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Seminar explores maritime history under global vision

Author  :  WU YONG and SHEN BIN     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2021-01-08

A forum on maritime history and global maritime communication in Taishan, Guangdong Province Photo: FILE

A forum on maritime history was recently held in Taishan, Guangdong Province.

Scholars exchanged views on the maritime history of Guangdong, East Asian maritime civilizations, global communication over the seas, maritime population flows, and regional economic and social changes. Meanwhile, they discussed contemporary maritime Guangdong, the Belt and Road, the construction of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, and the theoretical construction and academic innovation of maritime history.

As a birthplace of China’s maritime civilization and the Maritime Silk Road, Guangdong provides an important maritime gateway for China to the world, said Guo Yuewen, secretary of the leading Party members’ group of the Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences. The forum encourages scholars to summarize historical experience, reveal inherent historical laws, and grasp overall historical trends, in an effort to facilitate research of maritime Guangdong, the history of maritime life, and China’s maritime history. In this way, we can accelerate the construction of disciplinary systems, academic systems, and discourse systems of maritime history with distinctive Chinese characteristics, thus providing intellectual support for building the GuangdongHong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

Maritime history is a hot discipline attracting academic attention, said Li Min, vice chairman of the Guangdong Social Sciences Association. Guangdong has the traditional first-mover advantage, a solid academic foundation, and research strengths in many fields of maritime history, such as the history and geography of the South China Sea, China-West communication, and connections to overseas Chinese. In recent years, research institutes and higher education institutions have vigorously promoted the study of maritime history, building the disciplinary system, academic system, and discourse system of China’s maritime history. Fruitful achievements have been made in the fields of maritime socio-economic history, the history of the Maritime Silk Road, the history of maritime East-West communication, maritime beliefs and maritime culture, as well as maritime archaeology and maritime cultural heritage.

Research activities, including the maritime Guangdong forum series, have been launched to provide a distinctive and highlevel academic exchange platform, facilitating the construction of maritime power and related academic research. This is the responsibility which Guangdong social science circles should shoulder in the new era, Li added.

As a comprehensive discipline, studies of maritime history should pay attention to the cross-over of arts and sciences, collecting and analyzing various documents, including underwater archaeological data. In addition, differences between perspectives on sea and on land should be noted, suggested Sun Guangqi, a professor at Dalian Maritime University.

Maritime society studies need to go beyond local and national visions, said Liu Zhiwei, a professor from the Department of History at Sun Yat-sen University. We need to break the limitations of agricultural culture and terrestrial perspectives, focus on transnational interactions, grasp maritime civilization through human activities, and re-examine relevant history from the perspective of maritime people, thereby forming a new understanding of historical transnational immigration, pirates, river and sea trade, and port towns.

In recent years, efforts have been made to explore the long period and cross-regional features of maritime history, said Huang Chunyan, a professor from the Department of History at East China Normal University. The Song Dynasty (960–1279) saw the unprecedented development of maritime exploration in ancient China. A major reason for this expansion was due to changes in maritime policies, which substantially raised the importance of seafaring military defense and economic trade. In particular, people were allowed and encouraged to conduct marine trading for the first time in Chinese history. China’s joining maritime trade, with its huge economic and technological advantages, pushed Asian trade into a new stage.

Over the past two decades, research of the Indian Ocean’s history has shifted away from being centered on the West and has reoriented towards the East, said Zhu Ming, a professor from the Department of History at East China Normal University. Scholars have focused on the internal flow of the Indian Ocean circle, highlighting its trans-regional nature. Studies of the Indian Ocean’s history embody a multicultural coexistence within Asia, as some of this research has been conducted on the grassroots labor and ordinary people. These studies are conducive to understanding the diversification of this world, promoting the harmonious coexistence of civilizations, and seeking more possibilities beyond the development modes of Western history.

Editor: Yu Hui

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