Edward Harper Parker.

China, her history, diplomacy, and commerce, from the earliest times to the present day online

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the Arabs had not yet displaced the Hindoos,
nor the Europeans the Arabs ; as, moreover,
the Chinese, notwithstanding the " First Em-
peror's " forced migrations, had not yet mioved
outwards or down to the south on a wholesale
scale as far as the sea coasts, it is futile to waste
labour over unessential discussions as to detail ;
and better to content ourselves, at least in an
outline work of this kind, with what we know
for a certainty. It is quite incontestable that
the Roman Empire is stated by Pliny to have
obtained from China silk, iron, and furs or skins :
it is also distinctly stated by native historians
that the Chinese obtained from Ta-ts'in glass-
ware of all kinds, asbestos, v>^oven fabrics, and
embroideries, drugs, dyes, metals, and gems.
So far as the northern parts of China, and there-
fore the Government and the historians, were
concerned, this important trade was chiefly
known of as a land trade by way of Parthia

50 £ARLY trade notions [chap, m

(which, it is interesting to note, the Chinese
always call Arsac, from the generic name of the
Parthian kings) ; and if small stress is laid
upon the part which came by sea, this is easily
to be explained by the special circumstances I
have already touched upon : (1) the lateness of
China's appearance on the coast ; (2) the fact
that during half of her historical existence China
has been divided into two empires ; and (3)
the failure in even modern times to realise the
true position of the West, and to identify persons
coming from the south-west by sea with the
same persons coming from the north-west by
land. In the year a.d. 94 special facilities were
given to hawkers, as distinguished from great
traders, throughout the empire.

In A.D. 98 a Chinese agent, sent by a general
in the field on a voyage of exploration in order
to learn more about the mysterious Ta-ts'in,
arrived on the western confines of the Parthian
Empire, and endeavoured to take passage to
the countries beyond in a local ship, — the only
possible direction in which this ship could have
sailed was down the Persian Gulf or westwards
from Gujerat to Aden ; — but the skippers at
the port, which was either Basra or other port of
ancient Babylon, or some landing-place contigu-
ous to it up to which the sea is then known to
have reached, successfully endeavoured to dis-
suade him. The key to their motives is found
in the same history that narrates the above
incident : " The Ta-ts'in merchants traffic by
sea with Parthia and India : their kings always
desired to send missions to China, but the Par-
thians wished to carry on the trade with them
in Chinese silks, and it is for this reason that
they were cut off from communication. This
went on until the King Antun," etc. All this
is perfectly plain ; in the first century of our

Friar Odonc's roufe



era, at least, a brisk trade in silk had already
grown up between China and Rome. The
Parthians tried to monopolise it, and the
Romans, in order to escape Parthian cupidity,
had recourse to the sea route, with which official
China had no opportunity of acquainting herself
before the second century. The one link, and
that an important one, between the land and
the sea routes was subsequently forged by such
travellers as the Buddhist priest Fah-hien, who,
beginning with the fifth century, reached Turkes-
tan by way of the Pamirs, and groped their way
home through India, and thence by sea along
the Java, Cambodgia, and Malay coasts. Ac-
cording to Gibbon, a Chinese envoy appeared in
Aurelian's triumphal procession after the Par-
thians had been replaced by the Persians.

Shortly after this, it will be remembered from
our slight historical sketch, North China was
politically cut off from the southern coasts for
four centuries. It is not surprising, therefore,
to find that the northern Tobas have nothing
new to say about the South Seas, whilst the
southern dynasties at Nanking are correspond-
ingly ignorant of events along the desert routes.
But these southern dynasties kept up their
relations with Ceylon, India, and Indo-China,
and there is every reason to believe that a brisk
trade went on without interruption as before.
Up to the time of Mahomet, it seems that
colonies sent out from India had managed or
financed the entire ocean trade with the Far
East, if they did not also in most cases directly
rule the coast peoples of Java, the Malay Penin-
sula, and Indo-China. Profound international
peace appears to have reigned, so far as Chinese
trade was concerned. There were no very
violent attempts made by junk-masters to con-
quer the natives, nor by dark-skinned rulers to


