translation (Lusiads, 164): “Were there more lands still to discover they would be there too.”

66 See the remarks by Helms, Mary W. (Ulysses' Sail: An Ethnographic Odyssey of Power, Knowledge, and Geographical Distance [Princeton, 1988], 165–66) on the cultural significance of the Chinese emperor's zoo; she does not mention the extermination of the animals.

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