The Private Side of the Canton Trade, 1700–1840

Beyond the Companies


Edited by Paul A. Van Dyke and Susan E. Schopp

ISBN : 978-988-8390-93-9


March 2018

208 pages, 6″ x 9″, 8 b&w illus.; 4 tables

  • HK$450.00

It is not often recognized that China was one of the few places in the early modern world where all merchants had equal access to the market. This study shows that private traders, regardless of the volume of their trade, were granted the same privileges in Canton as the large East India companies. All of these companies relied, to some extent, on private capital to finance their operations. Without the investments from individuals, the trade with China would have been greatly hindered. Competitors, large and small, traded alongside each other while enemies traded alongside enemies. Buddhists, Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, Parsees, Armenians, Hindus, and others lived and worked within the small area in the western suburbs of Canton designated for foreigners. Cantonese shopkeepers were not allowed to discriminate against any foreign traders. In fact, the shopkeepers were generally working in a competitive environment, providing customer-oriented service that generated goodwill, friendship, and trust. These contributed to the growth of the trade as a whole. While many private traders were involved in smuggling opium, others, such as Nathan Dunn, were much opposed to it. The case studies in this volume demonstrate that fortunes could be made in China by trading in legitimate items just as successfully as in illegitimate ones, which tellingly suggests that the rapid spread of opium smuggling in China could be a result of inadequate, rather than excessive, regulation by the Qing government.

Paul A. Van Dyke is professor of history at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou and author of Merchants of Canton and Macao: Success and Failure in Eighteenth-Century Chinese Trade (Hong Kong University Press, 2015). Susan E. Schopp is a historian whose research focuses on the French Canton trade and on East India ships. In 1997 she identified the wreck of the English East India Company vessel Earl Temple. She is also a crew member of Friendship of Salem, a reconstruction of an American East Indiaman.

‘For this absorbing book, Van Dyke and Schopp have convened excellent scholars, junior and senior, to throw new light on the foreign merchants outside the East India companies who shaped China’s engagement with the world at least as much as the companies’ men did, if not more. The slumbering field of foreign trade in Qing China has come back to life.’ —Timothy Brook, University of British Columbia

‘Much scholarship on the China trade has focused on the activities of the vast state-sponsored companies. This book flips the script. Now we know that, right under the noses of those economic behemoths, smaller private traders from Europe, America, and China were quietly reshaping the trade with their innovation, networking, grit, and dreams.’ —John R. Haddad, The Pennsylvania State University