Southeast Asia Studies Seminar Program
The MacMillan Center at Yale University
Apr 10 , 2013

"Trans-Regionalism and Economic Co-Dependency in the South China Sea-The Case of China and the Malacca Straits Region (10th - 14th centuries AD)"

Derek Heng, Associate Professor of Humanities and Head of Studies (History), Yale-NUS College.

The South China Sea has throughout history witnessed the primary economies of this littoral region exercising influence over smaller, outlying economies by binding the latter into co-dependent relationships, witnessed in such areas as the currencies systems adopted by the smaller economies, which align them to the larger primary economies in the region, and in the ways in which products traded from one economy to another develop from being directionally exclusive and beneficial but non-crucial, to one where the economies are mutually dependable.

This may be witnessed between China and the Melaka Straits region during the tenth to the fourteenth centuries. The period began with the region's polities dispatching to China high value commodities from the region and the Indian Ocean littoral, and receiving in return Chinese products that were largely re-exported to markets further afield. Within four centuries, it became one comprising primarily of low value products, characterized by a mutually dependent relationship in the provision of low value commodities that were regularly consumed, and in high quantities. More importantly, a substantial degree of vertical economic integration between the two economies, with the Malay region supplying China with primary products, and China providing the former with manufactured goods, developed.

This paper seeks to argue that the economic interaction between China and the Melaka Straits region be seen as that of two distinct economic spheres that, over the course of four centuries, became increasingly integrated to the extent that the interaction, by the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, was no longer an activity confined to the interstice but had become an integral part of both China and the Melaka Straits region.

Derek Heng is Associate Professor of Humanities and Head of Studies (History) at the Yale-NUS College. He specializes in the trans-regional history (pre-modern) of Maritime Asia, with an emphasis on the Maritime Southeast Asia-South China Sea nexus, and the state formation processes in the interstice space of maritime realms, utilising archaeological and textual sources for his research. He is the author of Sino-Malay Trade and Diplomacy in the Tenth Through the Fourteenth Century (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2009), and has published in the International History Review, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Journal of Song-Yuan Studies, Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society and International Journal of Maritime History.

He also maintains a keen interest on the historiography of Singapore's past and the internationalization of Singapore's history. He co-authored Singapore: A Seven-Hundred Year History (Singapore: National Archives of Singapore, 2009), and was the editor of New Perspectives and Sources on the History of Singapore: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach (Singapore: National Library Board, 2006), Reframing Singapore: Memory, Identity and Trans-Regionalism, ICAS Series volume 6 (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009) and Singapore in Global History (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2011).

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