De l’importance du retour aux sources

Je partage ici le dernier billet du blog de Lê Minh Khai, au titre volontairement provocateur « Crocodiles and the sinking of Premodern Vietnamese History », consultable ici.

Il insiste sur l’importance, pour l’historien, de ne jamais se fier aveuglément à la littérature secondaire et de revenir autant que possible au matériau de base, à la source pure et dure, quand bien même (ou d’autant plus ?) ne serait-il pas spécialiste du sujet qu’il traite.

Il prend pour cela l’exemple fameux du sacrifice aux crocodiles, au cours duquel le plus ancien texte existant en nôm aurait été écrit…du moins est-ce ce qu’affirme Ben Kiernan dans sa récente synthèse sur l’histoire du Vietnam, suivant en cela une historiographie qui l’a induit en erreur. Lê Minh Khai démonte méthodiquement les différents arguments à l’appui de cette thèse, grâce à un recours à la source de cette anecdote, le Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư 大越史記全書.

Au-delà de l’attaque – violente bien que justifiée – contre le travail de B. Kiernan, ce billet montre ainsi que quels que soient son âge et son expérience, l’historien peut toujours être victime de ses sources… et que rien ne remplace un contact direct avec le document originel (même imprimé et/ou scanné), car c’est en ça que constitue l’originalité et la beauté du métier d’historien.

Cet exemple pose à mon sens une autre question, qui est celle des synthèses générales sur l’histoire d’un pays, d’une communauté etc., soit les synthèses qui demandent à l’historien de sortir de sa spécialité et de sa zone de confort. Aussi courageux que périlleux, ce travail est en général bien accueilli car il permet de toucher un public élargi en même temps qu’il donne l’occasion de maîtriser l’histoire d’un pays de manière à peu près complète.
L’ampleur du sujet traité conduit nécessairement à des tâtonnements et à des erreurs. On ne peut être à la fois un historien de la guerre du Vietnam et un historien de la dynastie Trần – ou du moins, un bon historien ; on peut être un mauvais historien qui se contente de recycler la littérature secondaire sur les deux sujets, mais c’est un autre débat…
Pour autant, un historien de la guerre du Vietnam a-t-il interdiction d’écrire sur le Đại Việt des  Trần ? Il faut reconnaître que, vu la pauvreté relative de l’historiographie en la matière, il est tentant pour un historien du Vietnam contemporain d’en profiter pour faire une synthèse générale…
Je me suis moi-même toujours dit qu’il serait temps qu’une Histoire du Campa en bonne et due forme soit rédigée ; doit-on nécessairement attendre de son auteur qu’il maîtrise le cam moderne, sache lire les manuscrits en moyen cam de l’époque moderne, ait une formation suffisante en épigraphie et en langues classiques pour déchiffrer les stèles en vieux cam et en sanskrit…tout en ayant quelques rudiments en archéologie et en histoire de l’art ? Ce serait évidemment irraisonnable.

Pour autant, quiconque se donne pour objectif de retracer l’histoire d’un pays doit faire preuve d’une vigilance accrue pour les périodes qu’il connaît le moins ; ce qui demande un investissement certain, notamment en suivant les avancées les plus récentes de l’historiographie et en questionnant toujours ses sources (dans tous les sens du terme…), même les plus reconnues et même quand elles sont jugées inattaquables.
C’est pourtant souvent le contraire : on a l’impression, dans la plupart des synthèses sur l’histoire d’un pays, que la période prémoderne est bâclée, ou du moins son importance semble minimisée – ce que révèle d’ailleurs le terme même de « prémoderne »… Pour reprendre l’exemple du Vietnam, que dire du n° spécial de l’Histoire qui (pour répondre sans doute à une demande, certes, et à des impératifs éditoriaux) nous vend « le Vietnam : 2000 ans d’histoire », en ne consacrant que quelques pages (bien faites par ailleurs) à ses 1800 premières années d’histoire ?
Je ne saurais me prononcer pour le livre de Ben Kiernan, que je n’ai pas lu, mais il semble qu’il demeure parfois, auprès de certains historiens contemporanéistes, un léger dédain – inconscient – pour ce qui a précédé… Ou alors c’est simplement que notre monde est encore trop centré sur lui-même et son époque pour mesurer l’importance du temps long.

P-E. Bachelet

Ancien élève de l'Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon (promotion 2011) et agrégé d'histoire, actuellement en thèse sous la direction de J-P. Bassino (Institut d'Asie orientale). Je travaille sur les réseaux japonais dans l'Asie du Sud-Est moderne, avant comme après les édits d'interdiction de voyage à l'étranger promulgués au Japon en 1635.

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Extrait de la Relacion de las Ylas Filipinas de Miguel de Loarca

Je partage ici la traduction d’un extrait des Relacion de las Ylas Filipinas de Miguel de Loarca (1582) que j’ai proposée à un élève lors d’une séance de colles, pour préparer les oraux d’agrégation de la promotion 2016. Le sujet du programme de moderne est « La péninsule ibérique et le monde (1470-1640) ».
Cet extrait a pour intérêt d’évoquer, de manière très succincte, la présence japonaise aux Philippines dans les premiers temps de la conquête espagnole.
Les coupures effectuées s’expliquent par le souci de proposer un extrait assez riche et intéressant pour être commenté par un agrégatif.

La relation de Miguel de Loarca est plutôt connue dans la mesure où il s’agit d’une des plus anciennes sources espagnoles sur les Philippines, qui comprend des détails géographiques, économiques et culturels sur l’archipel.
En revanche on sait peu de choses sur l’auteur lui-même, sinon qu’il s’agit d’un soldat ayant participé à la conquête des Philippines. Il est également auteur d’une relation de voyage en Chine, antérieure à sa synthèse, nommée Relacion del viaje que hezimos a la China desde la ciudad de Manila en las del poniente año de 1575 años.

Le texte insiste surtout sur les Chinois, qui sont en passe de devenir les intermédiaires absolument incontournables du commerce espagnol avec la Chine, et qui sont dès cette époque très bien intégrés dans les réseaux régionaux.
Il y a malheureusement peu d’informations sur les Japonais : tout au plus comprend-on qu’ils sont présents hors de Manille (mais même si le texte ne l’évoque pas ils étaient également présents dans la capitale à cette époque) et en contact direct avec les populations de Luçon, en tout cas avec les intermédiaires entre producteurs locaux et marchands impliqués dans le commerce extérieur.

Plus intrigante est la mention de ce « port du Japon », dont on regrette que M. de Loarca ne nous donne pas plus d’informations à son sujet. Il est étonnant qu’il ne suggère même pas que des Japonais aient pu y vivre et donner son nom à ce lieu, alors qu’il est tout à fait probable que ce fût le cas. En tout cas, il n’est sans doute pas exagéré de penser que la communauté japonaise aux Philippines était suffisamment importante pour s’être installée dans un lieu spécifique et pour que la population locale comme les autres marchands étrangers (on ne sait pas quelles sont les sources de Loarca) aient identifié ce lieu comme un ancrage privilégié pour les bateaux japonais, ou du moins faisant le voyage jusqu’au Japon.

