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The Canton Trade

Life and Enterprise on the China Coast, 1700-1845

Paul A. Van Dyke

Publication Year: 2005

This study utilizes a wide range of new source materials to reconstruct the day-to-day operations of the port of Canton during the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries. Using a bottom-up approach, it provides a fresh look at the successes and failures of the trade by focusing on the practices and procedures rather than on the official policies and protocols.

Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU

Title Page

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pp. iii


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pp. iv


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pp. v-vi

List of Tables

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pp. vii


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pp. viii-ix


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pp. xvii-xviii

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Introduction: China Opens Its Doors to the World

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pp. 1-4

THE GREAT CANTON TRADE ERA is a phenomenon that has fascinated historians and enthusiasts for 150 years. From its beginnings in the late seventeenth century, the trade grew steadily until it was forced to end in 1842. Many reasons have been given for its collapse, such as its heavy dependence on silver, widespread opium smuggling...

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Chapter One: Forging the Canton System

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pp. 5-18

THE DUTCH AND ENGLISH HAD been interested in establishing trade with China since the early seventeenth century, when they first arrived in Asia. Both nations tried without success to set up a base on the South China coast, such as the Portuguese had done in Macao.1 The Dutch managed to conduct trade with China...

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Chapter Two: Canton Customs Procedures

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pp. 19-34

CHINA’S MARITIME CUSTOMS (Yuehaiguan) in Canton were responsible for all ships in the Pearl River Delta. Only trading vessels were allowed to travel up the river, and they had to follow a series of procedures to clear customs. When they first anchored in Macao Roads, each ship had to apply for a pilot to guide...

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Chapter Three: Piloting the Pearl River

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pp. 35-50

THE VOYAGE UPRIVER FROM MACAO to Whampoa was a perilous one in the early eighteenth century. Large ships often had draughts in excess of eighteen feet, and the shallowest shoals in the main course of the river were themselves only eighteen feet.1...

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Chapter Four: Compradors and The Provisions Trade

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pp. 51-76

THE PROVISIONS TRADE IN CANTON provided large quantities of supplies and victuals to an ever-increasing number of ships; it became one of the most important industries for the smooth conduct of trade and control of foreigners in China. As we will see, the weaknesses that developed...

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Chapter Five: Linguists

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pp. 77-94

THE LINGUISTS WERE THE APPOINTED mediators between the foreigners and the Chinese officials so they were constantly confronted with the limits of what each side would accept. Hoppos and governors-general had considerable freedom to negotiate the terms of commerce, but always within parameters...

Color Plates

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Chapter Six: Administrative Initiatives and Shortcomings

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pp. 95-116

AFTER THEIR INCEPTION, MANY CHANGES were made to the customs procedures to help the Hoppos control and monitor smuggling and corruption. Moving the Junminfu to Qianshan in 1731 and licensing the pilots, compradors and linguists was part of this effort to tighten up the ranks...

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Chapter Seven: Flag Boats, Silver, Contraband and Rice

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pp. 117-142

AS WOULD BE EXPECTED FOR any major maritime entrepôt, there was an active contraband trade in the Pearl River Delta. In the early decades of the eighteenth century, trade in metals, such as gold, iron and copper and regulated products like salt, saltpetre and certain silks were either forbidden...

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Chapter Eight: Macao Trade, Junk Trade, Capital Market and Commission Merchants

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pp. 143-160

IT HAS BEEN SHOWN IN past studies that Macao was in many ways an extension of the Canton market.1 Chinese and Portuguese documents that have survived from the eighteenth century show how the two ports were operating closely with each other on administrative...

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Chapter Nine: The Canton Trade in Retrospect

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pp. 161-176

THE CANTON TRADE WAS ONE of the most important contributors to the rise of modern ‘global’ economies. From 1700 to 1842, the foreign demand for tea and porcelain grew with each passing decade, and China continued to meet the demand with an ever-expanding supply. As the tea trade developed...

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Conclusion: The Root of the Problem

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pp. 177-182

TODAY, FOREIGN ARCHIVES HOLD the best and most detailed accounts available about the Hong merchants, the Canton junk traders, the dozens of linguists, compradors and pilots, and the tens of thousands of other Chinese involved in trade. No records were kept or preserved about these matters because they were not important...


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pp. 183-228


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pp. 229-270


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pp. 271-284

E-ISBN-13: 9789888052844
Print-ISBN-13: 9789622097490

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2005

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Guangzhou (China) -- Commerce -- History -- 18th century.
  • Guangzhou (China) -- Commerce -- History -- 19th century.
  • China -- Commerce -- History -- 18th century.
  • China -- Commerce -- History -- 19th century.
  • China -- Foreign economic relations.
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