The “Canton System” – background and meaning of the term

This post follows from Queries & Answers 12 “The term Compradore.”

James Chan has read that the comprador system originally came to prominence after the Canton system, in the late Ming dynasty, was abolished in 1842 and the compradores replaced the “hong” merchants as the main intermediaries between Chinese and Western traders. He is mystified.

James wonders if anyone can explain the terms,  Canton system, and hong merchant. And  elaborate on how the compradores came about in Hong Kong and what effect they had on 19th century commercial activities here and in particular early manufacturing in the colonial period.

Andrew Wood: There’s a partial explanation [of the term Canton system] on the Encyclopaedia Britannica website.
But you have to subscribe to get the full article.

Canton system, Guangzhou: sale of English goods in Guangzhou, 1858 [Credit: The Print Collector/Heritage-Images] trading pattern that developed between Chinese and foreign merchants, especially British, in the South China trading city of Guangzhou (Canton) from the 17th to the 19th century. The major characteristics of the system developed between 1760 and 1842, when all foreign trade coming into China was confined to Canton and the foreign traders entering the city were subject to a series of regulations by the Chinese government.

Guangzhou was historically the major southern port in China and the main outlet for the country’s tea, rhubarb, silk, spices, and handcrafted articles that were sought by Western traders. As a result, the British East India Company, which had a monopoly on British trade with China, made Guangzhou its major Chinese port early in the 17th century, and other Western trading companies soon followed their example. The Canton-system trade came to consist of three major elements: the native Chinese trade with Southeast Asia; the “country” trade of Europeans, who attempted to earn currency to buy Chinese goods by carrying merchandise from India and Southeast Asia into China; and the “China trade” between Europe and China.

Canton 19th Century

19th Century

This article was first posted on 14th February 2014.

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