Par ailleurs, on sait que les Philippines étaient victimes de la piraterie japonaise, à l’époque où Loarca écrit et bien qu’il n’en dise mot. Ainsi, une lettre du gouverneur général Gonzalo Ronquillo de Peñalosa datée du 16 juin 1582 évoque les Japonais, « le peuple le plus belliqueux dans cette partie du monde, doté d’artillerie, de beaucoup d’arquebuses et de lances ».
Une autre lettre du facteur royal Juan Baptista Roman datée du 25 juin 1582, évoque le « fortin et les onze navires japonais » stationnés au bord et dans la rivière de Cagayan et les combats entre Espagnols et Japonais, tandis qu’une seconde lettre de Peñalosa datée du 1er juillet 1582 nous informe sur le dénouement de ce conflit : « ces navires se rendirent après une bataille féroce, au cours de laquelle deux cents Japonais, dont le commandant de la flotte et son fils, furent tués« .
Il est étonnant que Loarca n’évoque pas les pirates japonais, qui semblent alors donner du fil à retordre aux Espagnols ; on peut imaginer qu’au moment où il écrit sa relation il n’y a pas encore de conflit ouvert avec les Japonais ; il l’a achevée en juin vraisemblablement, c’est-à-dire juste au moment où la situation devient critique. Néanmoins la première lettre nous indique que dès 1580 et 1581 des pirates japonais sont venus causer du tort aux populations locales ; Loarca ne pouvait donc ignorer le phénomène.

* * *

Philippines
Capture d’écran Google maps modifiée, portant les principaux toponymes du texte et représentant de manière simplifiée le trajet du galion de Manille.

Relacion de las Yslas Filipinas
por Miguel de Loarca

Capo Primo

De la Ysla de Çubu y de las qe estan en su Juridiçion

ysla de Çubu. La ysla De çubu ques la primera donde miguel lopes de l[eg]azpi poblo tiene de box y çircuyto casi çien leguas, y de longitud casi çinquenta porques muy angosta […] tiene toda esta ysla como tres mil y quinientos yndios en diferentes poblaçones por la mayor parte pequeñas […]

No tiene ninguna encomienda prinçipal en toda ella ningun español aunque son catorçe los que tienen parte en ella qe por ser veçinos de la Villa de çubu se les dió a cada Uno dos o tres puebleçuelos para seruiçio y gallinas y otras cosas de sustento, por tener las encomiendas prinçipales lejos a treynta, y a quarenta leguas, mas y menos tiene aliende de los diçhos naturales como dos tiros de Arcabuz De la uilla de los españoles qe se llama la villa del ssantisimo nombre de Jesus porqe alli se allo vn niño Jesus del tiempo de magallanes qe los yndios tenian en beneraçion, vn pueblo de los naturales ques de la Rel Corona qe tiene como oçhoçientos yndios los quales por el adelantado miguel lopes de legazpi fueron Reseruados de tributo por auer sido siempre en fauor de los españoles y auer ayudado a ganar pte de las otras yslas.

notables de la ysla de çubu auia en la poblaçon de los españoles treynta y tantos encomenderos. Ay de ordinario çinquenta o sesenta españoles con los Vecinos y soldados qe Acuden alli,

alld mayor en çubu. Ay Vna leal de [ = Vn alcalde] mayor proveido por los gouernadores destas yslas con treçientos pesos de salario pagados de penas de Camara y no Alcançando en la Real haçienda el Alcalde mayor asta agora no a proueydo ningun theniente Ay seis Regidores los quales asta agora an sido cadañeros y Vn alguaçil mayor proveydo por los gouernadores que an sido y esta a beneplaçito del goueror quitarle y ponerle es ofiçio qe no tiene prouechos ninguno y asi se dá a un encomendero hombre prinçipal, ay dos Alcaldes hordinarios y Vn escriuano de cabildo y publico que si no fuesen encomenderos de los derechos, no podrian sustentarse por no auer en aquella villa ningun comerçio por estar a trasmano, tiene El mejor puesto qe se a allado en estas yslas y por esso poblo alli miguel lopes de legazpi el qual fundo la diçha villa año de sesenta y quatro podria ser qe con el trato del maluco fuese a mas porqe no siendo de aqui no tiene otra pte de donde le venga ninguna contrataçion porque su comarca es pobre porqe en todo su destricto aunqe es mucho no Ay minas de oro ni lauaderos sino es in la ysla de mindanao como se dira Adelante y eso es poco en esta ysla de çubu se coje poco aRoZ coje se Vorona y millo y tiene poco Algodon a casi ninguno porque la Ropa que vsan para su vestir. es sacada de vnos platanos y dello haçen vnas mantas como bocaçi de colores qe llaman los naturales medrinaqe y en estas yslas la que tiene aRoz y Algodon, es tierra Rica por lo que vale en la nueva españa el algodon y las mantas, la condiçion de la gte dire despues de todos los pintados en general porqe todos son de vna manera tienen tambien gallinas y puercos y algunas cabras frisoles y vnas Rayçes como batatas de sancto domingo qe llaman camotes en esta ysla y en todas las demas el prinçipal mantenimiento despues del aRoz es pescado porqe en todas lo Ay en abundançia y bueno—[En esta ysla de çubu aun qe en todas las yslas que se an descubierto en estas partes ay benados en esta no ay ninguno y si lo traen de fuera y lo hechan en ella se muere luego].

Ysla De matan Al sur de la poblaçon de çubu como dos tiros de arcabuz esta la ysla de matan, ques donde mataron a magallanes ques la que haçe el puerto de çubu, y tiene como quatro leguas de çircuyto y media legua de Ançho, ay en ella como treçientos yndios en quatro o çinco pueblos pequeños es proprios de la villa. […]

Capo 3o

Qe Trata de la ysla de luçon

ysla de luçon La ysla e luçon as la mas prinçipal ysla de todo lo descubierto porques poblada de muçha gte es muy abasteçida de aRoz y muçhas minas donde se a sacado gran cantidad de oro espeçial de la prouinçia de los ylocos. esta Repartida EN tres prouinçias digo la prinçipal della la prinçipal es donde esta fundada la çiudad de manilla cabeça deste Reyno a donde Reside El gouernador, en ella ay el mayor concurso de españoles qe Ay en todas las yslas, legua y media de la çiudad esta El puerto de cauite donde Vienen las naos qe vienen de nueua españa en el Rio desta çiudad entran los nauios qe vienen de çhina qe de hordinario aCuden muçhos al Rescate tiene aqui su magd vn fuerte con vn alcayde tres offiçiales Reales proueydos por su magd vn sargento mayor y Vn alferez mayor proueydos por su magd vn alguaçil mayor de corte vn Alguaçil mayor de la çiudad vn secretario de gouernaçion, escriuano de Cauildo, quatro escriuanos publicos. Reside En esta çiudad El obpo de todas las yslas qe tiene en ella su silla y la yglesia catedral. Ay siete Regidores En esta çiudad […]

Esta esta çiudad fundada en medio de vna ensenada grande y terna de Box çerca de Veynte leguas, toda esta ensenada es muy fertil y Abundante, esta poblada de moros yndustriados de los de burney. El Rio aRiua desta çiudad como çinco leguas tiene vna laguna de Agua dulçe qe terna de box mas de Veynte leguas tierra abundante de aRoz y algodon Ricos de oro digo qe lo tienen en sus joyas qe Por aqui no ay minas desta generaçion de moros estan Poblados hasta los pueblos de las batangas qe Adelante se dira la cantidad de gte qe son, destos moros esta Poblada la ysla de mindoro y la de luban y no se Allan en otra pte de las yslas porqe los de la prouja de Camarines qe es la cabeça desta ysla qe esta a la Vanda deL leste que haçe estreçho por donde entran las naos qe Vienen de nueua españa es gente qe son casi Pintados […] aunqe No se pintan como ellos y traen diferentemente oradadas las orejas porqe La pintura destas dos prouinçias es poca, los pintados pintan se todo El cuerpo muy galanamente y los moros no se pintan ninguna cosa ni se oradan las orejas ni traen El cauello largo sino cortado al contrario de los visayas qe lo traen largo aunqe las mugeres de los moros se horadan las orejas pero muy feamente, de suerte qe los moros poseen la tierra mas fertil desta ysla pero no tienen sino esta ensenada de manilla y quinçe leguas de costa. […]

