Zhengde Emperor - Contact With Europe

Contact With Europe

During the reign of Chingtih (Zhengde) (1506), foreigners from the west called Fah-lan-ki (or Franks), who said they had tribute, abruptly entered the Bogue, and by their tremendously loud guns shook the place far and near. This was reported at court, and an order returned to drive them away immediately, and stop the trade.

—Samuel Wells Williams, The Middle Kingdom: A Survey of the Geography, Government, Education, Social Life, Arts, Religion, &c. of the Chinese Empire and Its Inhabitants, 2 vol. (Wiley & Putnam, 1848).

The first direct European contacts with China occurred during the reign of Zhengde. In several initial missions commissioned by Afonso de Albuquerque of Portuguese Malacca, the Portuguese explorers Jorge Álvares and Rafael Perestrello landed in southern China and traded with the Chinese merchants of Tuen Mun and Guangzhou. In 1513 their king, Manuel I of Portugal sent Fernão Pires de Andrade and Tomé Pires to formally open relations between the main court at Beijing and Lisbon, capital of Portugal. Although Zhengde gave the Portuguese embassy his blessing while touring Nanjing in May 1520, he died soon after and the Portuguese (who were rumored to be troublemakers in Canton and even cannibals of kidnapped Chinese children), were ejected by Chinese authorities under the new Grand Secretary Yang Tinghe. Although illegal trade continued thereafter, official relations between the Portuguese and the Ming court would not improve until the 1540s, culminating in the Ming court's consent in 1557 which allowed Portugal to establish Macau as their trading base in China.

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