Introduction to "Binding Maritime China: Control, Evasion, and Interloping"

Eugenio Menegon, Boston University
Philip Thai, Northeastern University
Xing Hang, Brandeis University
Abstract

Maritime Asia is a confusing morass of contested sovereignties and geopolitical rivalries. Yet the seaways of Asia have, in their history, also fostered cultural exchange and economic integration. The liminal maritime zone surrounding China remains a paradox between seas and ports teeming with legal and illegal exchange and governmental policies attempting to monopolize and restrict that exchange. Vast and fluid, maritime China has long hindered state control and fostered connections determined as much by bottom-up economic and cultural logic as by top-down official impositions. This issue of Cross-Currents proposes to reexamine the rich history of maritime China and adjacent areas by tracing the interactions of the three initiatives of control, evasion, and interloping. This special issue stems from a conference the guest editors organized in Boston in 2015, with support from Boston University, Brandeis University, Northeastern University, and the Taiwan Ministry of Education. We invited a distinguished group of scholars to explore the many facets of maritime China’s history. Our key postulation was that state control, evasion from that control, and interloping within the interstices of China’s maritime world literally bound an array of actors and locales for distinct but interrelated goals, from the early modern era to the modern era. This concept is encapsulated in the title of the current issue, “Binding Maritime China.” What “creates” and gives coherence to the concept of maritime China as a social, economic, political, and geographic space is, to a large extent, how human actors (Chinese and Western merchants and businessmen, navy officers, bureaucrats, fishermen, pirates, missionaries, and so on) productively interacted or experienced conflicts and resisted one another’s control. They did so across oceanic and coastal spaces, administrative boundaries, class lines, bureaucratic institutions, commercial organizations, and competing imperial formations...