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Ayutthaya and the Global Market in a Review of: "From Japan to Arabia: Ayutthaya's Maritime Relations with Asia"

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This truly impressive volume has stood the test of time and relevance as scholars and others alike continue to discuss the transnational maritime connections across Asia. One of the major accomplishments of this volume, however, is that rather than place the focus of the narrative on the rise of the European trading companies in the region during the Early Modern period, readers are rather encouraged to refocus on the rise of Ayutthaya as “one of the most powerful polities in this part of the world.” (Preface) The volume bears relevance to scholars of Thailand and Southeast Asia alone as it neatly traces the development of the second major Thai state, or rather state-like polity (after Sukhothai), in the region during its four hundred and sixteen year long apogee from the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries. Furthermore, through an assertion of the evidence mounted in this volume it is possible to assert that Ayutthaya bears not only regional but also global significance as the well protected hinterland location of this up-river polity provided a comfortable location of exchange between the Oceanic networks stretching from the Mediterranean through the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the straights of Melaka outward to the Vietnamese Coast, the South China Sea and Eastern Asia. A previous review of From Japan to Arabia was eloquently produced by Barbara Andaya in the Journal of the Economic History of the Orient (44) 3 (2001), where she argued that “it is indeed hard to find another Asian port with the same commercial receptiveness as Ayutthaya.” (B. W. Andaya 2001, 404) While this claim may appear bold to those less versed in the regional importance of the Thai entrepot, it works in agreement with the evidence mounted in the very first contribution by Kennon Breazeale, which examines the constructions of Thai ministries, import and export taxation codes, and political and trading relations with China, the Ryukyu Kingdom, Japan, the Vietnamese Coastline, the Philippines, the Sultanates of the Indonesian Archipelago, and the Indian Ocean Rim in combination with the emergence of the colonial trading companies. Here, Ayutthaya operates as not only an important nexus of exchange but also as a niche microcosm of macrocosmic geo-political movements such as the 1682 conflict between Chinese workers and Vietnamese students, which resulted in the reorganization of both the Vietnamese and the French missions from the ministry of Eastern Affairs to the ministry of Western Affairs. (Breazeale, Thai Maritime Trade and the Ministry Responsible 1999, 10-11) Regardless the protection offered by this region remained important for French and Vietnamese travelers alike as they moved from Ayutthaya along the coastlines of the South China Sea northward to southern Sinitic territory, where “The Vietnamese quarter, adjacent to the French seminary and cathedral, was in part a refugee camp, settled by Catholics and others who had fled from religious persecution and other forms of oppression in their homeland.” (Breazeale, From Japan to Arabia: Ayutthaya's Maritime Relations with Asia 1999, 31) As such, the protectionism of King Narai’s court, during this period, the seventeenth century, was particularly revered, and Narai’s “ambassadors to the Shah reached Persia in 1669.” (L. Andaya 1999, 39) Given the breadth and depth of the historical evidence of global connections mounted by Breazeale in this introductory chapter, readers are left wondering: what about relations with the rest of the region that allowed Ayutthaya to rise in prominence? The second chapter of the volume picks up upon the discourse of the first, where Charnvit Kasetsiri examines the origins of Ayutthaya as a port in connection to the early archeological evidence of the Dvaravati culture that stretched from the flood plains of the Chao Phrya across the Korat Plateau to the Mekong. Importantly, the territory of Ayutthaya was originally an uninhabitable coastal swamp zone, and it was only through the Angkorean outpost of Lopburi that Ayuthhaya began to derive its authority in the region. However, through the foundation of the Sultanate of Melaka in 1400 and the combined explorations and trade network expansions of the Ming Dynasty (1405-1433) Ayutthaya pulled the center of trading power off of the Mekong and onto the Chao Phrya the riverine network allowed Thai traders to draw extensively on hinterland goods for export to East and Southeast Asian markets. (Kasetsiri 1999, 67) It was this extensive trade network that allowed Ayutthaya to become as Kasetsiri argues “The first major capital of the Thai.” (Kasetsiri 1999, 78) After the focus on the establishment of Ayutthaya through its connection to external politics, David Wyatt’s contribution focuses on the careful