'Never Trust the Chinese:' The Pedro de Alfaro Mission and Trans-Pacific International Relations, 1565-1630 Open Access

Dean, Ashleigh (2016)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/xd07gt292?locale=en


This work examines the career of Pedro de Alfaro (c. 1525 - 1580), a Spanish Franciscan whose travels to Mexico, the Philippines, and China proved to be pivotal in the history of Sino-Spanish international relations. At the behest of the Viceroy of New Spain, Alfaro and a few companions defied the Spanish governor of the Philippines to enter China without permission in 1579, in order to both establish a Catholic mission there and to assess the feasibility of a military conquest of China by Spain. Both endeavors collapsed within a matter of months. The friars were scarcely permitted to speak to the local population, much less secure the thousands of converts they hoped for, and, to the surprise of the Spaniards, China turned out to be a far greater military power than had been suspected. Unfortunately for Alfaro, he was soon forcibly returned to the Philippines, where he wrote a detailed report on Chinese military and civil infrastructure before his death in 1580. Alfaro's report was taken seriously by the Spanish authorities, resulting in the Spanish permanently halting all major plans for significant military expansion into the Chinese sphere of influence and therefore implicitly acknowledging that Ming China, far from being in a period of decline, was in fact the world's foremost military power at the time. The thwarted clash of these two powers helped clarify the balance of power in the newly-emergent Pacific World, a region that was a major aspect of the development of global trade and cultural exchange networks. This vast maritime region was balanced by the powerful Ming to the west and the aggressive, expansionist Spanish Empire to the east, united in this early period by the slender thread that was the annual Manila Galleon--a trade route considered to be the final link in the development of early modern globalization. Alfaro's journeys, taking place at a pivotal moment in Sino-Spanish relations, helped establish a balance of power that allowed the Chinese and Spanish to foster a thriving trade across the Pacific.

Table of Contents

Part One: The Search for Pedro de Alfaro

Chapter One: 'A Minor Incident Unworthy of Further Note:' Pedro de Alfaro in History and Historiography 2

Part Two: Expanding Worlds: Spain, China, and the Pacific in 1577

Chapter Two: 'We Did Nothing But Dream of China:' Pedro de Alfaro's Historical Context" 31

Chapter Three: 'They Look Upon Us As We Look Upon Indios:' The First Spanish Embassy to China" 69

Part Three: Pedro de Alfaro and a Re-Assessment of Sino-Spanish Relations

Chapter Four: 'We Entered the City Barefoot:' Pedro de Alfaro in China" 98

Chapter Five: 'King of the Ocean Sea'?: Philip II and Habsburg Expansion into the Pacific in the 1580s and Beyond" 125

Part Four: The Globalized Pacific

Chapter Six: 'Authority in These Islands Rests With Me': Mexico as Metropole in the Administration of the Philippines" 164

Chapter Seven 'These Rascals Continue to Trouble Us:' Pedro de Alfaro and the Pacific World" 193

Appendix 228

Bibliography 245

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