The Tongking Gulf Through History

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​"Although not listed in any gazetteer of the world, the authors of the work under review have nevertheless decided on 'Tongking Gulf' as a fitting metaphor to evoke, after Braudel, a 'mini-Mediterranean', circumscribed by the northern Vietnam rimland, in turn linked by maritime and sea corridors with contiguous regions of China. Sweeping across almost two millennia of cross-cultural and civilisational exchanges, this is an ambitious undertaking. The fruits of an academic conference appropriately hosted in Nanning in China, the work also calls upon some erudite understandings, especially in ranging from the Neolithic to the tenth century (Part I), and thereafter to the nineteenth century (Part II). Allowing the gaps in this two millennia-long exegesis -- linguistic evolution comes to mind -- it is salutary that, by way of introduction to this collection, Li Tana masterfully sets the individual contributions against the broader sweep of Vietnamese and Chinese history. We suspect that other 'mini-Mediterraneans' can be intellectually carved out of the seas and straits of the greater East-Southeast Asian maritime region just as we surmise that research on the 'Tongking Gulf' is virtually open ended (Hainan Island could still offer itself as a candidate). Still, as a trailblazing contribution to regional studies, all scholars entering this field will appreciate the major didactic lessons from this work, namely the merit of longue durée approaches to regional questions, and the limits of strictly national narratives" (Asian Studies Review).

About the Publication

Since 2005, a series of significant developments has been unfolding in the area of the Tongking Gulf under the rubric of an ambitious project called "Two Corridors and One Rim". Proposed by Vietnam in 2004 and enthusiastically embraced by China, the project is designed to link their shared shores and hinterlands by superhighways and high-speed rail. An area that had seemed a backwater for two hundred years has suddenly become a dynamic engine of growth.

Yet how innovative are these developments? Drawing on fresh historical insights and recent archaeological research in northern Vietnam and southern China, The Tongking Gulf Through History reveals that this region has long been a centre of cultural, political, and economic exchange. From a historical point of view, contributors argue, the Gulf of Tongking has come full circle. Inspired by the Braudelian vision that regionality arises from long-term human interactions, essays avoid state-centred approaches of nationalist histories to focus on local communities throughout the Gulf. In doing so, they reveal a complex pattern of interrelationships and geopolitical factors that has shaped the gulf region for over two millennia.

The first half of the volume covers the era from the Neolithic to the tenth century, when an independent state emerged from old Chinese Jiaozhi, or modern northern Vietnam; the second surveys the nine centuries that followed, in which only two states came to share the maritime shores of the Tongking Gulf. Together, the essays illuminate how millennia of recurring human interactions within this geographical space have created a regional ensemble with its own longstanding historical integrity and dynamics.

Co-publication: ISEAS / University of Pennsylvania Press

Available for distribution by ISEAS in all ASEAN countries.


Preliminary pages with Introduction
1. Textile Crafts in the Gulf of Tongking: The Intersection of Archaeology and History
2. Jiaozhi (Giao Chỉ) in the Han Period Tongking Gulf
3. Han Period Glass Vessels in the Early Tongking Gulf Region
4. “The People in Between”: The Li and Lao from the Han to the Sui
5. "Slipping Through Holes": The Late Tenth- and Early Eleventh-Century Sino-Vietnamese Coastal Frontier as a Subaltern Trade Network
6. Van Don, the "Mac Gap", and the End of the Jiaozhi Ocean System: Trade and State in Đai Viet, Circa 1450–1550
7. The Trading Environment and the Failure of Tongking's Mid-Seventeenth-Century Commercial Resurgence
8. Chinese "Political Pirates" in the Seventeenth-Century Gulf of Tongking
9. Chinese Merchants and Mariners in Nineteenth-Century Tongking
List of Contributors

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