Chinese Engagement with the Indian Ocean during the Song,Yuan, and Ming Dynasties (Tenth to Sixteenth Centuries)

  • Geoff Wade
Part of the Palgrave Series in Indian Ocean World Studies book series (IOWS)


The premodern interactions between China and the Indian Ocean (including, for purposes here, the eastern extension of the Indian Ocean comprising the seas of Southeast Asia) were, by definition, exclusively by sea. The early migrations of the Austronesian peoples would have been some of the earliest voyages from the Eurasian continent to the seas of Southeast Asia and beyond, but these are obviously not attested by any historical source. The archaeological record is the only way to demonstrate these voyages. It is likely that the maritime and coastal peoples of East Asia and those of the Indian Ocean have been in contact with each other for millennia. However, this chapter will restrict itself to the historical maritime links and interactions between the successive polities of China and those of the Indian Ocean and maritime Southeast Asia over the period from the tenth to the sixteenth centuries. This was a time when Chinese seafaring came of age, with Lo Jung-pang, one of the doyens of East Asia maritime history, opining, “Indeed, during the three centuries from the Southern Song to the early Ming period, the maritime and overseas activities of the Chinese people were so great in extent and consequence that China then was more of a sea power than a land power” (Lo 2012, pp. xiv–xv).


Indian Ocean Song Dynasty Thirteenth Century Fifteenth Century Fourteenth Century 


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© Michael Pearson 2015

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