Vaya de pangasinan Mas adelante como çinco leguas esta la prouinçia de pangasinan ques Vna Vaya que terna como seys leguas en torno, salen a esta Vaya tres Rios caudales que deçienden de las sierras de las minas aurá en esta Prouinçia quatro mill hombres de paz. Ay seys encomenderos y su magd. Esta enterado en lo mejor della de mill hombres es gente qe en el traje y lengua son semejantes a los çambales aRiua dichos aun qe es gente de mas Raçon por ser contratante y asi tratan con çhinos, japones, y burneyes, y con los naturales destas yslas. es muy abundante esta prouinçia de vastimentos como es De aRoz, cabras, y puercos. Ay muçha caça de bufanos porqe aunqe su prinçipal negoçio es tratar, son grandes labradores, porqe Venden A los mineros la comida y Ropa a trueqe de oro y este oro bueluen a Rescatar a los españoles, es gente muy çelosa de sus mugeres y ansi si les cometen adulterio las matan sin qe los parientes lo tengan a mal matan los hijos si tienen muçhos porqe no Viuan en proueça de la suerte qe Diximos de los pintados […]

Puerto del Japon Quatro leguas adelante esta vn puerto qe llaman el puerto del Japon qe Ay en el Vna poblaçon de [español: barré dans le manuscrit] yndios ques vna misma gte qe la de pangasinan.

Traduction

Chapitre premier

De l’île de Cebu et de celles qui sont sous sa juridiction

L’île de Cebu, la première que Miguel Lopez de Legazpi a abordée, forme un circuit d’environ cents lieues et d’une largeur d’environ cinquante, c’est pourquoi elle est très étroite. […] Il y a dans cette île autour de trois mille cinq cents Indiens qui vivent dans différents villages, petits pour la plupart. […]

Il n’y a aucun Espagnol dans aucune des principales encomiendas bien que quatorze d’entre eux y aient des biens ; puisqu’en tant que vecinos de la ville de Cebu ils ont reçu chacun un, deux ou trois villages pour les servir, et leur fournir des poulets et autres moyens de subsistance, sachant que les principales encomiendas sont situées à plus ou moins trente ou quarante lieues de là. De l’autre côté desdits [villages de] naturels, à environ deux tirs d’arquebuse de la ville espagnole nommée Santisimo Nombre de Jesus (car il y avait ici un enfant Jésus datant de l’époque de Magellan et vénéré par les Indiens), il y avait un village de naturels appartenant à la couronne royale, avec huit cents Indiens, qui ont été exemptés de tribut par le commandant Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, pour avoir toujours été en faveur des Espagnols et pour les avoir aidés à conquérir certaines des autres îles.

Choses remarquables de l’île de Cebu. Parmi la population espagnole il y a trente [hommes], qui sont encomenderos. D’ordinaire il y a cinquante ou soixante Espagnols qui vivent là, en comptant les vecinos et les soldats.

L’alcalde-mayor de Cebu.

Les gouverneurs de ces îles ont nommé un alcalde-mayor, avec un salaire de trois cents pesos payé grâce aux penas de Camara[1] ; et le Trésor Royal ne suffisant pas, l’alcalde-mayor n’a jusqu’à aujourd’hui nommé aucun lieutenant. Il y a six regidores, qui, jusqu’à aujourd’hui, ont été élus annuellement et un alguazil-mayor nommé par les gouverneurs, qui peuvent lui ôter et lui retirer son office selon leur bon vouloir ; office pour lequel il n’y a aucune rémunération et qui est donc donné à un des principaux encomenderos. Il y a deux alcaldes ordinarios et un notaire pour le cabildo et pour le public, de  sorte que s’ils n’étaient pas encomenderos de leur droit, ils ne pourraient subsister, étant donné que dans la ville il n’y a aucun [moyen de faire du] commerce à portée de main. La ville a le meilleur port de ces îles, et c’est pour cette raison que Miguel Lopez de Legazpi y a peuplé et fondé ladite ville en l’an soixante-quatre.

Peut-être que grâce aux relations avec les Moluques la situation s’améliorerait, car ni ici ni dans d’autres parties [de l’île] il n’est possible de commercer, car la région est pauvre et dans tout le district il n’y a pas de mines d’or ni d’or alluvionnaire, sinon dans l’île de Mindanao comme je le dirai plus en avant – et encore très peu.
Dans cette île de Cebu on produit un peu de riz, de borona[2], de millet, et un peu de coton (mais quasiment pas du tout). Le vêtement qu’ils utilisent pour s’habiller est tiré de bananiers, dont ils forment un tissu semblable à du calicot coloré que les naturels appellent medrinaque. Dans ces îles la terre qui produit du riz et du coton est une terre riche grâce à la valeur que représentent le coton et le tissu en Nouvelle-Espagne.

Ile de Mactan. Au sud de la ville de Cebu, à environ deux tirs d’arquebuse, se trouve l’île de Mactan, où Magellan fut tué et qui forme le port de Cebu. L’île fait environ quatre lieues de circonférence et une demi-lieue de large.  Elle est peuplée d’environ trois cents Indiens, répartis en quatre ou cinq petits villages et est sous la juridiction de la ville de Cebu. […]

Chapitre troisième

Qui traite de l’île de Luçon.

Île de Luçon.

L’île de Luçon est la principale île de toutes celles qui ont été découvertes car elle est peuplée de beaucoup de gens et est très abondante en riz et en mines dont on tire une grande quantité d’or, en particulier dans la province d’Ilocos. Elle se divise en trois provinces, dont la principale est là où a été fondée la ville de Manille, capitale de ce royaume où réside le gouverneur. Il y a là plus d’Espagnols que dans toutes les autres îles. A une lieue et demie de la ville il y a le port de Cavite où viennent les navires en provenance de Nouvelle-Espagne. Dans la rivière de cette ville entrent les navires qui viennent de Chine, qui d’ordinaire arrivent en nombre. Sa Majesté a une forteresse ici, avec un alcalde, trois officiers royaux nommés par sa Majesté, un sergent major et un alferez-mayor nommés par sa Majesté, un alguacil-mayor pour la cour et un alguacil-mayor pour la ville, un secrétaire pour le gouverneur, un notaire pour le cabildo et quatre écrivains publics. L’évêque de toutes les îles réside dans cette ville ; il y a son siège et son église cathédrale. Il y a sept regidores dans cette ville […] Il y a un monastère de frères augustiniens, un de frères déchaussés, et un de la Compagnie.

Cette ville a été fondée au milieu d’une grande baie d’environ vingt lieues de circonférence. Toute cette baie est très fertile et abondante [en richesses], elle est habitée par des Maures, instruits par ceux de Brunei. La rivière de cette ville a un lac d’eau douce à environ cinq lieues, de vingt lieues de circonférence. La terre abonde en riz et coton et ils ont beaucoup d’or dans leurs bijoux mais il n’y a pas de mines ici. Cette race de Maures s’est installée jusque dans les villages des Batangas – dont je dirai le nombre plus en avant ; ces Maures se sont installés dans l’île de Mindoro et dans celle de Luban mais on n’en trouve dans aucune autre de ces îles. Les habitants de la province de Camarines qui est la principale de cette île, se situe à son extrémité orientale et possède un détroit par lequel entrent les bateaux de Nouvelle-Espagne, sont quasiment comme les Pintados[3] […] bien qu’ils ne se peignent pas comme ceux-ci et percent leurs oreilles différemment, puisque dans ces provinces on ne se peint pas beaucoup. Les Pintados se peignent tout le corps de manière très élégante mais les Maures ne se peignent pas du tout ni se percent les oreilles, et portent les cheveux courts, et non pas longs comme les habitants des Visayas ; en revanche les femmes des Maures se percent les oreilles mais de manière hideuse. Les Maures possèdent les terres les plus fertiles de cette île mais elles se situent seulement dans cette baie de Manille, sur quinze lieues de côtes. […]

