Today's paper, On Hizen porcelain and the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade (Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association Bulletin 26), by Takenori Nogami, looks at the trade in Hizen porcelain, which is not a Chinese but a Japanese porcelain exported from what was Hizen province in Kyushu until it was split between the Saga and Nagasaki prefectures after the Meiji Restoration. Porcelain making got its start there after Hideyoshi Toyotomi attacked Korea in the 1590s and brought back Korean pottery experts, who settled in Hizen province. There they discovered the materials for making porcelain, and gradually a thriving industry grew.
Taiwan enters the picture in the 17th century with the advent of the Manchus. The fighting in China cut off shipments of Chinese porcelain, and Hizen porcelain soon came to dominate not only the Japanese domestic market but also overseas markets that had formerly been controlled by the Chinese. The Dutch exported enormous quantites stamped with VOC (Dutch East India Company) between 1650 and 1750. As Nogami notes:
"The Qing administration restricted maritime access to China between 1656 and 1684 to reduce the power of Zheng Chenggong (Coxinga), who resisted the Qing forces because sea trade supported his power. After the export of Chinese porcelain almost stopped, Zheng began to deal in Hizen porcelain because he could not get access to Chinese porcelain. Thus, he became the most important merchant for the exportation of Hizen porcelain. As a result of the reduction of the quantity of Chinese porcelain for export, the number of kilns in Hizen producing export wares suddenly increased, and Hizen wares spread in the overseas market, many pieces being found in sites in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia.(p125)"In Taiwan history we often view Zheng Cheng-gong (Koxinga) in purely local terms, as the man who booted the Dutch out and set up his own little kingdom here, but seldom do we explore what the Zheng state meant in terms of the local political and economic structure of the East Asian littoral. It's sort of the historiagraphical version of the Taiwan identity, which appears to mean not so much being Taiwanese as it is being oblivious to everything that happens outside the island. But the Zheng state was a trading state interested in getting a share of the booming trade of the 17th century in the region.
Nogami then goes on to discuss his finds of shards of Hizen porcelain in Manila and elsewhere in the Spanish Philippines. The problem of Hizen porcelain is simple: who brought it to Manila. Only the Dutch and Chinese were allowed to trade with Japan until the 19th century, and the Dutch could not have approached Manila because the were Protestants, while Spain was Catholic. Therefore the porcelain must have traveled on Chinese bottoms, and Nogami hypothesizes that some of the cities in Taiwan must have functioned as way-stations for the Hizen porcelain trade. Zheng was "the most important merchant" dealing in Hizen porcelain of the time, and his ships plied back and forth between Japan, the Fukien coast which he controlled into the late 1650s, carrying porcelain, though no Hizen porcelain has been found there (it is known from Macao). Nogami says:
"[The Zhengs] engaged in China – Taiwan - Manila or Japan – Taiwan - Manila trade between 1662 and 1683. Therefore, Tainan was one of the most important relay-ports of Hizen porcelain trade. Fang Zhen-zhen (2003) has researched the records of customs in Manila and discusses the relationship between Manila and Taiwan in the second half of the 17th century. She notes that fifty-one ships sailed from Taiwan to Manila between 1664 and 1684. She notes the cargoes of these ships included “Japanese dishes” (Fang 2003: 82).(p128)"Sure enough, the Zheng capital of Tainan has yielded both types of Hizen porcelain -- wares designed for local use, along with a few shards of a type specifically intended for export to European markets.
The Hizen pottery that transshipped through Tainan left Manila on the tortuous galleon routes bound for Mexico, where they returned with Mexican silver, in the form of silver dollars widely acceptance as currency in China. As Nogami describes at the end of his piece, a few shards of identifiably Hizen pottery have been found in Mexico, unearthed in a subway dig, and in Guatemala. In both cases they were identified by the finders as Chinese, but Nogami believes that they are actually Hizen, of the type exported to Manila.
Thus, through the humble prism of Hizen porcelain, we can get a glimpse of how the Zheng state and Taiwan participated in the first great era of globalized trade that connected Madrid, Manila, and Mexico city in a vast network of exchange.
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