harass or practise extortion upon the traders.
There is one specific but not very well authenti-
cated mention in a.d. 226 of a Ta-ts'in merchant
coming to the court of the Emperor of Wu (at
Nanking, but later at Wu-ch'ang opposite Han-
kow), who gave him some black dwarfs to take
back as curiosities ; otherwise nothing new is
said of that country except in connection with
the trade of India. The history of the Toba
dynasty, in adding a few new details about Ta-
ts'in, says that the capital is called Antu
(Antioch). The early histories, in describing the
capital, do not give it this name. Curiously
enough, this northern account goes on to describe
" another way to Ta-ts'in by water via Yung-
ch'ang " ; this (practically the head waters of
the Irrawaddy) evidently has reference to the
old story about An-tun, for it is almost certain
that nothing fresh had occurred in connection
with the Roman Empire. These various his-
torical accounts, however, though manifestly
often copies from one another, or from one
common original document stowed away in the
imperial archives, are often important as supple-
menting details omitted by other copyists as
being unessential. The single important point,
and that upon which to lay stress, is this : both
Roman and Chinese accounts make it perfectly
clear that land and sea trade in silk, iron, glass,
textile fabrics, and many other articles existed
between the Red Sea ports (Petra, etc.) and the
Indo-Chinese ports (Rangoon, etc.), and also
between Mesopotamia and Si-an Fu, during the
first five or six centuries of the Christian era ;
but so far it does not appear that the foreign
question of customs duties, transit charges, or
tonnage dues ever came to the front promi-
nently, if at all, in China, though customs
barriers are mentioned in the year 483 as being


relaxed in sulTering places, — apparently affect-
ing trade between the Northern and Southern

The Arabs are first heard of by the Chinese in
A.D. 628, under the name of Tajik, or Tazi, and
in connection with a revolt of Persia against her
overbearing task-masters the Western Turks. As
Mahomet was not yet dead, and means of com-
munication were not more rapid then than they
had been 600 years earlier, we have here a good
instance of the speed at which news of political
changes in Europe might reach China. The
name Fu-lin now also appears for the first time,
and the people of that country (which I take to
be Fereng, or " Frank ") are baldly stated to
be " also called Ta-ts'in." The energetic but
crazy Emperor of the Sui dynasty, whom I have
already characterised as a sort of Caligula, is
stated to have unsuccessfully attempted to
open communications with Fu-lin. As this
monarch sent an envoy by sea to Siam, per-
sonally visited the Turkish Khan in his own
tent, and was present at the capture of the then
Corean capital (now called Mukden), it is evident
that he had both energy and curiosity enough
to solve the European mystery if he could ; at
the same time, even in his day artisans and
traders were forbidden to enter officialdom.
There have been interminable learned discussions
as to what Tazi and Fu-lin really mean etymolo-
gically, but there is scarcely any doubt that the
Arabs of Bagdad and the Nestorian Christians
of Syria are at least sometimes intended. We
have much the same anachronism, confusion, or
extension of ideas in the Far East in connection
with the Russian word Kitat (Mongol plural
Kitan), still applied by them to all C'hinese,
though only a small portion of Cliina was ever
governed by Kitans, and none of them were so


governed when the Russians first picked up the

It needs not to be told again how Arab traders
and missionaries spread themselves along the
African and Arabian coasts, boldly navigated
the Indian Ocean, established factories on the
Gujerat and Malabar coasts, in Ceylon, Sumatra,
and Java, and then in Canton and other Chinese
ports. In 658 the Chinese established a mathe-
matical college. In the middle of the seventh
century we also first hear of tithes being levied
in kind, upon imports of spices, camphor, and
precious woods, by an officer appointed specially
to oversee the foreign trade : one of these
functionaries is stated to have been on duty
at Canton in a.d. 763, just five years after the
Arabs and Persians had made a filibustering
attack upon and then pillaged and burnt some
warehouses in that city, as recounted in the
history of the T'ang dynasty. The reports of
the Arab merchant Suleiman upon the con-
dition of trade in the Far East during the ninth
century, and the comments of the Arab geo-
grapher Abu Seid, who wrote about one century
after this again, confirm what the Chinese say,
and make it quite certain that a lively inter-
national traffic then pervaded the whole of the
Indian Ocean. Even the Chinese accounts
speak of foreign ships at Canton having a
capacity of 1,000 bkarams, — an Indian word
having the meaning of " a quarter of a ton."

