Whether the Manila Galleon—the crossings between Manila and Acapulco that began three-quarters of the way through the 16th century—really ushered what has since come to be called “globalization” remains a matter of some debate, but one which depends more on what is considered globalization rather than the global significance of this trade itself.

China’s Pearl River Delta recently surpassed Tokyo as the world’s largest urban area. Amid that vast conurbation of over 60 million people stands the city of Zhongshan. The birthplace of Sun Yat-sen, Zhonghsan’s factories supply China’s middle class with consumer goods like lighting, furniture, and appliances. Looking east across the Indian Ocean, one finds Antalaha, a small harbor town on Madagascar’s eastern coast. Bordered by three national parks and without a paved road to the nation’s capital, Antalaha’s 67,000 inhabitants might seem remote. But thanks to a tree growing in those parks, Antalaha found itself fueling Zhongshan’s furniture industry. Annah Lake Zhu’s new book Rosewood: Endangered Species Conservation and The Rise of Global China, explores the consequences of this unexpected connection.

La plata y el Pacífico China, Hispanoamérica y el nacimiento de la globalización, 1565-1815, Peter Gordon, Juan José Morales (Siruela, June 2022)
La plata y el Pacífico: China, Hispanoamérica y el nacimiento de la globalización, 1565-1815, Peter Gordon, Juan José Morales (Siruela, June 2022)

The Spanish translation of The Silver Way: China, Spanish America and the Birth of Globalisation, 1565–1815—the story of the Manila Galleon—with a new introduction by Elvira Roca Barea: “It explains to us not only what it meant in the past but what it still means today to understand the present and even the future of relations between East and West, and very especially, China’s relationship with Latin America.”

We often neglect the Indian Ocean when we talk about our macro-level models of geopolitics, global economics or grand strategy—often in favor of the Atlantic or the Pacific. Yet the Indian Ocean—along whose coasts live a third of humanity—may be a better vehicle to understand how our world is changing.

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Dilnoza Duturaeva, an Uzbek historian at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales challenges the conventional narrative that the Silk Road declined following the collapse of the Tang dynasty in 907, and remained in eclipse until the establishment of the Mongol empire 250 years later. While the cosmopolitan Tang dynasty delighted in chronicling exuberant trade missions from the west, the Northern Song (960-1127) had little to say about such trade. This is reflected in the arts: compare the countless Tang terracottas of western traders, camels and horses with the scarce examples from the Song. Historians have argued that the fragmentation of political power across the steppe in the 10th and 11th centuries had made trade too dangerous and costly. 

Much like countries, regions are man-made, prone to arbitrary borders reflecting the priorities of long dead statesmen. In the 19th century, French leaders discovered “Latin America” as they sought to expand their influence in the Western hemisphere. The American strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan popularized the “Middle East” in a book that guided generations of naval officers. At the dawn of a multipolar world order, it seems likely that some “new” region might come to embody its anxieties and ambitions. Beyond Liberal Order, a recent collection of essays edited by Harry Verhoeven and Anatol Lieven, offers the “Global Indian Ocean” as the geographical unit ripe with insight for our age.