The China Ship

chapter 1

The China Ship

By Adolfo Arranz & Marco Hernandez

chapter 1

The discovery of the roundtrip and the beginning of globalisation

May 6, 2018

By Adolfo


Globalisation is thought to have its beginnings in the 16th century when the Spanish silver dollar went transcontinental. Its acceptance as common currency arose when Spanish navigators in the Philippines established a circular shipping route, known as the tornaviaje, between Asia and the Americas. More than 250 years of uninterrupted trade ensued between Asia and the rest of the world. And the ships playing this route were known as China Ships

Magellan-Elcano circumnavigation

In 1519 a Spanish fleet of five vessels, under the command of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, set sail from Seville in search of a route across the Pacific Ocean to East Asia. Magellan was killed in a battle during the voyage, leaving Spanish navigator Juan Sebastian Elcano and 18 surviving crew to become the first to circumnavigate the globe in a single expedition. Their expedition finally returned home to Spain in 1522

Magellan’s arrival in the Philippine Archipelago on March 15, 1521 was the first encounter between Spaniards and the people of the Philippines

The tornaviaje discovery

Between 1526 and 1540, Spain sent two more expeditions to the Philippines, but neither completed the return journey to the Americas. A fourth expedition, led by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, arrived in the Philippines in 1565. While many of the crew settled on the islands, one sailor named Andres de Urdaneta had a very important job to do

Andres de Urdaneta

Andres de Urdaneta was commissioned by King Philip II to lead an expedition back to New Spain as soon as possible, plot the return passage and establish trade routes across the Pacific Ocean

An Augustinian friar, sailor and author, Urdaneta would become one of the Pacific Ocean’s most knowledgeable European navigators. He sailed north, crossing the Pacific near 40°N latitude, arrived in Acapulco 130 days later from Cebu. From there, he discovered a return maritime route to the Americas and, more significantly, kept records and navigation charts of his odyssey

Because of his efforts, the world’s longest maritime route was established. It would endure for 250 years

The round trip

Manila was ideally located for a major trading port of Chinese goods, such as silk and tea –which were highly coveted in Europe and America. Keeping pace with the trade boom, Manila’s Chinese community grew exponentially. And as traders hustled, sailors got much-needed rest before the arduous journey to Acapulco, Mexico, where Spanish galleons traded their exotic goods for silver coins


The longest regular shipping line: 250 years

In terms of operating years and distances covered, the tornaviaje was the longest regular shipping line in history. This table estimates the number of ships that made the voyage and whether they survived

Enjoy this story’s second chapter

“Galleon of China: flagship of trade over two centuries”

Discover how was built the China Ship and explore it deeply in detail, use the menu below

The China ship


Here are some of the awards that this graphic has obtained

  • Bronze Medal

    Society For News Design
    Edition 40

  • Bronze medal

    Wanifra Asian Digital Media Awards
    2018 Edition

  • Award of Excellence

    Society For News Design
    Edition 40

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