Towards the end of the fifth century the
Turks appear on the Chinese frontiers, in order
to purchase silk and wadding in exchange for
articles of their own production. The Turks
were workers in iron, and the district of Liang-
chou, in or near which they are first heard of,
was, as we have seen, precisely the most ancient
iron-producing place mentioned in Chinese


history. Tea now appears for the first time as
an article of commerce, and from that day to
this Tm-kestan, Siberia, Tibet, and finally
Europe, have regarded this as the main staple
of their trade with China. The Nestorian Stone
with Syriac and Chinese inscriptions, dated
A.D. 781, to which allusion has also been made
in other chapters, gratefully acknowledges the
toleration shown to Christian travellers by the
monarchs of the T'ang dynasty. At this time
there were over 4,000 foreign families in Si-an
Fu, and owing to the Tibetans having just then
occupied Turkestan, most of them were obliged
to settle in China for good. Foreign traders
from the West were taxed at Bukur on the
Tarim River, the fund going to defray the
expense of keeping the high road open.

During the period of anarchy which inter-
vened between the collapse of the T'ang dynasty
and the rise of the Sung — that is, during the
greater part of the tenth centmy — Canton seems
to have lost its place as the main centre of
foreign trade. In 985 the sea traders were
prohibited from exercising their calling. The
explanation probably is that petty local dynas-
ties ruled all over South China, at Canton
amongst other places ; and until the Sung
dynasty had settled the question of respective
political spheres with the Kitans in the north,
it could not give attention to such remote dis-
tricts as Canton. Hence there are more frequent
allusions to the land trade between Tangut and
Corea than to the junk-borne commerce of the
South Seas. The result was a partial transfer
of sea trade to Hangchow and (modern) Ningpo,
to which places customs inspectors were, at the
request of the foreign spokesmen, appointed in
A.D. 1000 ; efforts were also made to obtain a
similar appointment for Ts'iian-chow (Marco


Polo's Zaitun), and this was granted in a.d. 1087 ;
but I observe in the Sung history a statement
in the year 1114 to the efiect that the Hoppo of
Canton was then still obliged to send to Court
annual presents of pearls and ivory. The Bava-
rian sinologist Dr. Frederick Hirth, succeeded
about twenty years ago in obtaining a very rare
Chinese work, Upon Foreigners, composed by an
imperial scion of the ruling Sung house, who
actuall}^ occupied this last-named post towards
the end of the twelfth century ; he and the late
Mr. W. W. Rockhill (then U.S. Ambassador at
Constantinople) about four years ago published
in their joint names a painstaking review and
development of the whole subject of ocean trade.
As piracies at Swatow, off Fuh Kien, Canton,
and the Lei-chou peninsvila are frequently
noticed in the standard Chinese histories, it is
probable that the whole coast was in a dis-
turbed state at that timiC ; but in the year 1141
it is recorded that " rules governing sea-going
junks " were drawn up. In 1182 the Fuh Kien
customxS officer was abolished. In 1156 the
taxing stations in all the provinces were closed
up, in order to facilitate trade. In 1157 the
Hoppo of Canton was directed to scrutinise the
doings of foreign traders pretending to bring
tribute. In 1166 the two maritime custor/is
stations of Cheh Kiang were closed. In 1173
and 1182 foreign traders were restricted in their
dealings with bullion ; and in 1199 Japanese and
Corean traders were limited in some way in
their copper " cash " operations ; it is remark-
able that similar suspicious copper cash opera-
tions were exciting grave attention at the moment
I wrote these lines in 1916. In 1204 Canfu was first
garrisoned with marines ; and in 1205 eighty-one
Cantonese sub-stations (? likin) were abolished.
In 1211 Kwang Si cattle taxes were stopped. And


so on. The space at our disposal only permits
of it being stated here that the Chinese had then
acquired a knowledge of the African coast down
to Zanzibar, the Red Sea, and even (to a limited
hearsay extent) of Egypt and Sicily. The great
centre of Arab trade in the Far East was Sar-
b^iza, or the modern Palembang in Sumatra,
between which place and the coasts of Fuh Kien
Chinese junks plied regularly with the two
monsoons, carrying their cargoes of porcelain,
silk, camphor, rhubarb, iron, sugar, black dwarf
slaves, and precious metals to barter at Palem-
bang for scents, gems, ivory, coral, fine swords,
prints, textile fabrics, and other objects from
Syria, Arabia, and India. Cochin-China- — prob-
ably "Faifo," near the modern Tourane- — joined
in this trade as a sort of half-way house, but
levied the heavy charge of 20 per cent, upon all
imports. It is specifically stated that there
was no foreign trade with the northern part of
the peninsula, i.e. w^hat we now call Tonquin.
After Palembang the most important trade
centres were Lamibri (Acheen), and ports in
Java, Borneo, and perhaps Manila. That there
was an active trade with North China is also
evident, for in 1130, when the Niichen Tartars
had driven the native Chinese Sung dynasty
across the Yang-tsze, " Fuh Kien, Canton, and
Cheh Kiang trading junks were forbidden to go
to Shan Tung lest the Niichens might make use
of them as guides." In 1173 the export of silver
and silk " to the north " was forbidden, and in
1178 it was made a capital offence to export
tea thither " on ox or horse back." In 1192 tlie
Ya-chou (Sz Ch'wan) custom-house was abolished

