Cargoes Human and Otherwise: Chinese Commerce in East African Goods During the Middle Period
At a far earlier stage in history than is typically realized, the Chinese initiated trade relations that succeeded in procuring the importation of goods of East African origin. In so doing, China commenced its own tradition of exchange with East Africa—one that was conducted on a somewhat lower but nonetheless comparable scale with the preexistent and more direct trade pursued by merchants hailing from the various contemporary countries of the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian subcontinent. The East African commodities most sought initially by all parties were ivory, spices, and aromatics. However, no less significant is the fact that by the late tenth century C.E., if not substantially earlier, the Chinese of imperial court circles became exposed additionally to representatives of the human inhabitants of East Africa. Thereafter, the documented expansion of the Indian Ocean trade in slaves would extend as far to the east as the major Chinese port cities of Guangzhou and Quanzhou. As a result, we find that literary and historical records attest subtly to a widening Chinese exposure to peoples as well as to things African that exceeds beyond the boundaries that we have heretofore known and come to expect.