Baie de Pangasinan. Plus en avant, à environ cinq lieues, est la province de Pangasinan, qui est une grande baie d’environ six lieues de tour. Trois torrents descendent des montagnes aurifères de cette province, où vivent pacifiquement quatre mille hommes, et se jettent dans cette baie. Six encomenderos disposent de ces terres mais la meilleure partie d’entre elle est à sa Majesté. Ces personnes, dans l’habit comme dans la langue, sont proches des habitants des Zambales, mais sont davantage doués de raison, car ils commercent et trafiquent avec les Chinois, les Japonais, les Bornéens, et avec les naturels des autres îles. Cette province abonde en provisions comme le riz, les chèvres et les porcs, et beaucoup de buffles. Leur principale occupation est le commerce mais ce sont aussi des fermiers, et ils vendent aux mineurs de la nourriture et des vêtements ; ils troquent l’or qu’ils obtiennent en retour avec les Espagnols. […]

Port du Japon. Quatre lieues plus en avant il y a un port qui s’appelle Port du Japon dont la population est composée [d’Espagnols : barré dans le texte] d’Indiens qui sont les mêmes que ceux de Pangasinan.

Miguel de Loarca, Relacion de las Ylas Filipinas, in: E. G. Bourne, E.H. Blair, J. A. Robertson, The Philippine Islands 1493-1803. Cleveland: The A. H. Clark Company, 1903-1909. Vol 5.

(Traduction de l’espagnol PE Bachelet)

[1] Amendes imposées pour certains types de délit (trahison, hérésie) et qui vont directement au Trésor royal.

[2] Désigne également le millet, ou le maïs.

[3] Populations de Cebu, Leyte, Bohol et Samar, appelées ainsi à cause de leurs tatouages (« peintures » ; pintar : peindre).

P-E. Bachelet

Ancien élève de l'Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon (promotion 2011) et agrégé d'histoire, actuellement en thèse sous la direction de J-P. Bassino (Institut d'Asie orientale). Je travaille sur les réseaux japonais dans l'Asie du Sud-Est moderne, avant comme après les édits d'interdiction de voyage à l'étranger promulgués au Japon en 1635.

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Hoàng Anh Tuấn, « Vietnamese–Japanese Diplomatic and Commercial Relations in the Seventeenth Century »

En guise d’introduction, voici un article de l’historien vietnamien Hoàng Anh Tuấn (Université des Sciences Sociales et Humaines d’Hanoi) auteur d’une thèse sur les relations entre le Đàng Ngoài (塘外, le Tonkin des sources européennes) et la VOC publiée sous le nom de Silk for Silver. Dutch-Vietnamese relations, 1637-1700. Brill, 2007.

Il synthétise de manière très efficace le sujet de mon projet de recherche, en se concentrant néanmoins quasi-exclusivement sur les sources hollandaises (au coeur de son propre sujet de recherche) et en n’exploitant que les sources secondaires sur le Japon. Je trouve également dommage que les expressions de « sakoku » et de « closed-door policy » soient encore employées alors que l’on sait désormais qu’aucun pays, et c’est le cas du Japon des Tokugawa, n’a jamais été véritablement « fermé ».

Le texte peut être téléchargé en pdf ici.

Vietnamese–Japanese Diplomatic and Commercial
Relations in the Seventeenth Century*

Hoang Anh Tuan

1. Introduction

Traditional Vietnamese historians often consider China the most influential and long-lasting Asian trading partner of Vietnam prior to the modern time. This point of view was presumed largely based on the historical fact that, throughout its long history of formation and development, Vietnam was constantly influenced, colonized, and assimilated by its vast northern neighbor. This judgment, as suggested in the recent research, is by no mean perfectly correct if one examines the case of seventeenth-century Vietnamese diplomacy and foreign trade.
Embroidered in the war against the Manchurian from the north, the Chinese Ming dynasty declined rapidly in the early seventeenth century and was eventually dethroned by the newly-established Qing in 1644. In the meantime was the strong emergence of Japan in the regional maritime trade from the late sixteenth century. Diplomatic and commercial relations between this island empire and Vietnam (including both Tonkin and Cochinchina or Quinam) therefore turned to a new phase in which Dutch maritime traders and, to a lesser extent, Chinese merchants played an exceptionally important role besides that undertaken by Japanese merchants in the first three decades of the 1600s.
From the early sixteenth century, East Asian diplomacy and trade underwent a constant transformation after the penetration of the first Western maritime power, the Portuguese, into the South-East Asian water. Having successfully established their firm foothold in the strategic Strait of Malacca in 1511, the Portuguese gradually explored the potential markets of China and Japan in the following decades. By the mid-sixteenth century, the Portuguese Estado da India has effectively created its lucrative inter-Asian trading network ranging between the Indian sub-continent and Japan. In the early seventeenth century, however, the Portuguese interrelated trading link was conquered by another Western power, the Dutch, who created an even more sophisticated and effective intra-Asian trade.
The Dutch East India Company (VOC), through its trading network, not only bridged the divide between Europe and Asia but also served as a connection between many Asian countries.   This paper examines briefl y Vietnamese-Japanese commercial and diplomatic relations in the seventeenth century based partly on the study of the VOC’s intra-Asian trade in order to highlight the importance of the so-called ‘Japan factor’ in the socio-economic transformation of seventeenth-century northern Vietnam.

