China Ships, Iron Men

The remarkable story of the Manila Galleon and the men who created international trade


Somewhere along the line the book you hold in your hand or the electronic text you’re reading on screen came to you aboard ship. Wood pulp and clay were transported to the papermill which took those ingredients in a one end to be transformed into great, heavy rolls of paper at the other which themselves were transported by ship to a print works filled with machinery which also reached their destination countries by ship.

The dyes that make up the ink printed on the paper, the solvents that carry them on to the paper, and the oils and greases that keep the printing machines pounding out page after page, all travelled by sea.

As for your computer and the monitor you may be reading these words on, everything they’re made of travelled by sea, by ship, during their making.

Sure, aircraft can carry goods, too, but even a modest sized cargo ship can carry a hundred times more than an aircraft and at less than one hundredth the cost. And how do you think all that aviation fuel gets transported around the world? By ship.

When you hold a book, or switch on a computer, you’re looking at an infinitesimal part of a complex webwork of business, a global trade that began when the first Spanish galleon left Cebu, Philippines in the late 16th century and found a way to get to Acapulco, Mexico. Once that ship dropped anchor at its destination all continents, with the exception of yet-to-be discovered Australia, were joined for the first time in a regular trading process, the galleon trade.

The process that has resulted in this book, whether you’re reading it in hard back or on a computer screen.

It’s a story of the days when, it was said, ships were made of wood and men were made of iron. Sometimes the ships were called the Manila Galleon, sometimes the Acapulco Galleon, just as often they were called the China Ships.

This is the story of those ships, the men who rode on them, and the successes and failures of what was for a time the world’s biggest international business.

Bob Couttie
Subic Bay

2 thoughts on “China Ships, Iron Men

    1. Never actually owned a fish and chip shop but did advise a couple of folks on how to make them. We do have a good one here in Barretto, Olongapo, only one of its kind as far as I know.

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