Compared to the East and South China Seas, the Bohai and Yellow Seas are rather under-examined, especially in light of its long and variegated history as a maritime gateway to Northeast Asia. I suggest combining these two oceanic spaces together as the North China Sea, as we are still waiting for a more coherent term to label this body of water. Although it does not rank among the most long-lived maritime spaces of historical memory, the North China Sea, in retrospect, should be perceived as a place, a concept, and at times a corridor between the North China Plain, Manchuria, the Korean peninsula, and Japan. Intrigued by the absence of a holistic portrayal of this blue domain, this project will delve into the myriad connections that have made the North China Sea more of a bridge than a boundary, linking communities, marine actors, empires, cultures, religions, and commodities.

Like many other studies dedicated to the history of an ocean or a sea, this project also has an historiographical objective in the first instance. I will examine how the human and natural past of the North China Sea has been framed, written, presented, and conceptualized over time. However, compared to those relatively more familiar maritime spaces, the North China Sea has a shorter tradition and, therefore, demands a more historical treatment as opposed to an historiographical reconstruction. In so doing, I will explicate how histories and geographies as modes of knowledge are connected to the North China Sea as well as its relations with land adjacent to it over the longue durée. Even though we will range back to China’s first emperor and forward to our time in the present day, the primary focus of this book project is the period between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries. If labelling some historical conjunctures would make it easier for readers to identify the respective temporal framework, then this would be the time between the middle of the Ming Dynasty and the final decade of the Qing Empire.