Learning to Trade: The English East India Company in Tonkin and Cochin-China in the Seventeenth Century

Learning to Trade: The English East India Company in Tonkin and Cochin-China in the Seventeenth Century
Tran Ngoc Dung


Tonkin and Cochinchina (Vietnam) were never renowned as the principal markets of European companies, but as supplementary places and intermediaries in their East Asian trading networks in the seventeenth century. With the advantages of local products, especially silk which could serve the intra-Asian demand, and of geography which meant that it laid on the route between the south and mainland China, both Tonkin and Cochinchina attracted the Dutch, English and other foreign merchants to trade there during the seventeenth century. Vietnam epitomised how the English East India Company learned and adapted to the unfamiliar environment of overseas areas in the EIC’s first century of discovering and expanding in East Asia. The thesis shows the Company’s changes in key management on both personnel and factories; and in business making-decision which included investment, types of imported and exported commodities, and types of trading partners. They learnt lessons in how to establish a trading system in East Asia, how to use the regional network to serve the main aim of key markets in China, India, and to a lesser extent Japan throughout the seventeenth century. The thesis also examines the progress of the EIC in overseas trade in diplomacy as they understood more about local governments and the way to treat Confucian states to obtain privileges in trading and residing. Alongside a study of the lessons the EIC gained epitomised in this case study of Vietnam, the research also challenges the existing views about how the EIC used small factories or intermediaries in overseas trade and, highlights their role in the EIC’s commercial strategy in the seventeenth century before the Company started to focus entirely on China and India in the eighteenth century.


Tran Ngoc Dung

Defended in


PhD defended at

Department of History, School of History and Culture, University of Birmingham


Social Sciences


Global Asia (Asia and other parts of the World)
Maritime Asia
East Asia
Southeast Asia