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The International Journal of Maritime History 26(2)

Book reviews

David Bade, Of Palm Wine, Women and War: The Mongolian Naval Expedition to Java in the 13th
Century:Institute of Southeast Asian Studies: Singapore, 2013; 320 pp.: ISBN 978-981-4517-82-9,
US $69.90 (pbk)

Qubilai’s expedition to Java, c. 1292–93, is somewhat of a mystery because of a past

neglect of the Javanese evidence for what happened, and the past tendency of historians
to lump the Java expedition with the (negative) Mongol experiences in Japan, Vietnam
and Champa. Thanks to David Bade’s new book, a much expanded second edition of an
earlier essay on the same topic (2002), we can now begin to set the record straight and
perhaps even make a new record.
As Bade makes clear, our principal source for the expedition to Java is the Yuan shi,
the standard history of Yuan, the Mongol Dynasty in China. It was written in early Ming
times after a hatchet job on available sources, but it is not by any means our only source.
In fact, Bade strives to use many of these other sources, but a complete knowledge of
Classical Chinese is not exhaustive in his coverage and, in particular, neglects Yuan
period unofficial sources, such the Yuan wenlei, a literary anthology, plus a wealth of
biographical material. This is one of the few problems with Bade’s otherwise excellent
discussion, but is more than compensated for by how well he does use the Chinese evi-
dence available to him, cross-shopping translations and making a contribution to histori-
ography in the process, and the incredible cross-section of Javanese sources he provides,
even inscriptions, explained and contextualised.
What the Yuan Shi says is that Qubilai sent an envoy to Java, whom the local king had
branded a strict violation of the Mongolian diplomatic propriety. Qubilai then responded
by outfitting a large expedition and sending it off to Java. After a rough voyage it landed
successfully; at first, the Mongols (Tatars in Javanese sources) were successful in con-
solidating a bridgehead and in obtaining the submission of some major local figures. But
their luck did not last. Owing to local treachery, the Mongols were defeated and had to
sail back to China after losing 3000 men (a tenth of the expedition), but, interestingly,
taking with them a large stash of booty. Qubilai, the story goes on, was not pleased, and
punished most of the commanders for their failure, although he later pardoned them.
Military efforts in the direction of Java were not renewed, although other tries in other
directions were still being planned at the time of Qubilai’s death in 1294.
This account seems straightforward, and would seem to show another arrogant
Mongol attempt to project power beyond a Mongol ability to support it, and unwilling-
ness to come to grips with realities such as north Pacific weather, which thwarted two
efforts against Japan. But was it really so simple?
In fact, as Bade’s exhaustive treatment of the Javanese evidence makes clear, it was
not. First a word on the Javanese sources. Unlike the cold and clinical Chinese sources,
Javanese sources—even the inscriptions—are highly literary, mostly poetic and stress
cultural values entirely different than those of China. As in many cultures, kings and
other heroes are special beings, gods and governed by an elaborately developed code of
ritual behaviour. Justification and power are religiously based. We even find exchanges
of princesses as a major motivator for history, reflecting the dual power of the time
Book Reviews 383