—evidently referring to Tibetan teas.
The accounts given by Marco Polo of this

same ocean trade, as it existed when he visited
the South Seas, were at first received in Europe


with incredulity, but almost every place named
by him, whether it be in Africa, Arabia, India,
Sumatra, or Java, can be identified with trade
marts mentioned either in Mongol history or in
the above-cited work of the Sung dynasty, or
else in the history of the Ming dynasty which
succeeded the Mongols. The late Colonel Yule
has treated this subject so exhaustively in his
immortal work on Ser Marco Polo ^ that it is
quite superfluous to cite further evidence, unless
it be to demonstrate the accuracy or inaccuracy
of insignificant points in detail. Full accounts
have also been published, by various gentlemen
competent to examine the Chinese originals, of
the voyages of Cheng Ho and other Chinese
eunuchs, despatched early in the fifteenth cen-
tury by the Ming emperors reigning at Nanking
and Peking upon various diplomatic and com-
mercial missions to most of the countries in the
Indian Ocean between the Red Sea, the Persian
Gulf, and Singapore.

The above historical sketch of early trade,
imperfect and superficial though it necessarily
is, T^411 perhaps suffice, when read in connection
with the preceding chapters, to prepare the way
for an account of the great turning point in the
annals of the Far Eastern trade — the arrival of
Europeans in the China seas.

^ Revised and enlarged in 1903 by Henri Cordier.



After the first land discoveries of Han Wu Ti's
generals, the Chinese laid it down quite clearly
that there were two main roads to the West,
and to this day they are still known by their old
names of North and South roalds — i.e. of the
T'ien Shan (Celestial Mountains) which divide
off the two. In the Han times the " six states
north of the mountains " were nomad, and the
" thirty-six town-states " were settled in their
habits. The North, or Sungaria Road, or Great
Road, is the one which leads from Si-an Fu,
north of Kokonor, past Kan-chou, Suh-chou,
and the Purun-ki River at Ansi Chou to Hami,
Barkul, Manas, Urumtsi, and Hi. The T'ien
Shan " must be crossed " at either Hami or
Turfan, which last place, under various names,
has always been a pivot of Chinese power — i.e.
whenever it reached so far. In other words, on
leaving Barkul for Urumtsi you can go by Turfan
if you like. The South, or Kashgaria Road, or
Short Road, branches off from the North Road,
either at Turfan for Harashar, or at the Purun-ki
River for Lob Nor ; there it again divides into
two : — you can either go past Korla north of
the Gobi steppe and of the Tarim or Yarkand
River ; or you can go south of the Gobi steppe
past Khotan and Yarkand, passing to the north
of the Karakoram Pass which leads into Kashmir,


60 TRADE ROUTES [chap, iv

and of the watershed of the K'unlun Range
which shuts off both Tibet and Kashmir. This
Karakoram Pass must not be confused with
Karakoram city in MongoHa ; nor must it be
forgotten that names of places frequently change,
and that I ignore many of these changes in
order not to crowd my book with ungainly
sounds. From Kashgar it is clear the earliest
Chinese travellers passed over the Pamirs to
Badakshan and Kandahar or Kabul. As I
prepare this new edition, Sir Aurel Stein sends
me an account of his miost recent travels in the
Wakhan region, in the course of which he tramps
over and personally identifies the old landm.arks
of 2,000 years ago.

There is an old Chinese legend about foreign
envoys having been sent back to Annam in
" south-pointing carriages," from which story
some persons have rashly inferred that in 110 B.C.
the use of the magnetic compass was known.
What we may fairly conclude is that in those
times there was already an overland commerce
with the South. When, in or about 134 B.C., a
Chinese agent was visiting the modern Canton,
he noticed som.e strange produce which was
stated to have come from modern Yiin Nan.
On his way back to the im.perial capital the
agent questioned some traders in modern Sz
Ch'wan about this produce, and discovered that
there was a regular junk trade between Yiin
Nan, Kwei Chou, and Canton ; this is the
identical trade, now developed by steam-
launches, that Hosie and Ainscough have fully
described to us within the past decades. When
in 112 B.C. the generals of the Emperor marched
upon Southern Yueh in several columns by way
of Hu Nan and Kiang Si, they took advantage
of these discoveries to ship troops also from^ Sz
Ch'wan and Kwei Chou, in both cases by m.eans

