The First British Trade Expedition to China

Captain Weddell and the Courteen Fleet in Asia and Late Ming Canton

Nicholas D. Jackson

ISBN : 978-988-8754-10-6

Chinese History, Maritime History

May 2022

216 pages, 6″ x 9″, 1 b&w illus. and 4 maps

  • HK$580.00

In The First British Trade Expedition to China, Nicholas D. Jackson explores the pioneering British trade expedition to China launched in the late Ming period by Charles I and the Courteen Association. While utilizing the vivid and unique perspective of its commander, Captain John Weddell, this study concentrates on the fleet’s adventures in south China between Portuguese Macao and the provincial capital, Guangzhou (Canton). Tracing the obscure origins of Sino-British diplomatic and commercial relations back to the late Ming era, Jackson examines the first episodes of Sino-British interaction, exchange, and collision in the seventeenth century. His definitive narrative and original analysis constitute a groundbreaking study of early modern British initiatives and enterprise in the coastal areas of south China. The book begins by sketching the Tudor-Stuart historical background of British trade expansion in Asia before precisely reconstructing the voyages of East India Company and then Courteen ships to Guangdong province. The core of the narrative illuminates the communications, intrigues, and confrontations between Ming officials and the British commanders and merchants. The monograph concludes with an analysis outlining the major lessons learned by all the personalities and parties involved in those unprecedented encounters and clashes. Among other theses, Jackson argues that this expedition demonstrates that as early as the seventeenth century, a significant difference in naval-military strength and sophistication obtained between Great Britain and China.

Nicholas D. Jackson is associate professor in the School of World History, Capital Normal University, Beijing. He is the author of Hobbes, Bramhall and the Politics of Liberty and Necessity (2007) and co-editor of University Teaching: A Guide for Graduate Students and New Faculty (2005).

“This book presents vivid and arresting details highlighting the differences between the early modern and modern eras. It features quasi-piratical actions by men with the audacity to venture into unknown lands, who were on the one hand defrauded by ‘interpreters’ of dubious origin and ‘officials’ of unverified credentials, but nonetheless emerged from the fray with laden ships and the incremental knowledge that contributed to the subsequent economic dominance of Europe.”
Evelyn S. Rawski, University of Pittsburgh

“In this lively account of Sino-British exchanges, Nicholas D. Jackson provides us with the first book-length narrative of the much-neglected Weddell voyage to China in 1637. Scholars of the British Empire and East-West interactions will find much relevance in this masterfully delivered dialogue between two contending world powers.”
Paul A. Van Dyke, author of The Canton Trade: Life and Enterprise on the China Coast, 1700–1845