From the 16th to the 18th century, the Yellow Sea and the South China Sea
formed an immense maritime region that prospered outside the limits of
imperial jurisdiction, and where several port cities (Nagasaki, Canton,
Macao, Sakai, and later, Manila and Batavia) were to assert themselves as
the real centres of accumulation of wealth and knowledge. The influence of
this maritime space expanded or contracted according to the power or
weakness of the merchant networks that criss-crossed it. The conditions
under which ultra-marine trade was undertaken - tributary trade, and long
periods of prohibition of maritime activities - are investigated here. This
situation in which merchants, smugglers and pirates cohabited was further
complicated by the arrival of the first Europeans in the 16th and 17th
centuries. This chapter finally outlines a profile of the various players in
maritime trade and an analysis of their profits outlets.
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