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. The narrative,
however, reads like a story as the author unravels the daily lives
of all the players from sampan operators, pilots, compradors and
linguists, to country traders, supercargoes, Hong merchants and
customs officials. New areas to studies of this kind are covered as
well, such as Armenians, junk traders and rice traders, all of whom
played intricate roles in moving the commerce forward.
The Canton Trade shows that contrary to popular belief,
the trade was stable, predictable and secure, with many incentives
built into the policies to encourage it to grow. The huge expansion
of trade was, in fact, one of the factors that contributed to its
collapse as the increase in revenues blinded government officials
to the long-term deterioration of the lower administrative
echelons. In the end, the system was toppled, but that happened
mainly because it had already defeated itself.
General readers and academicians interested in world and Asian
history, trading companies, country trade, Hong merchants, and
articles of trade will find much new and relevant information
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