2. Early contacts, prior to ca. 1630s

According to the Ryukyuan Rekidai Hoan, the initial contact between the kingdom of Ryukyu and Đại Việt took place around 1480. In this year, a minister of Malacca who was in command of naval force sent a letter to the king of Ryukyu, reporting that a Ryukyuan ship had been washed ashore in Jiaozhi (Đại Việt) and the Ryukyuan people had become engaged in a bloody fight with the people of Jiaozhi.   Some three decades later an official relationship between the two kingdoms was officially founded in 1509 when a Ryukyan delegation visited Đại Việt.   For a very long while after that brief encounter nothing more was heard, probably because of the chaotic situation in the island empire which was the theatre of civil war. In 1592, of the nine licenses which Kampaku Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the military ruler of Japan, issued to junks trading abroad, one was granted to a vessel which sailed to northern Vietnam.   This does not exclude the possibility that the Japanese already visited the Vietnamese coast earlier than the issue of this 1592 license. An entry in the Vietnamese annals Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư vaguely implies the presence of Japanese merchants and pirates along the Vietnamese coast in the 1550s. This is endorsed by a Chinese document written in the early 1590s which confirms that the Japanese regularly visited Jiaozhi (a Chinese term which was synonymous with Đại Việt or northern Vietnam) to buy silks from Chinese merchants.
Cogently, northern Vietnam was far from important to the Japanese in their hunt for Chinese silk. Since the late sixteenth century, the Vietnamese seaport of Hội An in present-day Quang Nam (Central Vietnam) had enjoyed a reputation among foreign traders as an important rendezvous, where Chinese ships carrying valuable cargoes of silk arrived annually.  Most of the Japanese shuin-sen which traded with Vietnam made port at Hội An. The reason was not only the fame of Cochinchina as a rendezvous but its reputation as a producer of several key export items such as aloes wood and calambac. In this it surpassed Tonkin which offered merely local products, most notably silks and textiles. Unsurprisingly, and in marked contrast, the Nguyễn’s international outlook and fl exible policies towards the foreign trade of Cochinchina also encouraged foreign merchants to make use of Hội An and turned it into an international entrepôt throughout the seventeenth century. The Japanese source materials reveal an interesting fact that, in the first few decades of the seventeenth century, the Nguyễn’s dynamic policy towards foreign trade coincided with the Japanese court’s strategy to expand Japan’s foreign trade after the unifi cation of the country in the early 1600s. There still remain fifteen letters of exchange between the Nguyễn court and the Japanese shogunate in the period 1601-1613, under the reign of Chúa (Lord) Nguyễn Hoàng, the founder of Cochinchina. In the last year of the sixteenth century, Nguyễn Hoàng left the capital of Thăng Long (present-day Hanoi) for central Vietnam to establish his own kingdom in order to rival with the Trịnh family in the north. One of his strategies was to develop the international seaport of Hội
An in order to attract foreign merchants coming to trade in his country. Through merchants trading to Hội An, the Nguyễn rulers imported advanced weapons and military technology which contributed decisively to the survival of Nguyễn’s embryonic independence against seven fierce encounters by the Lê-Trịnh armies between 1627 and 1672. Besides, the Nguyễn also endeavored to create diplomatic relations with other countries, including Japan, in order to strengthen its independence.
In contrast to the Nguyễn’s successful dealing with the Japanese, the Trịnh rulers in the north were not only incapable of utilizing the shuin-sen system, they even sometimes irritated the Japanese rulers with their half-hearted attempts at diplomacy. While the Nguyễn had contacted the Japanese bakufu through Japanese shuin-sen merchants as early as 1600, the Trịnh only sent their first diplomatic letter to Edo nearly a quarter of a century later in 1624 in rather indifferent terms expressing their wishes to create a good relationship with the Japanese government. It seemed that increased hostilities with the Nguyễn prompted the Trịnh to consider widening their diplomatic relationships in order to support their military campaigns. There is also a sound possibility that some Japanese merchants trading between Japan and Tonkin, who also acted as diplomatic agents for the Shogun in dealing with northern Vietnam, may have influenced the Trịnh rulers to promote the bilateral relationship between Tonkin and Japan. In 1628, one year after the offi cial outbreak of the Trịnh-Nguyễn wars, Chúa Trịnh Tráng dispatched a second letter to the Shogun Iemitsu. The style of this letter, however, was so arrogant that the Japanese Shogun, annoyed by the Trịnh’s haughtiness and bearing in mind his favorable relationship with the Nguyễn rulers of Cochinchina, immediately issued a ban on shipping to northern Vietnam, prohibiting Japanese merchants to sail to the Trịnh domain. No shuin-sen arrived in Tonkin in the next two years but in 1631, the Japan-Tonkin trade was resumed. It was short-lived as the maritime prohibition decreed by the Japanese government in 1635 abolished the shuin-sen system and the Japanese trade with Tonkin consequently ended. Some Japanese merchants remained in Tonkin and acted either as brokers or interpreters for foreign merchants.
Patchy source materials prevent a proper documentation of a quantitative account on the Japanese trade with Vietnam prior to the year of 1635. A record of the 1634 trading season which has survived reveals that a shuin-sen heading for northern Vietnam that year was allotted the relatively large capital of 800 kanme or 80,000 taels of silver. Leaving aside the Japanese trade in Cochinchina, and if we are to accept Iwao Seiichi’s estimate that the average capital per shuin-sen stood at 500 kanme or 50,000 taels, around 2,000,000 taels or 7.5 tons of Japanese silver were shipped to northern Vietnam only by the Japanese shuin-sen in the first three decades to be exchanged for Vietnamese silk and other local products. That amount of money, combined with that brought to Tonkin by the Chinese and Portuguese, contributed to the rapid development of Vietnamese handicraft industries and foreign trade at that time.
The Japanese  bakufu’s promulgation of the closed-door policy (sakoku) in the middle of the 1630s led to a signifi cant transformation in the diplomatic and commercial relation between Vietnam and Japan. In the years leading to the dawn of the eighteenth century, the Vietnamese-Japanese relationship was mainly managed mainly by the Dutch and other foreign merchants through their intra-Asian trading networks.

3. The VOC’s intra-Asian trade and the Vietnam–Japan connection

Recent research on VOC trade has rightly considered its well-devised intra-Asian trade the key factor in the commercial success of the Dutch Company in Asia in the seventeenth century.   Shortly after their arrival in Asia, Dutch merchants realized the importance of establishing and maintaining a closely knit trading network between various trading markets. The prime task of such a
network was to supply goods for their homeward-bound ships but it also had a second essential role: to yield profi ts by redistributing Asian goods to these places.
The intra-Asian trade of the VOC was run as follows. Silver was invested in Indian textiles which were indispensable to conducting the pepper and spice trade with the Indonesian Archipelago. While the bulk of the Indonesian spices was shipped to the Netherlands, a large amount of these commodities was also distributed to various Asian trading centers such as India, Persia, Formosa (present-day Taiwan), and Japan. Raw silk and silk piece-goods procured in Bengal, Persia, China, and Tonkin were sent to Japan, where they were exchanged for Japanese silver and, in the later period, copper and gold. The bulk of Japanese silver was sent to various Asian trading-places as investment capital and, to a lesser extent, it was exchanged for Chinese gold in Formosa. This gold, together with that which arrived from the Dutch Republic itself was remitted to the Coromandel Coast in order to keep the textile trade running smoothly.    With the successful re-organization of its East Asian trade during the 1630s, the fan-shape trading network of the VOC, spreading out from its centre in Batavia, enjoyed a period of high profi ts and great effectiveness. By the middle of the seventeenth century, the intra-Asian trade had become so important to the entire business of the VOC in the East that, writing to their masters in the Netherlands in 1648, the Governor-General and the Council of the Indies in Batavia fi guratively referred to it as the ‘soul of the Company which must be looked after carefully because if the soul decays, the entire body would be destroyed.
If the intra-Asian trade was the key factor in the success of the VOC business in general, its exclusive trade with Japan, which the Dutch enjoyed from the early 1640s, made a critical contribution to the success of this intra-Asian trade. Insofar as the financial aspect of the Company was concerned, the rapid enlargement of its business in Asia in the early seventeenth century required an annual increase in the amount of its capital mainly in the form of silver bullion and gold. Despite the fact that there were no serious problems regarding the supply of these metals from the Netherlands, there was a limit to the capital that the Directors in Holland were in a position to send to the East Indies.  The best solution to this shortage problem was to develop the Japan trade in order to procure silver from this island nation. The annual production of Japanese silver had increased spectacularly throughout the latter half of the sixteenth century and peaked during the fi rst three decades of the seventeenth century.
Yet, in order to obtain Japanese silver, the Dutch needed Chinese silk. Prior to the arrival of the Dutch in the Far East in the early 1600s, what was known as the Chinese-silk-for-Japanese-silver trade had been conducted smoothly by Portuguese, Chinese, and Japanese traders. Having no direct access to mainland China, the VOC was forced to conduct a ‘third-country trade’ in order to purchase Chinese silk at a regional rendezvous. It was this trading strategy which encouraged the Company to make contact with the southern Vietnamese kingdom of Cochinchina during the fi rst three decades of the 1600s. All of the Dutch attempts were not paid off handsomely and the Company even suffered heavy losses.
Nevertheless, by the middle of the 1630s the outfl ow of Chinese silk to regional markets gradually dried up as the economy of China was thrown into disarray by internal political chaos. Vietnamese silk presented itself as an ideal alternative to Chinese yarn on the Japanese market from this time until the middle of the seventeenth century, when Bengali silk began to capture the Japanese market and became profi table. It was this change which prompted the Dutch Company to shift its commercial focus from central to northern Vietnam in 1637.
From this year, the Dutch enterprise enjoyed the lucrative Tonkin–Japan silk trade and manipulated somehow the relationship between Vietnam and Japan.

