Maritime trade during the late Ming was characterised by the intermingling of tributary trade, private trade and piracy. The establishment of the ban on maritime trade (海禁 haijin) gave way to a scarcity of goods entering China and to a great profitability of smuggling activities. While the ban on maritime trade never succeded in eliminating the so called Japanese pirates (倭寇 woko), it opened the possibilities of huge profits to illegal trade. Fujian coast offered many opportunities to smugglers.
Several records of judicial cases, are reported by Wang Zaijin in 1611 along with and local records from Fujian and Zhejiang gazeteers give a precise description of maritime trade procedures in the 17th century. They reveal the complex mechanism of pooling capital and cargoes before venturing for overseas trade. It also describes in a very vivid way the involvement of local administration in a still prohibited trade with Japan. It finally highlights however the lack of financial instruments to mobilise capital and secure a cargo, and underline the limits of the management of the relationship between investors, ship-owners, and operators.
François Gipouloux (Emeritus Research Director, National Centre for Scientific Research, [CNRS] France), has worked almost 20 years in Asia (Peking, Tokyo, Hong Kong). His research covers the dynamics of urbanisation in China and the comparative analysis of economic institutions and business practices in Europe and Asia from the 16th to the 21st century. His recent publications include: The Asian Mediterranean, Edward Elgar, 2011 (also translated in Korean and Chinese), and China’s Urban Century (Edward Elgar, 2015).