and complex notions of internal politics in the locality of Ayutthaya, including the resounding importance of a small Cham community as a safe haven for Thai ministers fearing political distress. As early as the fifteenth century, this community of Cham peoples, who had their own origins on the coastline of what is contemporary Vietnam and likely migrated for their own political, religious, or economic reasons, settled along a moat or canal south of Ayutthaya. “Panthakhucham,” as the community was called housed the minister(s) “Chao Senabodi” and/or “Chao Phraya Maha Senabodi” as well as the monarch Ramaracha during his retirement in exile. (Wyatt 1999, 83-4) While the connections between this small community of Chams and the Thai elite may seem of minute importance to some, when placed against the inter-regional ethno-linguistic evidence mounted by Graham Thurgood, who argued for Cham connections that ranged from Hainan (China) to Aceh (Malaysia), it does suggest that the Thai were well integrated with the networks of inter-regional elites, which provides a backdrop for Thai involvement with Melaka dating back to the 1390s, which was likely an integral element to the rise of Ayutthaya over Sukhothai and Angkor. (Thurgood 1999) (Wyatt 1999, 87-8) From the regional focus of Wyatt’s work, the discourse of From Arabia to Japan then turns again global with the contributions of Nagazumi Yoko, who explores the seventeenth century connections between the Dutch ports of Batavia and Nagasaki, but then also highlights the emergence of monastic movement from Japan to Ayutthaya, with stopovers in what is referred to as Quinam (or Nguyen Vietnam). This outward focus then shifts again against “centralist historical ideology” in order to pay more due to the “histories from below” with Sunait Chutinaranond’s work on the Bay of Bengal Rim locations of Mergui and Tenasserim in connection to their roll in the burgeoning early modern global markets. This outward focus then continues with Leonard Andaya’s examination of the connections between Ayutthaya and the period of the “Islamic long sixteenth century,” where the center of culture was located not in the hijez (holy land) but in the court of Suleiman the Magnificent of the Safavi Empire (Iran). (L. Andaya 1999, 122) Here Andaya demonstrates the integral links between the Thai polity and the Arabian sea in order to conclude that the local populations of Muslims were “equally valued by Ayutthaya because of their prestigious and lucrative links to the larger Islamic World.” (L. Andaya 1999, 136). All in all the final two studies of the volume, Power Politics in Southeast Asian Waters by Adrian B. Lapian and Ha Tien or Banteay Meas in the Time of the Fall of Ayutthaya equally demonstrate the importance of interregional elite negotiation in the rise of new entrepots in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Lapian’s work focuses on the roll that an elite class of Chinese traders played in the Gulf of Siam, as they relied on Ayutthaya’s support and their network extended through the Riau archipelago (south of Singapore) to the Sulu archipelago (in the southwest of the Philippines). While a similar network is the focus of Ha Tien or Banteay Meas, one cannot possibly overlook the monumental side by side comparison of Khmer and Vietnamese chronicles that have been sighted in what is truly a fabulous collaboration between Yumio Sakurai and Takoko Kitagawa. This essay concludes counter to the presumptions of previous work that “The local Khmer administrator regarded Ha Tien as a Chinese settlement, whose leader Mac Thien Tu, was known to them by a Khmer title: Preah Sotoat. Though he was an influential person, he was a completely different person from the governor of the port city of Banteay Meas (Peam Banteay Meas), whose title was Okna Reacea Sethei.” Importantly it was Mac Thien Tu’s interregional elite negotiations with the courts at Ayutthaya and Hue that allowed him to supersede Khmer authority in Thai and Vietnamese historical accounts. (Kitagawa 1999, 206) Bookended by a beautiful collection of early-modern maps and a tremendously assembled glossary of Sino-Vietnamese terms, it is a wonder that From Japan to Arabia has not received more attention in recent scholarship as a work that fundamentally traces global oceanic networks and demonstrates the importance of the roll of the Southeast Asia entrepot of Ayutthaya in the development of global markets. Drawn into conversation with such works as Heather Sutherland’s Southeast Asian History and the Mediterranean Analogy (2003), Li Tana and Nola Cooke eds. Water Frontier: Commerce and the Chinese in the Lower Mekong Region: 1750-1880 (2004), Barbara Andaya’s Oceans Unbounded (2006), Tran and Lockhart’s The Cham of Vietnam (2011), the editorial accomplishments of Beazeale in From Japan to Arabia remains fundamental in the articulation of Southeast Asia’s contribution to the development of the global marketplace.

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