R. Bin Wong
Many of early modern Europe’s connections to Asia were commercial in nature, in contrast to the colonial relations forged by Europeans in the Americas. This chapter considers the ways in which the connections that Europe had with Asia and the Americas provide a context for comparing the early modern political economies of China and Europe. Similarities and differences highlighted by this exercise help make clear both the dynamics of economic change common within both world regions as well as the character of their connections, illustrating important differences between them. The intellectual limitations of identifying historical parallels according to traits first observed in Europe is suggested by noting features of early modern Chinese political rule that are not observed in Europe until a later historical era. These topics illustrate various ways in which comparisons and connections to other world regions helps to place early modern Europe in a global history perspective.
North European commercial expansion in Asia took shape within the framework of a typical early modern commercial institution: the chartered company. In 1602, shortly after the foundation of its English rival, several Dutch trading companies merged to form the United East India Company (VOC), the first joint stock overseas trading company based on permanent share capital. Batavia (Jakarta) on Java came to serve as the fulcrum of a wide-ranging inter-Asian trade network, based upon a monopoly of spice imports from the Indonesian archipelago. During the eighteenth century the fortunes of the Company declined, as it encountered formidable competition from French and English rivals. Yet on Java and Ceylon the Company strengthened its territorial hold and became a colonial power. It was declared bankrupt and lost its charter in 1799.