What could we learn from world literature about the maritime silk road? Three lessons from three great novels

By BARROUX, Pierre Denis Bertrand
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, February 9, 2015
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The Maritime Silk Road has drawn a lot of interest in France. Not only does Paris host the headquarters of UNESCO which has devoted important programs to the topic. French scholars such as Pr Denys Lombard and his wife Dr Claudine Salmon, as well as the great sinologist Jacques Gernet, have emphasized in their studies the importance of Quanzhou as one of the pivotal ports of these historical exchanges.

But this paper shall try to uncover the silver line of the significance of the Maritime Silk Road as we can perceive it today not from those very valuable scholarly works but from three great literary works inspired by its history.

Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh’s “In an Antique Land” teaches us that globalization is nothing new, and that prior to the discovery of the Cape’s road by Vasco de Gama the Indian Ocean had seen centuries of peaceful trade and cultural exchanges between the Western and Eastern worlds through Muslim, Jewish and Asian traders.

David Selbourne’s “City of Light”, whether a translation of the memoirs of the XIIIth century Jewish trader Jacob of Ancona or a work of imagination, sensibly & accurately reflects the importance of Quanzhou as a center of foreign trade in medieval China, whose state revenues from trade accounted then for more than other fiscal revenues.

Timothy Brook’s “Mr Selden’s Map of China” recalls how the basic principles of the Law of the Sea emerged in the XVIIth century from the debates between the Dutch jurist Grotius and the British lawyer John Selden as a compromise between the principle of free navigation on sea waters advocated by the Dutch and the British will to protect sea resources close to their shores.

From those three examples the paper shall advocate that world literature rather than scholarly work can sometimes work as a shortcut to circumscribe what is at stake, and then draw the three main lessons we could learn from the three authors.

Pierre Barroux is currently based in Beijing as Chief Representative in China for the French consulting company SERIC, which he joined from 2009, and as such acts as an Advisor for Chinese Affairs to several French Multinational Groups. He has been appointed since 2004 by the French Prime Minister as Counsellor for Foreign Trade Development. A senior career diplomat having served in various Asian countries over the past forty years-notably as Minister Counselor in Peking (1994-1997) & Consul General in Shanghai (1987-1991)-he acted as the Representative of Baron Benjamin de Rothschild in China from 2007 to 2009. Graduate in International Relations from Sciences Po in Paris, holder of B.A.’s in Modern Literature and in Chinese Studies from the Sorbonne, he is an alumni of the ‘Ecole nationale des Langues orientales’ and the ‘Ecole nationale d’administration’ in Paris.

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