Writing the Waves: Chinese Maritime Writings in the Long Eighteenth Century
Dr. Ronald Chung-yam Po
The renowned nineteenth-century Illustrated Treatise on the Sea Kingdoms (Haiguo tuzhi) authored by Wei Yuan (1794-1857) and the A Short Account of the Maritime Circuit (Ying huan zhi lüe) by Xu Jiyu (1795-1873) have long been canonized as the two encyclopedic studies in the Qing period (1644-1912) conceptualizing the histories, politics, and economic conditions of a series of foreign maritime countries (haiguo). To most Western readers, Wei and Xu are probably the most significant advocates of extending China’s knowledge of the oceanic world beyond East Asia after the outbreak of the First Opium War (1839-1842). However, even though Wei and Xu broadly studied the outer sea space which stretched across the Southern Oceans (nanyang), the Indian Ocean (xiao xiyang), the Atlantic (da xiyang), and the Mediterranean Sea (dizhong hai), it should not be neglected that long eighteenth century intellectuals such as Chen Lunjiong (?-1751), Wang Dahai, and Xie Qinggao (1765-1821) had already touched upon these sea spaces in their maritime writings prior to Wei’s and Xu’s examination. In this presentation, the speaker will use the textual records produced by Chen, Wang, and Xie as lenses to analyze the Qing Empire’s connection to these foreign maritime worlds over the long eighteenth century.