Posts Tagged ‘Ming Dynasty China’

Satan

November 21, 2010

They say the devil takes many disguises.  After initial contact with 16th century European merchants, many Ming Dynasty Chinese would have agreed.

They called all foreign merchants “Fan Kwae,” or Foreign Devil.  The Portuguese were “Se-yang Kwae,” or Devils of the Western Ocean.  The Dutch were “Po-ssu-hu,” or Red Haired devils.  The English were also “Red Haired” devils.  Merchants from India were “White Haired” devils.  The devilish French were “Fat-lan-sy.”  Swedish devils were “Suy.”  The Danes were “Yellow Flag” devils.  Americans were “Flowery Flag” devils…

It’s understandable that the Chinese would use these terms.  In 1517 the first Portuguese ship arrived in Canton, China.  After dropping anchor without permission the ship’s captain ordered a broadside to be fired thinking it would impress the locals.  The Chinese had no idea who these people were, but the crude display of violence was most unsettling.  In 1637 the English arrived.  Tired of waiting to met by Chinese officials, the English captain also decided to get everyone’s attention with a broadside.

These foreign devils courted the Celestial Kingdom for tea, mostly.  And porcelain.  And money.  A lot of money.  Today of course the tea and porcelain are no longer relevant.  But to get an idea what the original union meant to both parties, consider how they described each other.

From a 1627 English East India Company memo:

“Concerning the trade of China, three things are especially made known unto the world.
The One is, the abundant trade it affordeth.
The Second is, that they admit no stranger into their country.
The Third is, that Trade is as Life unto the Vulgar, which in remote parts they will seek and accommodate, with Hazard of all they have.”

And from the T’ai-wan Fu-chih, an 18th century Chinese text:

“The people which we call Red-hair or Po-ssu-hu …live in the extreme west of the Ocean extending from Formosa…  They are covetous and cunning and have good knowledge of valuable commodities and are clever in seeking profits.  They spare not even their lives in looking for gain and go to the most distant regions to trade…  If one meets them on the high seas, one is often robbed by them…wherever they go, they covet rare commodities, and contrive by all means to take possession of the land.”

Not exactly a marriage made in heaven.

Readings:
China Trade Porcelain. John Goldsmith Phillips.  Harvard University Press/Cambridge, MA. 1956.

The Geldermalsen, History and Porcelain. CJA Jörg.  Kemper Publishers/Groningen, The Netherlands. 1986.