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Pacific Purgatory: Spanish Dominicans, Chinese Sangleys, and the Entanglement of Mission and Commerce in Manila, 1580-1620

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image of Journal of Early Modern History

In late-sixteenth-century Manila, Spanish Dominican missionaries sought to convert Chinese merchants from Fujian Province known as Sangleys. The Dominican-Sangley encounter unfolded in a segregated Chinese quarter known as the Parián. This local encounter had outsize implications for an emerging early modern Pacific World: it enabled a lucrative transpacific trade that connected the histories of America and Asia, and it provided a foothold in Manila for both Dominicans and Sangleys to meet their respective spiritual and commercial goals. Dominicans offered protection to Sangleys with the intention of using their networks to reach China and evangelize there, while Sangleys understood that Dominicans were essential to their residency and prosperity in this Spanish colony. Sangley leverage in transpacific commerce, however, ultimately undermined missionary aspirations. Spanish Christian universalism, honed in prior New World conquests, lost ground to the religious pluralism of maritime Asia. Manila thus became a purgatory for the Dominicans, where Spanish Christian expansionism had to coexist with a burgeoning transpacific trade that required mutual accommodations.

Affiliations: 1: University of ColoradoDenver


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