4. Vietnamese–Japanese trade and diplomacy, ca. 1637–1670s

a. Vietnamese silk for Japan

As mentioned before, the abolition of the shuin-sen trade after the Japanese bakufu’s promulgation of the sakoku in the mid-1630s, together with its deportation of the Portuguese from Nagasaki in the early 1640s, offered the Dutch a glorious opportunity to expand its control of the East Asian trading networks.
In 1636 Nicolaas Couckebacker, the director of the Hirado factory, joyfully informed his masters in Batavia of the declaration of the Japanese seclusion policy and the subsequent possibility to expand the Company trade to several places with which Japanese merchants formerly had regularly traded.    Considering the current transformation in the Far Eastern trade, the High Government in Batavia confi dently reported its planned strategy to take over the Japanese trading network at several places in the Indo-Chinese Peninsula to the Gentlemen XVII.  Since the Company trade with the southern Vietnamese kingdom of Cochinchina had never been profi table owing to the fierce competition from the Portuguese and Chinese, Batavia aimed to open trade relation with the northern Vietnamese kingdom of Tonkin in order to export local raw silk and silk piece-goods to Japan.
According to the VOC records, at least thirteen years before commencing their trade with Tonkin, in 1624, the Dutch in Japan had already taken note of the marketability and profitability of Vietnamese silk goods on the Japanese market. In the following years, the Vietnamese products were again mentioned by the Hirado factors. To prepare for the inaugural voyage to Tonkin the following year, Chief Factor Couckebacker gathered information from those who had visited Tonkin and made a detailed report on the Vietnamese silk trade noting pertinent data about geographical, political, and trading situations, local customs, silk harvests, the current prices of silk, and the like. He optimistically calculated that annually, besides other local goods, northern Vietnam could deliver 1500 to 1600 piculs of raw silk, 5 to 6 thousand piculs of piece-goods and a batch of cinnamon.    Having prepared well for the inaugural voyage to Tonkin, in the spring of 1637 the VOC factory in Hirado dispatched the ship Grol to Tonkin, opening its direct shipping between Japan and Vietnam. Between 1637 and 1700, the
VOC’s Tonkin-Japan direct silk trade was subject to various fluctuations which clearly fell into three main phases: the period of experiment (1637−1640); the period of high profit (1641−1654); and the period of decline (1655−1670). While the Company trade with Tonkin managed to keep going until 1700, and its export of Vietnamese silk to Japan still occurred sporadically in the 1670−1700 period, the Tonkin-Japan silk trade generally ended in 1670 when Batavia halted the Tonkin-Japan direct shipping for two reasons: unprofitable trade conditions and to control the private trade between these two places. After that the Vietnamese silk cargoes intended for the Japan trade were all carried to Batavia, where they were transshipped onto the Japan-bound ships.

Sans titre

During the period 1637−1670, the Dutch company enjoyed what was known as Vietnamese-silk-for-Japanese-silver trade. In short, the VOC’s Tonkin trade revolved around the central activity of exporting local raw silk to Japan and importing Japanese silver back into Tonkin. Every year the VOC shipped to Japan a considerable amount of Vietnamese raw silk and silk piece-goods in order to exchange for Japanese silver (and copper).
The profi t margin of this trade was also impressive. The short experimental period failed to produce good profi ts, standing at only 30 per cent, although Batavia often sent a large annual capital sum to Tonkin, around 1.1 million guilders between 1637 and 1640. The reason for this low profi t margin was the ready availability of Chinese silk which still accounted for 63 per cent of the total amount of silk which was imported to Japan by the VOC, hence Vietnamese silk had a share of only 37 per cent. The profi t margins on these two sorts of silk were relatively proportional: Chinese silk brought 70 per cent of the total profit while Vietnamese silk made a contribution of a modest 30 per cent. The positive signals of the flourishing of the Company’s Vietnamese silk trade in the second period can be seen in the growing gap in the profi t margin on Vietnamese silk in comparison to the Chinese product. These profi t margins were the result of the difference between the purchase and the sales prices (Figure 2). As the Company had to purchase Chinese silk from middlemen in Formosa and other rendezvous, the purchase price of Chinese silk was generally high. In contrast, Vietnamese silk
could be procured at a reasonable price by the Dutch factors in Thăng Long. This made a great difference in the profit margins, which were respectively 45, 56, and 67 per cent for Chinese silk and 56, 95, and 114 per cent for Tonkin product in the first three years.
The second period (1641–1654) witnessed the spectacular success of the Company’s Vietnamese silk trade from the point of view of both large capital and high profit margins. Large capital sums of Japanese silver were remitted for the Tonkin trade, inspired primarily by the encouraging profi t margins which the Vietnamese silk trade had been yielding and also by the current decline in the Formosa trade. According to P. W. Klein’s calculations, during this fourteen-year period, out of around 12.8 million guilders’ worth of goods the VOC imported to Japan, approximately 7 million or 54 per cent consisted of raw silk and silk piece-goods. Out of this 7 million, Vietnamese silk fetched around fi fty per cent, meaning approximately 3.5 million guilders were spent on Vietnamese silk.
Making sound economic sense, the wide gap between the purchase and sales prices of Vietnamese silk offered high profi t margins. Throughout this period, the purchase price of Vietnamese raw silk stood at around 3.5 guilders per catty, while the average sales price fetched in Japan was 8 guilders per catty. This offered an average gross profit margin of 130 per cent for the entire period, much higher than that on Bengali and Chinese yarns which yielded 105 and 37 per cent respectively in Nagasaki.
The high profits obtained from the Vietnamese silk trade during this fourteen-year period was even more significant to the Company’s Japan trade, considering the gradual reduction in the net profi t made in recent years. Whereas the annual net profit of the Japan trade had varied between 1 and 2.4 million guilders in the 1635–1639 period, it fell to only 0.5 million in 1642 and fl uctuated between 0.38 and 0.95 million in the 1649–1654 period. In the most lucrative year of 1649, for instance, the purchase and sales prices of Vietnamese raw silk were respectively 3.64 and 9.97 guilders per catty, making a profi t margin of roughly 174 per cent. Hence, the Vietnamese silk cargo which was valued at 299,000 guilders that year would yield a profit of around 363,660 guilders. (It should be kept in mind that calculations on the profi t do not include all sorts of expenses). Consequently, of the 709,000 guilders the Company’s Japan trade yielded this year, Vietnamese silk contributed roughly 51 per cent.    For the entire 1641–54 period, the Vietnamese silk contributed 71 per cent to the gross profit of the Company’s silk trade in Japan and around one third of the total profi t which the Deshima factory transferred to Batavia.

Sans titre2
During the third period of the VOC’s export of Vietnamese silk to Japan (1655–1670), the low profi t margin compounded by the irregularity of silk production in northern Vietnam reduced the annual capitals remitted for the Tonkin trade. The import volumes of Vietnamese silk now depended on two factors: the erratic demand on the Japan market and the export volume of Bengali silk to Japan. Since it had been introduced to Japan for the fi rst time in 1640, Bengali silk gradually won itself a stable position on the Japanese market and, from the early 1650s, proved to be more marketable and hence profi table than its Vietnamese counterpart.    If the purchase price of Vietnamese raw silk in the years 1637–1649 had fl uctuated between 2.54 and 3.64 guilders per catty, it rose to 4.43 and 5.84 guilders per catty in the 1665–1668 period, causing a sharp increase of around 66 per cent in the purchase price. In the meantime, the sales price of Vietnamese yarn in Japan fell drastically, offering profi t margins of only 58, 34, and 29 per cent respectively in the years 1652, 1654, and 1656. Between 1665 and 1669, the Company’s export of Vietnamese silk to Japan revived; the value of the annual cargoes stood at around 300,000 guilders. This short-lived recovery can be attributed to the decision of Batavia to lower the annual import volume of Bengali silk to Japan to at most 170,000 pounds in order to stabilize the sales price    and the repromotion of the Tonkin factory to the status of permanent in 1663.
In spite of these changes, Vietnamese silk did not regain its once-lost predominance over Bengali silk on the Japanese market. The annual profi ts remained small. In 1668, for instance, the Vietnamese raw silk cargo valued at 369,000 guilders raised a profi t of only 26 per cent in Nagasaki.
During the last quarter of the seventeenth century, alongside the rapid reduction in its silk export to the Japanese market, the Company’s export of Vietnamese silk to Japan was insubstantial, valued at hardly above 20,000 guilders per shipment. Obviously, the profi ts were proportionally paltry. Not wishing to flog a dead horse, the Company decided that the major part of Vietnamese silk, especially silk piece-goods should be exported to the Netherlands.

