1757 - 1841

Canton Trade

Hong Kong Maritime Museum

An edict from the Qianlong emperor in 1757, decreeing that all trade with foreigners should be confined to Canton, was the foundation stone of a specific commercial system known as the Canton Trade, which prevailed until 1841.

Canton Trade
An edict from the Qianlong emperor in 1757, decreeing that all trade with foreigners should be confined to Canton, was the foundation stone of a specific commercial system known as the Canton Trade, which prevailed until 1841.
Tea trading
The story of the China Trade is mostly about tea and especially about the story of the western world's - and particularly the British - addiction to tea.

The front of the English tea caddy on the right is decorated with a view of Canton hongs which are commercial houses of foreign trade in China. Over the buildings fly French and American flags.

The tea caddy on the left features also an image of a Chinese trade vessel bearing a French flag.

Porcelain trading
From quite early days, some European porcelain makers realized that it was the 'China brand' that was so popular, hence the English collective noun 'china' for household crockery. 

Porcelain dish decorated with image of British cargo vessel, c. 1700.

How porcelain is made
Jingdezhen was known as the 'Town of porcelain' where most of the ceramic products were manufactured here. This series of paintings show the process of how porcelain was made and coloured in Jingdezhen, and then transported to Canton for export in the 18th century.

Kaolin clay is the crucial material for making porcelain and it could be mined in Qimen, Anhui Province and transported to Jingdezhen.

The ceramic product is now going to leave Jingdezhen. The loaded boats would firstly go through Poyang Lake.

Jingdezhen produced porcelain both to the imperial order and export commissions from Canton. White porcelain was carried to Canton for enamel colouring.

Luxury goods
Silks, decorated paper, furniture, paintings, gemstones, souvenir items - the list of goods is vast. These goods catered to a taste for the 'exotic' with Chinese motifs and materials. 

This waistcoat was made for a western client. The design uses the paddle steamer motifs often found on traditional Chinese robes and snuff bottles after 1830, when the first such vessel reached China.

This large and elaborately decorated coromandel screen of eight panels features mother-of-pearl and colored inlays. On this side it shows Canton (Guangzhou) as it was during the Qing dynasty before foreign factories were built outside the walls on the southeast of the city.

Shímén Fǎnzhào detail showing one
of the ‘Eight Sights of Guangzhou’.

Hǎizhū, detail showing one of the ‘Eight Sights of Guangzhou’, known to westerners as the Dutch Folly Fort.

The painted scene shows Danish, French, Swedish, British and Dutch factories. The sticks are decorated with European musicians playing wind instruments, putti, two birds and gold coins. The French style of the sticks is an example of the Canton craftsmen's ability to imitate foreign styles to suit a customer's demand.

Small gaming counters were the most common products, though entire shells carved with 'exotic' scenes like this one were popular decorative items. The foreground is dominated by two dragon boats - not racing but moving towards each other being watched by people on shore, on two sampans and on the bridge over the river.

Hong Kong Maritime Museum
Credits: Story

Exhibit was curated by Phoebe Tong at Hong Kong Maritime Museum

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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