In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Anne Gerritsen of the University of Warwick traces globalization to its sixteenth-century roots.
Anne Gerritsen is an associate professor of history at the University of Warwick where her research is focused on understanding early connections between European markets and Chinese manufactures. Her work has appeared in a number of peer-reviewed journals and she earned her Ph.D. at Harvard University.
Dr. Anne Gerritsen – The Rise of Globalization
Global historians have long argued about when exactly the economic and cultural connections between disparate parts of the world increased to such an extent that one can begin to speak of ‘globalization’. Perhaps the most persuasive arguments have been made by those who see globalization emerging in Europe around 1500.
My research on the porcelain production centre of Jingdezhen in southern China shows it was by no means a uniquely European invention. Around 1500, the Jingdezhen potters manufactured goods destined for consumers not only in China but throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East. By 1520, the Portuguese, too, were able to put in orders with the Jingdezhen potters. Foreign delegations to the Chinese court were strictly limited, and foreign merchants certainly were not allowed to enter freely, so how did sixteenth-century Chinese potters tailor their production processes to such different market demands?
There are a number of different scenarios. One is that the Portuguese, based in Macau, handed drawings of, for example, the Portuguese royal arms, to Chinese merchants, who passed these to the workers in Jingdezhen. A ewer made in 1520 in Jingdezhen, and now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, shows how difficult this was: the coat of arms is depicted upside down.
Another possibility was that this communication happened outside of Chinese soil, in the ports and coastal towns of Southeast Asia, where Chinese merchants mingled with traders from all over Asia and Europe. Early Dutch orders for specific styles of cups and bowls were likely conveyed to the Chinese merchants in Batavia, now Jakarta in Indonesia. Either way, the ability of the manufacturers in sixteenth-century Jingdezhen to tap into global demands shows that globalization is neither very recent, nor uniquely Western.