La ruta de la plata

China, Spanish America and globalisation

Tag: Primary source

Chinese competition in services: a contemporary account (Manila, 1590)

Fray Domingo de Salazar,  Bishop of the Philippines, 1590

Domingo de Salazar (1512-1594) (source Wikipedia)

Domingo de Salazar (1512-1594)
(source Wikipedia)

What has pleased all of us here has been the arrival of a book-binder from Mexico. He brought books with him, set up a bindery, and hired a Sangley [term for Chinese] who had offered his services to him. The Sangley secretly, and without his master noticing it, watched how the latter bound books, and lo, in less than [blank space] he left the house, saying that he wished to serve him no longer, and set up a similar shop. I assure your Majesty that he became so excellent a workman that his master has been forced to give up the business, because the Sangley has drawn all the trade. His work is so good that there is no need of the Spanish tradesman. At the time I am writing, I have in my hand a Latin version of Nabarro bound by him; and, in my judgment, it could not be better bound, even in Sevilla.

China and the need for silver (contemporary account, 1570)

Don Martín Enríquez, the viceroy in Mexico, wrote the King in December 1570, just after the first round trips across the Pacific:


Don Martín Enríquez, the viceroy in Mexico

Don Martín Enríquez, the viceroy in Mexico

And one of the difficulties consequent upon this commerce and intercourse is, that neither from this land nor from España, so far as can now be learned, can anything be exported thither which they do not already possess. They have an abundance of silks, and linen likewise, according to report. Cloths, on account of the heat prevalent in the country, they neither use nor value. Sugar exists in great abundance. Wax, drugs, and cotton are super-abundant in the islands, whither the Chinese go to obtain them by barter. And thus, to make a long matter short, the commerce with that land must be carried on with silver, which they value above all other things; and I am uncertain whether your Majesty will consent to this on account of having to send it to a foreign kingdom. I beg your Majesty to consider all these matters, to inform me concerning them, and to give explicit orders to the person in charge here so that no mistakes may be made.

A contemporary account of what the Manila galleons carried

From Antonio de Morga, Sucesos de las islas Filipinas, 1609

Sucesos_de_las_Islas_Filipinas[1]These vessels come laden with merchandise, and bring wealthy merchants who own the ships, and servants and factors of other merchants who remain in China. They leave China with the permission and license of the Chinese viceroys and mandarins. The merchandise that they generally bring and sell to the Spaniards consists of raw silk in bundles, of the fineness of two strands [dos cabeças], and other silk of poorer quality; fine untwisted silk, white and of all colors, wound in small skeins; quantities of velvets, some plain, and some embroidered in all sorts of figures, colors, and fashions—others with body of gold, and embroidered with gold; woven stuffs and brocades, of gold and silver upon silk of various colors and patterns; quantities of gold and silver thread in skeins over thread and silk—but the glitter of all the gold and silver is false, and only on paper; damasks, satins, taffetans, gorvaranes, picotes, and other cloths of all colors, some finer and better than others; a quantity of linen made from grass, called lençesuelo [handkerchief]; and white cotton cloth of different kinds and qualities, for all uses. They also bring musk, benzoin, and ivory; many bed ornaments, hangings, coverlets, and tapestries of embroidered velvet; damask and gorvaran of different shades; tablecloths, cushions, and carpets; horse-trappings of the same stuff, and embroidered with glass beads and seed-pearls; also some pearls and rubies, sapphires and crystal-stones; metal basins, copper kettles, and other copper and cast-iron pots; quantities of all sorts of nails, sheet-iron, tin and lead; saltpetre and gunpowder. They supply the Spaniards with wheat flour; preserves made of orange, peach, scorzonera, pear, nutmeg, and ginger, and other fruits of China; salt pork and other salt meats; live fowls of good breed, and very fine capons; quantities of green fruit, oranges of all kinds; excellent chestnuts, walnuts, pears, and chicueyes (both green and dried, a delicious fruit); quantities of fine thread of all kinds, needles, and knick-knacks; little boxes and writing-cases; beds, tables, chairs, and gilded benches, painted in many figures and patterns. They bring domestic buffaloes; geese that resemble swans; horses, some mules and asses; even caged birds, some of which talk, while others sing, and they make them play innumerable tricks. The Chinese furnish numberless other gewgaws and ornaments of little value and worth, which are esteemed among the Spaniards; besides a quantity of fine crockery of all kinds; canganes, sines, and black and blue robes; tacley, which are beads of all kinds; strings of cornelians, and other beads and precious stones of all colors; pepper and other spices; and rarities—which, did I refer to them all, I would never finish, nor have sufficient paper for it.

A contemporary description of a voyage on the Manila galleon

girodelmondoFrom Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Careri, Giro del Mondo (1699)

The author’s tedious and dreadful voyage to the port of Acapulco

There is no doubt but this voyage has always been dangerous and dreadful. In 1575, the ship Espiritu Santo, or the Holy Ghost, was cast away at Catanduanes, through the ignorance of the pilot, who could not find out the “Emboccadero”, or mouth of the strait. In 1596, the contrary winds drove the St. Philip as far as Japan; where it is was taken by way of reprisal with all the lading design’d from New Spain… In 1602, two other galleons were cast away, and others after that.

The poor people stow’d in the cabbins of the galeon bound toward the Land of Promise of New Spain, endure no less hardship than the children of Israel did when they went from Egypt towards Palestine. There is hunger, thirst, sickness, cold, continual watching, and other sufferings; besides the terrible shocks from side to side, caus’d by the furious beating of the waves.

I may further say that endure all the plagues God sent upon Pharaoh to soften his hard heart; for if he was infected with leprosy, the galeon is never clear of a universal raging itch, as an addition to other miseries.

If the air was then fill’d with gnats; the ship swarms with little vermin, the Spaniards calls “Gorgojos”, bred in the bisket; so swift that they in a short time not only run over cabbins, beds and the very dishes the men eat on, but insensibly fasten upon the body.

Instead of the locusts, there are several other sorts of vermin of sundry colours, that suck the blood. Abundance of flies fall into the dishes of broth, in which there also swim worms of several sorts… at noon we had “Mongos”, something like kidney beans, in which there were so many maggots, that they swam at the top of the broth.

This bitter fare was sweeten’d after dinner with a little water and sugar; yet the allowance was but a small cocao shell full, which rather increas’d than quench’d drought…

Yet … they never fail of sweetmeats at table, chocolate twice a day, of which the sailors and grummets make as great a consumption as the richest…


Nothwithstanding the dreadful sufferings in this prodigious voyage, yet the desire of gain prevails with many to venture through it, four, six and some ten times. The very sailors, though they forswear the voyage when out at sea; yet when they come to Acapulco, for the lucre of two hundred seventy-five pieces of eight, the king allows them for the return, never remember sufferings; like women after their labour.

The whole pay is three hundred and fifty pieces of eght; but hey have only seventy-five paid them at Cavite, when they are bound for America; for if they had half, very few would return to the Philippine Isands for the rest.


The merchants, there is no doubt, get by this voyage, an hundred and fifty or two hundred percent. … And indeed it is a great satisfaction to return home in less than a year with seventeen or eighteen thousand pieces of eight clear gains … a sum that may make a man easie as long as he lives…

The extraordinary gains induce many to expose themselves to so many dangers and miseries. For my own part, these or greater hopes shall not prevail with me to undertake the voyage again, which is enough to destroy a man, or make him unfit for anything as long as he lives.