Tonkinese ceramics exported to South-East Asia in the Seventeenth Century - Documents and awareness

  • Hoàng Anh Tuấn


In contrast to our relatively clear awareness of the Vietnamese export ceramics in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the story of the seventeenth-century Vietnamese wares exported to the South-East Asian market and some other Asian countries remained unclear. More critically, there have been some sorts of misinterpretations or at least inappropriate conclusions on this topic caused largely by the lack of data from written sources. Fortunately enough, the archives of the Dutch and English East India Companies contain a great amount of valuable information on the story of seventeenth-century Vietnamese ceramics exported to the regional and international markets. Not only recorded their own involvement in the import and export of ceramics with the northern Vietnamese Kingdom of Tonkin (Dang Ngoai), the English and Dutch Companies also noted in their daily records such activities by other foreign traders trading in Vietnam at that time, offering researchers today a good source of materials in studying this virtually untouched theme.

Based on information and data extracted from Western sources, this article aims to sketch a brief picture over the seventeenth-century Vietnamese ceramics exported into South-East Asia as well as the flow of foreign wares into Tonkin. The central argument of this article is that, at least between 1662 and 1684, Vietnamese ceramics played a vital role in balancing the South-East Asian ceramic market when the traditional flow of Chinese coarse wares to regional markets stagnated caused by the Qing's policy of closing the country in order to eliminate the Zheng family in Taiwan. After the Zheng in Taiwan was eventually pacified in the early 1680s and the Qing lifted its embargo on China's maritime trade, Chinese wares again flooded regional and international markets. As a direct consequence from this event, Vietnamese export ceramics, similar to the fate of their predecessors in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, became unsaleable and had to retreat from the vast South-East Asian market from the middle of the 1680s.

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