Colonial societies in Asia

Authored by: Jorge Flores

The Iberian World

Print publication date:  September  2019
Online publication date:  September  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138921016
eBook ISBN: 9780429283697
Adobe ISBN:


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The societies of Iberian origin that emerged in Asia from the sixteenth and seventeenth century obviously reflect the paths taken by the Portuguese and Spanish empires in this vast space that extends from the Cape of Good Hope to the Japanese archipelago. Considering its scope and “precocity”, it is not surprising that it was Portuguese Asia that created and moulded—since the turn of the sixteenth century—the overwhelming majority of such societies (Subrahmanyam 1993). Imperial Spain acquired limited control over some areas of Island Southeast Asia (namely the Spice Islands) and nurtured unrealistic plans to seize continental kingdoms like Cambodia and Siam. Needless to say, the most relevant Spanish colonial project in Asia was the Philippines, an imperial venture that began to take shape in the 1560s and 1570s (Headley 1995; Reed 1978). In the late sixteenth century, the Spaniards toyed with the idea of gaining access to China and Japan, their biggest (if brief) achievement being the foundation of a colony in Northern Taiwan (1626–1642), “la isla Hermosa” (Borao Mateo 2009; Andrade 2008). Also, the threads woven from the 1520s onwards between Southeast Asia and the New World raised Spanish interest in the Pacific islands, particularly the Marianas, which became a political-cum-religious objective in the last third of the seventeenth century (Coello de la Rosa 2016).

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