Monday, February 02, 2009

More on Clove and Cinnamon Routes

I want to expand a bit more on the Clove and Cinnamon Routes as these were known on their eastern leg by the Chinese starting in the Sung Dynasty.

Click here for full image.

From the Sung period onwards, the Chinese wrote of two sea routes used for trade towards the South. There was a western route and an eastern route.

The western route, known as xi hanglu 西航路 (western ship route), hugged the coast from Quanzhou in Fujian to Vietnam to the markets of Zhangcheng (Tonkin) and Zhenla (Cambodia). From there, goods went onward to the Malayan penisula, all the time staying west of the Jiaozhi Sea (central South China Sea).

Ships taking the eastern route, known as dong hanglu 東航路 (eastern ship route), sailed due south from Quanzhou, staying to the east of the Jiaozhi Sea toward Luzon. On Luzon was found the kingdoms of Lingyamon (Lingayen) and toward the southeast, Sanfotsi (Sanfoqi, Sambali).

From San-fo-qi, ships went southeast to Toupo (Toubak or Cotabato in Mindanao) where they could access the sources of clove buds and nutmeg in the Moluccas Islands (Maluku).

The central part of the South China Sea was avoided because of the coral islands that were known in early times as Shan Hu Zhou, the modern Paracel and Spratley islands. These islands and reefs were considered dangerous and were skirted by taking either the coastal western ship route or the eastern ship route with the winter monsoon.

Elsewhere I have demonstrated that this East / West segmentation can be related to the existence of two major trade arteries between China to Southeast Asia: the so-called xi hanglu 西航路 (western route) and the dong hanglu 東航路 (eastern route). Ships sailing along the first route went from Fujian and Guangdong to Hainan and Vietnam, passing the Paracel Islands on their western side; from Vietnam they proceeded to the Malayan east coast and finally around the peninsula’s southern tip to Melaka and the Indian Ocean; a further link connected the southern tip of Vietnam to Cape Datu; from there vessels could follow the Kalimantan coast down towards Java. The second route ran from Fujian – via the southern tip of Taiwan – to Luzon; from Luzon one would then go through the Sulu Sea to Brunei or, via the Sulu Islands and Celebes Sea, to Sulawesi, Maluku, Ceram, Timor, and so forth. The existence of this double route system is related to a very special geographical feature: the central part of the South China Sea was considered dangerous due to its many shoals and reefs.

Roderich Ptak, The Sino-European Map (“Shanhai yudi quantu”) in theEncyclopedia Sancai tuhui.

Cloves and nutmeg were taken from the Moluccas, then part of Toupo, to the northwest until they reached Sanfotsi, when the journey then went due north to Quanzhou. From that Fujian port, the spices went westward along the xi hanglu or western ship route.

Cinnamon and cassia, however, sourced from South China and Vietnam, apparently mostly went south along the dong hanglu or eastern ship route. More cinnamon was also available in Mindanao and parts of Indonesia. All this cinnamon eventually went west through Indonesia all the way to Rhapta on the southeast coast of Africa.

One cannot rule out that mainland cinnamon and cassia were traded, at least partly, for the southern insular clove buds and nutmeg.

During Ming times, Lingyamon on the dong hanglu apparently becomes known as the kingdom of Feng-jia-shi-lan 馮家施蘭 (Pangasinan), while I would suggest that Sanfotsi or Sanfoqi becomes Lu-sung 呂宋 (Luzon kingdom). Toupo or the Cotabato empire becomes overshadowed by Su-lu 蘇祿 (Sulu sultanate).

Paul Kekai Manansala


Nordquist, Myron H and John Norton Moore. Security flashpoints : oil, islands, sea access, and military confrontation, M. Nijhoff Publishers, 1998, 155-9, 168-9.

Ptak, Roderich. The Sino-European Map (“Shanhai yudi quantu”) in theEncyclopedia Sancai tuhui,

Reid, Anthony. Sojourners and Settlers: Histories of Southeast Asia and the Chinese, University of Hawai`i Press, 1996, 34-5.