Evidence shows merchants flouted imperial trade ban

From China Daily

Archaeologists working on the wreck of a 400-year-old merchant vessel off south China have found evidence that Chinese merchants probably flouted bans on foreign trade at the time.

The salvage team has recovered more than 800 pieces of antique porcelain and copper coins from the ancient ship off the coast of Guangdong province, said the provincial cultural relics bureau Sunday.

Archaeologists believe the ship, which sank in the Sandianjin waters off Nan'ao county, Shantou city, may have been carrying 10,000 pieces of blue-and-white porcelain, mostly made during Emperor Wanli's reign (1573-1620) of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

Some big porcelain bowls found in the vessel, dubbed "Nan'ao-1, " were probably made for foreign trade as they were not commonly used in Chinese daily life at that time, they believe. The find is particularly interesting as the administration of Wanli had imposed a ban on sea trade.

Guangdong was a major center for the sea trade in ancient China. Sheet copper and coins found during the salvage operation indicated the ship might have been smuggling copper too, as the export of copper was also banned at the time, said Sun Jian, head of the salvage team.

The Ming Dynasty restricted private sea trade to deter piracy, which had imposed huge hardships on legitimate sea traders, and ensure maritime security along Chinese coastal areas.