B.C. 200-A.D. 500] PARTHIAN TRADE 61

of the divergent headwaters of the Western
River, which will be further referred to in the
chapter on " Salt." In 196 B.C. the King of
South Yiieh had already complained to the
Emperor that his trade in cattle, iron, and
utensils was being interfered with by the Em-
peror's kinsman the King of Ch'ang-sha (Hu
Nan) ; so that it is evident the trade route by
the Canton North River and the (Hu Nan) Siang
River had also been used long before this.

The Chinese record that the Parthians carried
on a land trade in waggons and a sea trade in
boats. The distances along the road are given
in such a way that it seems plain a Persian
farsang (ten miles) was used as the measure of
stages. The Chinese pilgrims some centuries
later measured by Indian yodjanas^ which are
perhaps the same thing. This matter of Par-
thian distances has been worked out by Frederick
Hirth, who shows that from the Parthian capital
(at first on the Oxus, but later much farther
west) a road led for 1,600 English miles east-
wards to the frontier at Antiochia Margiana (near
Margilan or Kokand), which place the Chinese
historians of that period called Mulu — con-
jectured to be the Muru of the Zend-Avesta.
Westwards from the Parthian capital a second
road ran 1,200 miles across the Zagros chain to
Ktesiphon, whence 320 more to Hira (port of
Babylon). We need not trouble ourselves much
about this western part of the trade, which was
monopolised by Parthians and Persians, and in
which in any case no Chinese trading caravans
ever engaged ; but it is evident that Margiana
brings us back to some place very near the
Chinese frontier, or at least to the region under
Chinese influence, visited first 2,000 years ago
by Chang K'ien, and last contested sixty-five
years ago by the Manchus. There is another

62 TRADE ROUTES [chap, iv

point to be remembered : even some of the
river routes to Canton had only been discovered
a century before our era ; so that no silk could
have been sent abroad from North or West
China by sea, nor had the imperial Chinese any
properly controlled territory or any accumula-
tions of silk south of the Yang-tsze. Pliny
(23-79) mentions iron as one of the commodities
coming from China ; and at the time (200 B.C.)
when, as explained above, no silk could possibly
have gone direct from China to Rome by sea,
the Chinese specially mention a people enriched
by commerce in salt and iron in the region of
modern Liang-chou, and a heavy excise was laid
upon iron by the First Emperor, who himself
came from Shen Si. Thus it seems plain that
all silk and iron went by land, until the Parthian
cupidity, two centuries later, drove it to the sea
route. The Chinese enumerate over fifty kinds
of produce imported by them from Ta Ts'in.

Ptolemy and Arrian (second century) speak of
Sina, Thin, the Seres, and the " Stone Tower "
(some such place as Tashkend or Tashkurgan,
i.e. " Stone City " or " Stone Fort," near Yark-
and). Sir Aurel Stein, bringing to bear the
evidence of Marinus of Tyre and Maes the Mace-
donian, places the Stone Tower at Daraut-
Kurgan, now a Russian frontier post in the Kara-
tegin valley. In the chapter on " Early Trade
Notions " I have already shown how the over-
land route from Rangoon and one of the three
Burma roads to China by the Irrawaddy, Mekong,
or Salween {via Bhamo, Esmok, Kiang-hung, or
the Kunlon Ferry), was open to the " tribute " of

The routes followed by the Chinese Buddhist
pilgrims are not to be ignored when we attempt
to decide what the ancient sea and land trade
routes were. At the beginning of the fifth


century of our era the most celebrated monk
of all (Fah-hien), starting from modern Si-an Fu,
passed through modern Liang-chou (near the iron
region of 200 B.C.), the modern Kan-chou (long
the Ouigour capital), Tun-hwang (still so called),
the modern Lob Nor, the modern Harashar,
Khotan (still so called), the modern Kugiar,
and Tashkurgan ; then from the left bank to
the right of the Indus by a circuitous road it is
impossible to identify, but which was probably
the same route as that followed by Chinese and
Hindoo merchants at this day, not to mention
our own travellers, sportsmen, and explorers —
i.e. via Shahidula, the Karakoram Pass, Srinagar,

Online LibraryEdward Harper ParkerChina, her history, diplomacy, and commerce, from the earliest times to the present day → online text (page 7 of 35)