Pedro de Alfaro and the Struggle for Power in the Globalized Pacific, 1565–1644 tells the compelling story of Pedro de Alfaro, a Spanish Franciscan whose clandestine 1579 mission to Ming China collapsed amid accusations of illegal entry and espionage, culminating in his death at sea in 1580 after being expelled from both mainland China and the Portuguese enclave at Macau. This mission, generally regarded as a failure by historians, actually marked a turning point in the development of early modern trans-imperial relations between Spain and China. Alfaro's report on the true size of China and the state of its military infrastructure, the first to come from a Spaniard with more than a few weeks' experience in the Ming Empire, reversed several years of unofficial Spanish plans for a conquest of China. This turn away from an armed invasion occurred precisely at the same time the Ming revised their tax code, drastically increasing the demand for Spanish silver, setting the stage for a relatively stable balance of power across the Pacific Ocean. For the next two centuries, this balance of power remained uneasily in place, allowing the development of a stable Pacific World, the final link in the development of early modern globalization.
Ashleigh Dean Ikemoto is assistant professor of Asian history at Georgia College and State University.
Introduction: “Not Worth Anything to a Historian:” The Search for Pedro de Alfaro
Chapter One: “We Did Nothing But Dream of China:” Pedro de Alfaro’s Historical Context
Chapter Two: “Bouquets of Silver:” The Spanish Philippines
Chapter Three: “The Spirit of the Lord is Never Idle:” The Mission to China
Chapter Four: “They Can Put Us All to the Knife If They Wish:” The End of the Conquest Dream
Chapter Five: “King of the Ocean Sea”?: 1580 as Catalyst for the Pacific World
Conclusion: “Such Burdensome Labors and Sorrows:” The World After Pedro de Alfaro
The conquest of China had been proposed a number of times to Philip II since the establishment of a Spanish enclave in the Philippines. The report of the Franciscan Pedro de Alfaro showing how Spanish military forces were no match for China’s fortifications, armaments and population, ended the misguided Spanish plans to conquer the Ming Empire. This book places a micro-historical biography in the context of an emerging Pacific World based on an economic dynamic that connected the American side of the Pacific with Imperial China. Ikemoto’s text, grounded in detailed archival research and beautifully written, places this forgotten Franciscan as the informed voice on Spanish strategy debates otherwise ignorant of Asian realities. World historians and historians of the Spanish Empire will learn much from this book.
Ashleigh Dean Ikemoto has expertly rescued from historical oblivion the persona of Pedro de Alfaro, who, as explorer, friar, and spy, provided the first impressions of mighty Ming China in the late 1570s. Part biography, part global history, Ikemoto’s skillful narrative reveals why Spanish authorities ultimately would recognize the futility of the conquest of China and opt for a more peaceful exchange linking Manila with Acapulco. The book is required reading for anyone interested in the birth of globalization and the opening of Pacific Worlds.
Ashleigh Dean Ikemoto provides an engaging study of the life and writing of the Spanish friar, Pedro de Alfaro, an important yet understudied figure in the history of Sino-Hispanic interchange. Her compelling argument that Alfaro’s writing on China set the course of Spain’s political and economic strategy towards the Chinese Empire during the Spanish colonial period will be of tremendous interest to scholars of Spanish, Chinese, and Pacific history.
With nuanced precision and novel contributions, Ashleigh Dean Ikemoto turns Franciscan Pedro de Alfaro's mission in China into a valuable instrument for reflection on trans-Pacific relations, on the globalizing sense of missions and on the crucial and revealing contribution that can be seen in seemingly minor historical figures.
Don’t be fooled by the title into thinking this is merely a study of a sixteenth-century Franciscan friar of whom you’ve never heard. Start reading this engaging and enthralling book, and you will soon realize that Ashleigh Dean Ikemoto has skillfully used the eponymous Alfaro to transform our understanding of the relationship between the Spanish and Ming empires; and if that’s an unfamiliar topic, start here! More than that, she succeeds in illuminating the phenomenon—sadly, ever pertinent—of the inherent hubris of empire.