b. Japanese monetary metals for Vietnam

– Silver, to ca. 1668
Of all the merchandise imported into Tonkin by the VOC, silver constituted the staple commodity. Notwithstanding the relatively high demand for Japanese copper zeni during the 1660s and 1670s, silver was absolutely indispensable to the VOC’s Tonkin trade. Most of the silver which the Dutch and the Chinese imported into Tonkin originated from Japan. In Japan, silver could be readily procured by the Dutch factors so that the Tonkin-bound ships could depart with the required amount of silver before the end of the north-east monsoon. At another end, in Tonkin, the Dutch factors advanced this silver to local rulers, brokers, and silk-weavers in order to acquire silks during the summer sale. After Japan banned the export of its silver in 1668, most of the silver the VOC imported into Tonkin was either from the Netherlands or other Asian countries. Coincidently, from this year, the annual import volume of this precious metal to Tonkin by the Company decreased not only because silver was in short supply but also because of the current general decline in its trade with northern Vietnam.
As the Company’s Vietnamese silk trade yielded high profi ts in Japan in the 1637–1654 period, Japanese silver was sent directly to northern Vietnam on board the Dutch ships which sailed annually between these two places. Every year the amount of silver supplied to Tonkin was relatively stable, valued at around 100,000 taels. In the heyday of the Dutch Vietnamese silk trade (1644–1652), the quantity of silver sent to northern Vietnam rose to around 130,000 taels per year. Table 1 shows how, until the mid-1650s, silver always occupied approximately 95 per cent of the annual imports; other import products shared around 5 per cent only.
After this relatively regular and stable phase, the annual import of Japanese silver into Tonkin by the Dutch Company decreased due mainly to the rapid drop in the annual profi t margins which Vietnamese silk could yield in the early 1650s as well as the fall of the silver/cash ratio in Tonkin caused by a serious shortage of local coins.

Sans titre3

As soon as the Company’s direct trade route between northern Vietnam and Japan was seriously affected by the diminution in the annual profit margin, the silver needed for the Tonkin trade was provided from Batavia in lieu of Japan. The reason for this change is unclear. It can, however, be confi dently assumed that this had nothing to do with the capacity of the Company to export Japanese silver, since this export was relatively stable until the Japanese Government’s ban on the export of silver in 1668. It may therefore be hypothesized that this was another attempt by the High Government to acquire tighter control of this trading route, or at least to reduce as much as it could the private trade between these two places which was said to have been pursued on a rather large scale.
This hypothesis is based on the fact that 77,000 taels of Japanese silver were exported to Batavia for the fi rst time in 1656. In the years leading up to 1662, the Deshima factory sent a total of 632,648 taels of Japanese silver to Batavia, of which 375,000 taels were earmarked for the Tonkin trade (Table 2).

Sans titre4
Although the Japanese Government’s ban on the export of silver in 1668 did not cause the Dutch Company any serious problems since it quickly turned to exporting gold and copper instead,    it did slightly affect the Dutch Tonkin trade. Having been deprived of the traditional fl ow of Japanese silver, Batavia now had to look for this precious metal in other places. In 1664, when the sending of Japanese silver to Batavia was temporarily suspended, Batavia had already switched over to supplying Tonkin with silver from the Netherlands.    During the so-called ‘Japanese zeni period’, which covered the years between 1663 and 1677, the annual quantities of silver imported into Tonkin by the Dutch Company were particularly low compared to the quantity of zeni; the form of the silver for Tonkin also changed from Japanese bullion to various sorts of coins such as provintiëndaalders, kruisdaalders, Mexican rials, Surat rupees and so forth. After the ‘zeni period’, these silver coins constituted the staple of the Company’s silver investment in Tonkin until 1700.

– Japanese copper zeni
From the early 1650s, Tonkin suffered a severe shortage of cash which not only ravaged the local economy but also greatly hindered foreign merchants in their import and export trade. In order to cut the losses which would have been incurred by silver imports, as soon as 1652, the Portuguese, utilizing their advantageous foothold of Macao, quickly switched from silver to copper, especially to copper coins. Having no access to the supply of Chinese copper coins at that
moment, the Dutch factory in Thăng Long suffered a great loss in trade. In April 1654, the Tonkin factors lamented that the exchange rate, which had been 1 tael of silver for 1,600-1,700 cash in the last few months, had fallen to only 1/800. At this rate of fall, predicted the factors, it would likely plummet to the rate of 1/700 to 600 to 500 within a short time.
In the same year, the High Government made its fi rst effort towards alleviating the Company’s drawback in this copper cash equation, having some copper coins minted in Batavia and shipped to Tonkin for a trial. This attempt failed because the Lê/Trịnh rulers accepted only the big coins and devalued the small ones. The cash plague showed no sign of abating and after 1660 was more detrimental to the Company. This year, the silver/cash ratio fell to 1/570 to 850 only, setting a new record of a silver devaluation up to 30 per cent. The low exchange rate was perhaps one of the reasons the Trịnh rulers refused to accept any of the silver the Dutch offered them for the delivery of silk. And, perhaps to reduce to some extent the scarcity of copper coins which seemed to have reached an alarming level, the Trịnh rulers had a great quantity of copper coins minted by the State mint.
Batavia was doubly disadvantaged as it had no means to dissipate the sluggishness of its factors in their grappling with the shortage of copper coins which compared badly with the dynamism of other foreign merchants trading to Tonkin. Having thought long and deep, in 1660 Batavia ordered the Deshima factory to purchase some Japanese copper zeni as samples for Tonkin. The next year, 400,000 coins were sent to the Dutch factory in Thăng Long and this proved to be a success, yielding a profit of 40 per cent. But the most successful aspect of this trial was that besides silver, from now on the Company could send Japanese copper zeni to Thăng Long compensating, at least partly, the loss in the silver trade the Company had had to endure thus far in Tonkin. Having hit upon a good solution, from 1663 the Dutch regularly imported Japanese copper zeni into Tonkin and, as soon as this specie became popular and profi table in northern Vietnam, they reduced the import of silver to a remarkably small quantity (Table 3).

