Babur [right] and Humayun with Courtiers (Detail), Late Shahjahan Period, ca. 1650.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

In context of the discussion on Chola Trade

In a recent post I tried to summarise the views of Tansen Sen and Hermann Kulke, who in respective articles stressed on the larger economic and political relations of South and South East Asia to understand Chola relations with the Sri Vijaya. As an important corollary, China was obviously the major power to be contended with, and Hermann Kulke showed how Chinese documents considered Cholas to be 'tributaries' of their Mandate of Heaven. I here intend to just add a small point as to why the term 'tribute' could be used in the first place.

The idea has two-fold implications: firstly, China's notion of the Middle Kingdom and Secondly diplomatic tactics of other countries.

Firstly, the idea that China was the Middle Kingdom and the Mandate of Heaven was the most essential political theory of China that dominated domestic as well as international relations. Needless to say it was used as a tool of legitimization of Chinese powers over perpetual flow of Barbarians and gradual influxes of European ambassadors. Chinese emperors and extensive bureaucracy assumed that all foreign powers wanted contact with China for their own spiritual upliftment, to have ties with the Superior Civilisation. This is evident even from the Macartney Mission of 1793. The gifts of tools displaying technological advancements of England by Macartney to convince the emperor of the importance of trading relations with England was perceived as 'tributes' (and hence the nature of the relation tributary?).

Therefore, to come to the second point, going back to Chola times, it is possible that the Chinese assumed any trading relation as a 'tribute' because of the inherent Chinese idea, and hence a local document suggest tributary relations with other powers. Also, as a form of diplomatic tactic, foreign powers may have implied the term 'tribute' that does not adhere to the western idea of it per se, to set up trading relations.

I was just reminded of the session on Chola trade while reading some texts on the history of China. These are just assumptions that I thought I might as well put up on the blog.

-Sohini Chattopadhyay, B.A 2nd Year, Presidency University.