Review Essay Of “Jacques de Coutre’s And Matelieff’s Singapore and Johor”: Exploring Sources On Pre-Modern History of Singapore, pp. 9 of 11

Next, the background information examined may be deployed to study photographed artefacts of the Stellingwerf Reef junk, a shipwreck which was salvaged of a vessel traveling between Batavia and Canton as well as the Geldermalsen, another shipwreck of a vessel also traveling between Batavia and Canton and on its way back to Europe before it met with mishap. Cross consultations can also be made on similar wares at the Asian Civilisations and Lee Kong Chian Art museums for background appreciation. In this way, the findings pertaining to the Stellingwerf Reef junkwreck and the Geldermalsen shipwreck become more palatable. Observations of the Stellingwerf Reef junkwreck are: 1. in a period in which the Dutch did not have favourable relations with the Ming authorities, on top of the chaotic situation in the country,[iv] the trading junk specializing in porcelain acted as the commercial and middleman link between the coast of China and Batavia in Java. 2. The porcelain find conforms to the evolving European taste for the art on Chinese porcelain in the 17th century. 3. The kraak ware conforms in style to the “decorated panels as well as scene of flowers and birds.” 4. The kraak style of ware was also adapted to different container wares with the characteristic “decorated panels.” 5. The blue-white ceramics were produced in a variety of containers such as teapots, vases and storage jars. 6. The beginning of a shift to transitional style was noticeable in the somewhat more ‘dazzling’ painting on jars. 7. The non-blue-white monochrome could be found in the form of a dish and various other containers and these might have constituted some part of the overall demand. On the Geldermalsen shipwreck, 1. while China in the 1750s was entering into a stable and prosperous period, the Dutch still found it increasingly difficult to undertake trade in view of European competition and abnormalities in Qing trade policy. Having the Geldermalsen sailed a trip to Canton and a number of other ports in Asia before embarking back to the Netherlands constituted as a seasonal routine voyage. 2. The porcelain find conforms to the shift in European taste for functional Chinese porcelain in the 18th century. 3. European blue-white dinner sets, sauce boats, cups for tea and coffee as well as mugs affirms that the Chinese were aggressively adapting to functional European designs although C.J. Jorg in comparing the order list and the actual cargo (giving allowance for ‘permitted smuggling) surmises that the Dutch were not able to estimate their order list well (with possible implication on profits). 4. Other than the usual blue-white ceramics, the find also reveals regular alternatives being offered for the same item in a Chinese Imari style. 5. Blue-white interior and brown-glaze exterior cups meant for coffee-drinking which were not of a typical Chinese design are also seen in the salvaged collection. 6. Dehua sculpted figurines (blanc de Chine) and Yixing teapots continued to fill part of the demand to Europe. 7. Since the ship was on its way back to Netherlands, a more coarse blue-white was carried for the market in Cape Town. However, one needs to caution that not everything can be fully known from the salvaged collection for the reasons that 1. the shards are mostly not recovered even though these can tell an equally important part of the story as the undamaged pieces (the latter are the ones that can be sold); 2. there is no time to perform any systematic archaeological work in a commercial diving expedition (Thorncroft, 1987;  Jorg, 1986). In order to make sense of the commodities history of Singapore before 16th century, one needs to likewise be armed with the chronologies of major powers existing and trading in the region and if one is focusing on ceramics, s/he should also be acquainted with the characteristics of the export/import and indigenous ceramics types gleaned from archaeological and other specialized surveys of the region.

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An Inspiring Quote

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~ John Dewey, How We Think

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