Rising and Setting in the East

In October 1603, tensions between Chinese merchant settlers and the Spanish authorities in Manila exploded into open violence, in which 20,000 Chinese were killed. The problems traced back to a delegation from Ming China that had arrived the previous summer to check on the Chinese merchants in the city. The Spanish feared that this was a prelude to a Chinese invasion.

That fear might have been warranted in an earlier time. Back in 1411, closer to the start of the dynasty, a Ming fleet under orders from the emperor had invaded Ceylon, overcome its armies, kidnapped its king, and brought him back to China as a prisoner. But those days were long past. By the 1500s, the ability and desire of the Ming to project power outward had faded, and by the early 17th century the dynasty could muster such fleets only at great expense: It had sent one to fight Japan in 1592, but confronting the Spanish in Manila was not so clearly worthwhile.

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