Nan'ao-1 gives insight to ancient black market trade

Despite a trade ban in the 16th century, salvage from the Nan’ao-1 off Shantou City reveals that there was a healthy demand for Chinese export goods, leading ships to engage in illegal trade for profit.

Ancient ship gives up hoard of rare porcelain
Xinhua, via the Shanghai Daily, 03 May 2010

A TREASURE trove of priceless porcelain has been uncovered from a 400-year-old merchant shipwreck, evidence that Chinese merchants may have flouted bans on foreign trade.

More than 80 pieces of porcelain from Emperor Wanli’s reign (1573-1620) have been salvaged from the ancient ship off south China’s Guangdong Province, the provincial cultural relics bureau announced yesterday.

Archaeologists believe the ship, which sank in waters off Nan’ao County, Shantou City, may have been carrying 10,000 pieces of blue-and-white porcelain from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

Some of the larger 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, experts believe.

The find is particularly interesting as Wanli’s administration banned sea trade.


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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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