Let us begin with a drawing, depicting the river mouth of Batavia. We see a lively scene. Europeans and Asians are fishing, peddling, rowing, riding, walking, and sitting along the waterway. A small prauw on the left appears to be manned by Javanese and Chinese. Behind the Waterkasteel, on the right, large numbers of oceangoing vessels are anchored before Batavia. In the middle of the drawing, we see three men on the path along the waterway, the “jaagpad,” pulling a flat cargo boat. The clothing indicates that these are “Moor” sailors. On the boat, we see three other sailors with turbans.
This scene, drawn by Johannes Rach in 1764, places the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in its Asian context. In previous decades, increasing attention has been paid to the structure of the “Asian” or overseas organisation of the VOC. Even more so, research has shown the importance of the Company's participation in the intra-Asian trade. From 1500 onwards, European trading companies not only became important in intercontinental European–Asian trade, but they came to dominate maritime trade within Asia as well. The VOC was one of the largest merchants active in intra-Asian shipping for much of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. For the VOC, however, it was not only its presence overseas that built the link between the Company and its Asian context. The VOC and its Asian context became intrinsically interwoven. Leonard Blussé, for example, emphasises the character of Batavia, the headquarters of the VOC in Asia, as a “Chinese colonial town.”