Sans titre5

This naturally prompts the question: what were these Japanese copper zeni and how did they fi t into the Vietnamese market? Generally speaking, the export of Japanese copper coins to Vietnam can be divided into two major phases; each phase marked by different sorts of coins. The fi rst period was the early seventeenth century when, in an attempt to standardize the monetary system of Japan, the Japanese Government decided that only good coins minted in Japan could be circulated on the Japanese market. Coins imported from China (toraisen) or minted privately in Japan in the earlier years (shichusen) were banned from domestic circulation. The Japanese shuin-sen merchants and the Dutch, Chinese, and Portuguese therefore exported these banned and hence devalued coins in great quantities, mainly to central Vietnam, where the Nguyễn rulers, having neither a source of copper nor a coin supply, either used them as money or melted them to cast guns and utensils for daily use.    Consequently, these coins circulated in Tonkin alongside other sorts of cash. The French priest Alexandre de Rhodes, who arrived in northern Vietnam in the late 1620s, observed two sorts of coins in use on the Vietnamese market: the ‘great coins’ imported into Tonkin by the Chinese and Japanese and accepted throughout the whole country, and the ‘small coins’ minted locally and circulating only inside the capital and four surrounding provinces.
The second phase took place between 1659 and 1685. During this period, the Japanese in Nagasaki were allowed to mint Nagasaki trade coins for export. Besides the coins which were minted for the Nan Ming in southern China and the Zheng family in Formosa in the later period (eiryaku sen), the bulk of the Nagasaki trade coins was shipped to both central and northern Vietnam. Most of these coins bore the Chinese Song reign title of Yuanfeng and were called genho tsuho by the Japanese.
The  genho tsuho coins were not only crucial to the economy of Cochinchina, whose severe need of all sorts on coins to meet the great demand of the local market virtually never abated throughout the seventeenth century, they also played an indispensable role in balancing the monetary system of Tonkin during the third quarter of the 1600s. After their successful experimental import of 400,000 Japanese copper zeni into Tonkin in 1661, the Dutch, as well as the Chinese, increasingly imported this coin into northern Vietnam until the late 1670s. Thanks largely to the suffi ciency of these coins, the shortage of copper coins in Tonkin was basically solved; the silver/cash ratio subsequently revived.
The revelation of the profi tability of the Japanese copper zeni in the Tonkin trade assumed even greater signifi cance after the 1668 ban on the export of silver by the Japanese Government. If silver still accounted for roughly 40 per cent of the investment capital in 1668, the last year of the dispatch of a consignment of silver bullion to Tonkin by the Company, it was almost none in the following year,
but simultaneously 15,748,300 Japanese copper zeni accounted for approximately 40 per cent of that year’s capital. In 1674, 23,809,000 zeni sent to Tonkin by the Dutch accounted for around 66 per cent of the total capital and two years later, the share of this specie had even increased to around 73 per cent. Taking the entire
‘zeni period’ into account, these Japanese copper coins provided around 22 per cent of the annual capital sent to Tonkin by the Company.
It may well be that proven Dutch capacity for importing Japanese zeni into his kingdom was the reason for the Chúa to grant the Dutch the monopoly of this specie in Tonkin in 1675. The Company, however, could not enjoy this privilege for long because, in the following year, zeni became cheap in northern Vietnam. Reporting trading conditions at the factory in 1675, the chief of the Tonkin factory, Albert Brevinck, informed his masters in Batavia that the Japanese copper zeni had been losing profi t by the day.    The next year, copper ingots were said to be preferred to zeni though the latter were still indispensable to the purchasing of local goods, particularly low-quality silk. Armed with these fi gures, for the import of metals to Tonkin this year, Batavia ordered the Deshima factory to lessen the number of zeni, while expecting a good quantity of copper. In obedience to this order, only 5,000,000 zeni were conveyed to Tonkin in 1677. The year after, it was widely reported that from now on the Tonkin factory no longer required the Japanese copper zeni.    The Company once again switched back to importing silver into Tonkin as it had done regularly before the zeni period.
The reasons of this sudden end are a bit of a mystery. Iwao Seiichi has suggested that the circulation of Japanese zeni in Tonkin had been reduced after 1661 when an embassy from Qing China arrived in Thăng Long and ordered the Lê/Trịnh rulers to strike Chinese copper coins for circulation in Tonkin themselves. It is true that the Qing decrees and presents arrived in Thăng Long in 1662 and, in the following year, Tonkin sent its fi rst tribute to Peking.    Nevertheless, this seems to have had no effect at all on the import into or the circulation of the Japanese zeni in Tonkin since these coins were imported in growing quantities by the Dutch and the Chinese until 1677. It could well be that the VOC stopped importing Japanese zeni into Tonkin after 1677 because of the growing availability of Chinese coins allied with the attempts of the Vietnamese court to mint good copper coins in the State minting houses.

c. Tedious diplomacy

In contrast to the lively trading relation between northern Vietnam and Japan which was operated by the Dutch and the Chinese, the diplomatic tie between the two governments during the Bakufu’s sakoku was tedious. There were virtually no diplomatic activities between the two countries after 1637. In northern Vietnam, there were several attempts made by the Trịnh rulers in the middle of the 1650s to send some mandarins and servants on board the Dutch ships sailing to Nagasaki. The only aim of these passages, however, was to exchange Vietnamese silk for Japanese goods and curiosities rather than to contact the Japanese authorities in order to create any diplomatic relation with the bakufu. In 1682 the English in Tonkin pleaded with the Chúa to intervene with the Japanese central government for permission to trade at Nagasaki but without success because, according to the Trịnh’s reply, Tonkin had not maintained its diplomatic relations with the island empire for many years.    This incident reveals a clearcut fact that the Vietnamese-Japanese diplomatic relations in the latter haft of the seventeenth century had never been intimate. Neither the Nguyễn court could gain a better relationship with the Japanese court despite its sporadic endeavors in reviving the diplomatic node with Edo and especially to encourage the Japanese in Nagasaki to export copper coins to central Vietnam in the late 1680s.

Concluding remarks

During the course of the seventeenth century, East Asian trade and diplomacy underwent unprecedented vicissitudes. The decline of the Chinese Ming since the early 1600s and the Ming-Qing dynastic transition in 1644, followed by a civil war in southern China in the subsequent decades, represented Japan an appropriate opportunity to thrive in the regional maritime trade and diplomacy. Backed by a large amount of silver (also copper and gold) mined annually as well
as a huge annual consumption of foreign products, most notably Chinese silk, textiles, deerskin, sub-tropical products and so on, the Japanese court deployed an open-minded attitude towards diplomacy and foreign trade. The first three decades of the 1600s therefore witnessed the presence of a great number of Japanese maritime merchants in many Asian ports and trading places.
The Japanese expansion in the early seventeenth century coincided with the socio-economic transformation in Vietnam. In their pursuit of weapons, money, and spiritual support from the other foreign powers in the fi erce and protracted rival with the Trịnh in the north, the Nguyễn rulers in Central Vietnam successfully utilized the Japanese shuin-sen merchants to create a favorable relationship with the Japanese government. In northern Vietnam, despite their tardiness in establishing diplomatic node with Japan, the Trịnh rulers were still able to benefit considerably from the Japan trade through fi rstly the Japanese shuin-sen trading system and later on the Tonkin–Japan commercial bridge erected and managed
effectively by Dutch and Chinese maritime traders. It was in the main this flourishing foreign trade, largely backed by the regular flow of Japanese monetary metals into Tonkin in exchange for local raw silk and silk textiles, which stimulated the development of various handicraft industries and the expansion of the commodity economy of Tonkin in the seventeenth century.
It is therefore explicable that, under such economic and political vacuum left by the Chinese in the regional theatre in the former half of the seventeenth century, the rise of Japan as an economic and political power in East Asia has had significant impacts on the regional polities, and the economic development in the Vietnamese kingdoms of Tonkin and Cochinchina were by no mean an exception.

P-E. Bachelet

Ancien élève de l'Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon (promotion 2011) et agrégé d'histoire, actuellement en thèse sous la direction de J-P. Bassino (Institut d'Asie orientale). Je travaille sur les réseaux japonais dans l'Asie du Sud-Est moderne, avant comme après les édits d'interdiction de voyage à l'étranger promulgués au Japon en 1635.

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P-E. Bachelet

Ancien élève de l'Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon (promotion 2011) et agrégé d'histoire, actuellement en thèse sous la direction de J-P. Bassino (Institut d'Asie orientale). Je travaille sur les réseaux japonais dans l'Asie du Sud-Est moderne, avant comme après les édits d'interdiction de voyage à l'étranger promulgués au Japon en 1635.

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