Han Chinese Representations of South Sea Merchants in Song China
For a period of seven hundred years, the port cities of China played host to long-lasting communities of foreign maritime merchants who came from across the vast expanse of maritime Asia. Using the writings of Chinese officials and literati, it is also possible to offer some observations concerning how these merchant communities interacted with and were perceived by their Chinese hosts during the Song dynasty (960–1279). This paper focuses on accounts from Guangzhou and Quanzhou, the two most popular ports for those from the South Seas, and finds that there was a remarkable degree of tolerance for them among official and literati writers. Wealthy merchants might be faulted for their great wealth, but not for their physical features, customs, dress, or religion. This was a reflection of their non-threatening presence and their relative integration into port society, and also of an apparent lack of curiosity about them among the Chinese elites.