Back in the day, whenever one was in a waiting room or vestibule, one would likely come across a copy of “Reader’s Digest”, which would include a diverse selection of pieces, often abridged, often extracts from elsewhere: easy reading, something to interest anyone and everyone, thought-provoking but not enough to require too much mental exertion.
It’s perhaps a stretch to consider Spanish history “Asian”. Yet a large portion of what we now call Spain, and for at least a couple centuries most of it, was part of the Muslim world, with a dynasty whose founder was the last remaining scion of the overthrown Umayyad dynasty in Damascus. Europe, Asia, East and West had, if they were defined at all, rather different meanings in the Middle Ages than than they do today.
Baroque vocal recitals are not that rare, even in Kong Kong, but to have two almost back-to-back—Magdalena Kožená followed by the perhaps not-as-widely-known but nevertheless entirely enthralling “La Galanía” ensemble only 48-hours later—is a one-in-a-blue-moon set of events. The latter played a (will wonders never cease?) free concert of 17th-century Spanish and Italian love songs at the University of Hong Kong’s Grand Hall.
Here at last a book to unearth the untold story of Chinese porcelain in Spain at the time when both countries first started trading. Early relations between China and Spain remains an understudied subject, and the glaring absence of a monograph on Chinese porcelain in Spain has finally been redressed with the magisterial Chinese Porcelain in Habsburg Spain by Cinta Krahe. Habsburg Spain (1516-1700) coincides with the late Ming (1368-1644) and early Qing (1644-1911), a period of great accomplishment in Chinese ceramics.
The so-called “Manila galleon”—more than a trade route but in its structure and organization what we would consider today a shipping line—connected Asia with the Americas for 250 years through the latter quarter of the 16th century to the first quarter of the 19th. By being the final bi-directional piece of the global trade puzzle, and by delivering the American silver needed for the China’s money supply, this “Silver Way” arguably ushered in globalization itself.
Andrés de Urdaneta is a name that few other than specialist historians will immediately recognise. He was one of the last of the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century explorers and navigators from the Iberian peninsula whose voyages resulted in redrawing the globe in more or less the form we know it today. Christopher Columbus has a country and several cities named after him; Ferdinand Magellan has the famous straits. But Urdaneta has no such monuments.
Perhaps this is because Urdaneta didn’t discover how to get anywhere, but rather less glamorously but no less importantly discovered how to get back. Until 1565, no fleet had succeeded in sailing east from Asia back across the Pacific to the Americas. It was Urdaneta, a survivor of earlier expeditions, who first worked out the right winds and currents across the uncharted waters of this vast ocean. His discovery was called the tornaviaje, or ‘return trip’.