Friday, August 24, 2018

What did the south Chinese know about Taiwan and when did they know it?

From: Ptak, R. "From Quanzhou to the Sulu Zone and Beyond: Questions Related to the Early Fourteenth Century" Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 29, 2 (September 1998): 269-294, 1998 by National University of Singapore. Ptak is discussing Quanzhou's camphor trade in the early 14th century.
The next commodity, camphor, was produced in the Barus area of western Sumatra and on Borneo. The Far East also produced a substance known by this name but its chemical composition was different and it was never valued as highly as imported camphor. Song sources list foreign camphor as an import from Srivijaya and Champa. There are also references to imports from Butuan and occasional shipments by merchants from Persia, Chola and Cengtan (on the Arabian Peninsula?). It is obvious that Butuan and Champa received their camphor from Borneo while the other imports originally came from the Barus area. Wang Dayuan refers to camphor products in his chapters on Champa, Trengganu, Samudra, Xialaiwu, Danmaling (Ligor?), Brunei, Pulau Rondo (Longxianxu), Dudu'an, Srivijaya and Suluoge. Camphor, it is clear, continued to be available in the Yuan period along both the western and the eastern trunk routes.45
Ptak has written a whole book on the area's camphor trade before 1500, and obviously knows his stuff.

Quanzhou is more or less right across the Strait from Taiwan. Taiwan was absolutely stuffed with camphor trees in those days and early Chinese settlers found it right away (here for overview). Production of camphor was actually illegal until 1725, when the government became the monopoly purchaser of private camphor production. Taiwan did not become part of the global camphor trade until after 1850.

So the people of Quanzhou had rich camphor source right next to them, but went to areas south of the Philippines to get camphor, so little did they know of Taiwan.
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