The overland Silk Road linking China with West Asia and Europe is a famous and fabled trade route. The sea route that was its alternative was arguably more significant, both historically and economically, and holds the greatest potential for understanding the great movements of people, ideas and goods in Asia. With its teeming port cities and huge vessels carrying exotic luxuries along with everyday commodities such as iron and fish oil, the Silk Road of the Sea is equally glamorous but has attracted much less attention that its overland counterpart.
Temasik, an early name for Singapore, is the first Chinese settlement in Southeast Asia that is mentioned in a written historical source, an account prepared in 1349. Situated at the southern end of the Straits of Melaka, Temasik was a logical stopping-off point between east and west for sailing ships, which could not travel through from India to China in a single monsoon. Archaeological research in Singapore has confirmed that a 14th-century settlement existed near the mouth of the Singapore River, and excavations there have recovered large quantities of local and imported artefacts. Thanks to twenty-five years of archaeological research, combined with written accounts, scholars can reconstruct the 14th-century port of Singapore in greater detail than is possible for any other early Southeast Asian city. The picture of ancient Singapore that emerges is of a port where people processed raw materials, used money, and had specialised occupations. Within its defensive wall, the city was well organised and prosperous, with a cosmopolitan population made up of local residents along with foreigners from China, other parts of Southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean.
Shortlisted for the 2015 Best Study in the Humanities from the International Convention of Asia Scholars. The ICAS jury described the book as "a ground-breaking study of Singapore and its role in the regional long-distance maritime trade during the pre-colonial period ... It is a work of lasting scholarship."