The Dutch East India Company in Tonkin: Political and Commercial Relations, 1637-1700
Tonkin was a feudal kingdom in the north of Vietnam. Its economy was based on agriculture, while its foreign trade was strictly limited. From the end of the sixteenth century, the branch of commodity economy actively developed. Foreign merchants such as Chinese and Japanese also effectively traded here. From the 1630s, trade of the Japanese in Tonkin faced difficulties due to the abrogation policy of the Japanese Tokugawa. The so-called "Zijde tegens Zilver" trade between Tonkin and Japan was stagnated for a short moment. The Tonkinese were looking for both new clientele and army ally. The Dutch then timely appeared.
Early in 1637, the VOC ship Groll entered Tonkin. Trade relations between VOC and Tonkin were established and lasted until 1700. During these 64 years, the Company focused its business mainly on silk, silk cloth, cinnamon (for Japanese market), ceramic (for Southeast Asian markets), etc. Some small studies on the VOC silk trade in Tonkin have been done so far, however, the full question "how successfully did the Company trade in Tonkin" remained for centuries, along with the oblivion of the part of the VOC sources on Tonkin.
||upper left: VOC establishment ("Hollandse Loge") at Tonkin River (Vietnam)
From January 2002, I started my research on this topic in Leiden in the framework of the TANAP Research Program. The objectives of this research are to examine the political and economic relations between Tonkin and the VOC in the context of seventeenth century East- and Southeast Asian trade as well as the position of Tonkin in the Company's intra-Asian trade network.
The 6,000-page VOC material on Tonkin being preserved at the Nationaal Archief in The Hague promises to highlight not only the Tonkin - VOC relation itself but also complete other unfilled parts of the Vietnamese history and the full picture of the VOC in the East. A new light is flaring up from the forgotten past!
Prof. Dr. Femme S. Gaastra
Prof. Dr. Nguyen Quang Ngoc