residing in a hero, but only in that he loved and had a female partner. Thus, motivation in
the Javanese sources can appear quite different, even contradictory to motivation in
Chinese sources, Chinese sources in this case backed up by Mongolian values. It was the
Mongols, and not the Chinese, ruling China at the time.
Nonetheless, when we compare one Javanese source with the other there is clearly a
basis of fact in what Javanese writers have to tell us about the Mongols and their inva-
sion. We have to put aside our prejudices, as Bade makes clear, to read carefully.
First, the relationship between Java and Qubilai’s China was nothing new. Trade
between Mongol and Song China had been ongoing for some time, and there are tantalis-
ing hints of trade conflicts, even of a submission to the Mongols of Javanese powers
before 1293. Second, Qubilai’s fleet and his soldiers sailed into a hornet’s nest. Not only
had there been a great civil war leading to the death of king Kertnagara and the ultimate
rise of Wijaya, which the Mongols jumped right into the middle of in support of the
Wijaya, but this was a time of great change in Java, with the final collapse of Sriwijaya
and the rise of Maja-Pahit. Thus, rather than being foreign imperialist invaders, the
Mongols were an opportunity, almost a force of mercenaries helping end the civil war
and establishing the new king, Wijaya—the real founder of Javanese unity. He claims
Qubilai as friend in the Javanese sources. But, alas for the Mongols, it is also clear that
he turned his back on his allies in the end, bushwhacking some in the royal palace and
ambushing others on the way back to the Mongol base, and forcing the remaining army
to withdraw, although Java became an even stronger economic ally of Yuan China after
Qubilai, suggesting that all is well that ends well.
That said, Qubilai did not take part in the expedition himself. And while a marriage
alliance or two was quite possible given the time, there is no evidence that Qubilai’s main
motivation was a desire for a Javanese princess, however beautiful and perfect. Or that
he was available, at his advanced age, for single combat with the locals.
But there are other elements in the Javanese sources that supplement what is in the
Chinese sources, and perhaps tell more of the story. Javanese sources, for example, sug-
gest a long-term relationship between the Mongol government and various Javanese
potentates. This may even have arisen in connection with the Mongol military actions in
Vietnam and Champa. Second, the Javanese seem so unthreatened by the Mongols and
hardly view them as an army come to do them in with fire and sword. And on what basis
would Wiraraja consider the King of the Tatars, for example Qubilai, his friend and ally.
Something is clearly missing from the Chinese sources. And even the expulsion of the
Mongols has no nationalist content as contrasted with the destruction of the Mongol
fleets off Japan. The bad faith of Wiraraja was just a variation on the theme of the just
completed Javanese civil war. There is not even any evidence that captured Mongols and
Chinese were slaughtered. Some may have just settled down. Tan Ta Sen may be quite
correct on the origin of Islam in Java and Chinese Hui.
In sum, Bade has not only corrected our picture of the invasion and the events sur-
rounding it, but he has made our sources, even Chinese, available in a way they have
never been made available before. Any future study will now have to begin with
On top of his scholarship, Bade has also produced one good yarn. The Chinese sources
are dull, but the Javanese sources are clearly great literature, although contain more than
384 The International Journal of Maritime History 26(2)

a kernel of fact. Most of the translations used by Bade read really well, making the book
a delight to read. This reviewer recommends it virtually without reservation.

Paul D Buell,
Max Planck Institute,
Berlin, Germany

Kevin Brown, Passage to the World: The Emigrant Experience 1807–1940, Seaforth Publishing:
Barnsley, 2013, 243 pp.: ISBN 978-1-84832-136-6, £25.00 (hbk)

Based on a great variety of primary sources relating to first-hand descriptions of long-

distance overseas emigration passages, Brown sets out to reconstruct the variety of con-
ditions in which migrants travelled worldwide between roughly the 1750s and 1930s.
The explicit reference to 1807 in the title highlights the links between the abolition of
slave trade and the rise of global mass migration. Brown tackles the subject in nine chap-
ters, beginning with a description of the emigrant profile and the various actors that
steered the mass migration process. Chapter two focuses on the main European ports of
departure, housing facilities and the legislation that developed to regulate the traffic
through these. The next four chapters treat the conditions on board for the various cate-
gories of migrants travelling overseas. First, the steerage or third-class conditions for
trans-Atlantic labour migrants to the Americas are addressed, followed by the voyages to
Australia and New Zealand carrying both convicts and labour migrant passengers.
Chapter five shifts back to the Atlantic to discuss cabin-class accommodation and how
the social class division on land was enforced at sea. Finally, Brown describes the trans-
port conditions of Chinese and Indian indentured migrants known as coolie labourers.
Chapters 7 and 8 assess the two main hazards of maritime migration, focusing first on
shipwrecks caused by fires and collisions. Second, the health risks for immigrants are
addressed, zooming in on typhus and cholera, in particular. The book ends with a chapter
on the development of health and immigrant control stations at major ports of arrival as
the last stage of the emigrants’ rite of passage to the new world.
Brown makes a great, unprecedented, effort to bring together the various emigrant
experiences at sea, differentiating on class (cabin versus steerage), types of migrants
transported (convicts, coolies, settlers and labour migrants) and oceans travelled (Pacific,
Atlantic and Indian Ocean). The book, spiced with literary descriptions of Charles
Dickens, is an enjoyable read for the broader public and academics, who will find the
primary source material offered useful and informative. Yet, the former needs to be cau-
tioned about the biasedness of the accounts and the latter must use it while being well
aware that these are not properly embedded in the scientific literature or framework. To
begin with, the book lacks a beginning and an end, as neither an introduction nor a con-
clusion are presented. No theoretical framework, methodology or central question/thesis
is developed. The work excels in letting the primary source speak for itself without
adopting any historical criticism, while overlooking the bigger part of expert literature on
the subject of, for instance, R. Cohn, J. McDonald, R. Shlomowitz, R. Haines, D. Keeling,
M. Wokeck, R. Barde, P. Sebak, A. McKeown, M. Miller, M. Just, R. Engelsing, and so