The Nanhai Trade was the ancient maritime trade between China and Southeast Asia. China's dealings with the West, at this time, extended as far as India and Ceylon and, with a stretch of the imagination, Persia. This study examines the various features of the trade with Southeast Asia, especially the economic background and the Chinese imperial and regional attitudes towards it during the eleven centuries before the foundation of the Sung dynasty in 960 - roughly the period from the Han dynasty to that of the T'ang.
Lyrically written, the flux of trade here reflects the political struggle of the period between the Chinese and the non-Chinese, such as the Yueh, and among the Chinese themselves. Other aspects of the trade surface, such as the eunuchs, who they were and their role, and the little southeastern kingdoms which existed during this period. Missions were exchanged and the ports were alive with activity. We are taken through all the aches and pains of trading, the inevitable corruption and greed, besides the glamour and glitter of such a lucrative activity. Trade items were initially exotic and luxury items desired by the courts, which moved with the passage of time to include religious articles when religion, beside trade, became the impetus for travel. The study reveals that the Chinese had little impact on the political and cultural developments of the region.