A Golden Book for a Silver Story

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Peter Gordon & Juan J. Morales, The Silver Way. China, Spanish America and the Birth of Globalisation. 1565-1815, Random House, Penguin Books, Australia, 2017.

The authors of this aureus libellus – dealing with trade and exploration while dealing with an important chapter of globalization – are Juan José Morales and Peter Gordon, both of them long-time residents of Hong Kong.
In 97 short pages, they bring back to life a forgotten period of European expansion to the Far East: the Spanish contribution. Since Roman times, through the Silk Road, a painful drainage of precious metals had occurred: gold flew to India and silver to China, and in exchange we received spices, medicines, silk and porcelain. Several monetary crises in the West were caused by such hemorrhage of precious metals. Emperor Nero was the first to order the debasement of the minted coins to limit their drainage.

Miguel López de Lagaspi and Andrés de Urdaneta, the monk recalled to the sea by royal command, are the true heroes of this story. They did manage, in 1565, to establish a new sailing route from Manila to Mexico, transporting to the Philippines all the silver mined from the great Potosi mine in Bolivia. They used it to trade with Chinese who in exchange gave them all the goods which were mightily craved in the West.

We tend to study the story of European expansion following a Dutch and British narratives but this wonderful book force us to put down our usual reading glasses and put on new one of a different color.

 

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