Thailand in Late Ming Historical Geographical Texts

Elke Papelitzky

Venue: Room 1505, 1555 Century Avenue, NYU Shanghai
Date: Monday, September 12, 2016
Time: 15:00 to 16:00 CST

In the late Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), Chinese literati were very interested in foreign countries. This resulted in the inclusion of information about the so-called “barbarians” in encyclopedias, military treatises, and private histories, as well as the publication of many books that specifically deal with foreign countries. Some of them could even be considered early Chinese attempts at writing world history.

Thailand, which had close ties to China at the time, was a popular country to write about in these historical geographical works. The authors describe Thai tribute missions to China, Thai customs, wars that Thailand fought with its neighbors, and many other things. However, two important topics one might expect to find in the texts, are missing: We look in vain for any information that the famous admiral Zheng He (1371–1433) arrived in Thailand, even though we know from other sources that he did. Secondly, the Chinese historical geographical works hardly mention trade despite the fact that Thailand was a major trading hub in the period.

Looking at what the authors wrote about or left out, we gain knowledge not only about the history of Thailand, but also about the attitude of late Ming literati towards China’s maritime neighbors.

Elke Papelitzky received a Master’s degree in Japanese and Chinese studies at Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich. She is now a PhD candidate and research assistant at the University of Salzburg working on historical geographical texts of the late Ming period (1368–1644) and their representation of Southeast Asia and Europe.

Assistant Professor of Ancient History, Armin Selbitschka will introduce Elka Papelizky and moderate the discussion. 

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