In 1573, 712 bales of Chinese silk arrived in New Spain in the cargos of two Manila galleons. The emergence and the subsequent rapid development of this trans-Pacific silk trade reflected the final formation of the global circulation network. The first book-length English-language study focusing on the early modern export of Chinese silk to New Spain from the sixteenth to the seventeenth century, An Object of Seduction compares and contrasts the two regions from perspectives of the sericulture development, the widespread circulation of silk fashion, and the government attempts at regulating the use of silk. Xiaolin Duan argues that the increasing demand for silk on the worldwide market on the one hand contributed to the parallel development of silk fashion and sericulture in China and New Spain, and on the other hand created conflicts on imperial regulations about foreign trade and hierarchical systems. Incorporating evidence from local gazetteers, correspondence, manual books, illustrated treatises, and miscellanies, An Object of Seduction explores how the growing desire for and production of raw silk and silk textiles empowered individuals and societies to claim and redefine their positions in changing time and space, thus breaking away from the traditional state control.
Xiaolin Duan is associate professor of Chinese history at North Carolina State University.
Chapter One: Production: The Development of Sericulture and Interacting with the Natural Environment
Chapter Two: Trade: Negotiations Between Central Governments and Local Societies
Chapter Three: Fashion: The Desire for Luxury Silk, the Color Red, and Foreignness
Chapter Four: Regulation: Sumptuary Laws and the Decline of the Traditional Authorities
By looking closely at silk in China and Mexico in the early modern period, this study contributes to our understanding of the development of the global economy. At the center of the book is silk itself: its colors, its textures, and its power to seduce. Duan uses a wide variety of sources—including casta paintings and Chinese biji essays—to show the ways in which silk was produced and consumed. This book is a must-read for scholars interested in the development of the global economy, as well as those interested in textiles and the histories of consumption and the circulation of goods.
Duan’s engaging study of silk seamlessly integrates economic, environmental, cultural, and religious documentation in the context of global history. Silk was the foremost Chinese export exchanged for silver imports over centuries. On the supply side, silkworms survive with intense skilled labor and access to mulberry leaves…. On the demand side, sumptuary laws in China and New Spain were circumvented via rampant smuggling and dynamic customer preferences. Duan’s wide-ranging account of diverse silk products is based upon an impressive array of Asian, American, and European sources, rendering it an essential contribution to textile history and global history.
Duan’s study of silk production in China and New Spain offers a long overdue examination of the development of early modern global trade in the Pacific. Meticulously researched and original, Duan’s exploration of the production and consumption of silk provides new insights on how manufacturing techniques and clothing styles spread from China to the Americas. She also examines the tensions that arose as global processes articulated themselves in different ways at the local level. This is a valuable and timely study of an underexamined topic of immense scholarly importance.
Duan achieves a rare trifecta of world history—serious and measured comparisons, deep analysis of interconnections, and a truly transnational framework. As a research work, this book is significant. As a teaching tool, it has enormous potential to liberate students from their preconceptions about the early modern world and the ways people are connected historically and currently.