Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tai-Pan: China Trade & the East India Company

All of the action in Tai Pan revolves around the trade in opium, silk and tea.

Originally, the East India Trading Company had the monopoly on trade in silk and tea with all of the far east. They had primarily traded with India, but assumed dominion over China and Japan. As a result, the traders not affiliated with the East India Company, smuggled opium into China, rather than trading it openly.

Once the East India Company lost their monopoly on trade in China in the 1830s, the China traders (Struan, et al) had a field day, and raked in the profits. Selling opium to China was still, nominally, illegal in China. It was not illegal for the traders.

China had a very exclusionary attitude toward foreigners. Starting in 1757, all foreign trade was restricted to Canton, under various regulations. In 1835, the Hong merchants drew up the "8 Regulations" that Struan and the others are dealing with in the novel.

  1. Foreign warships were not to enter Hu-men (the Bogue.)

  2. Neither women nor guns and other weapons could be brought to the factories or trading stations where commercial agents resided and transacted business.

  3. All river pilots and ships' compradors employed by foreigners were to be registered at the office of the Chinese subprefect at Macao (which was still under Chinese jurisdiction). A license granted by that office to the employed person was to be carried at all times for examination.

  4. The number of Chinese servants at each factory was restricted. (At first the employment of Chinese servants was forbidden, but this rule was later modified with limitation as to number.)

  5. Foreigners who lived in the factories were not allowed to go out for boat excursions except on three specific days -- the eighth, eighteenth, and twenty-eighth of each month. On these days foreigners might visit the flower gardens and monasteries of Honan Island, but they had to be accompanied by interpreters. If their conduct was improper, the interpreters would be held responsible.

  6. Foreigners were not allowed to submit petitions to the local government. If they had a complaint, the document was to be transmitted through the Hong merchants.

  7. The Hong merchants were not to owe debts to foreigners, but they had the responsibility of advising and protecting foreigners.

  8. Every year there was a time limit for foreigners residing in their factories in Kwangtung to manage their business. They had then to return home or go to Macao.

    The political history of China, 1840-1928
    By Chien-nung Li, Jiannong Li, Ssŭ-yü Têng, Jeremy Ingalls
    Published by Stanford University Press, 1956
    page 15
    viewed on Google Books
The regulations were not popular with the traders. You can see a newspaper article Sydney Gazette, dated Thursday, March 11, 1841, which shows that the traders were less than pleased.
"We have no desire to interfere with the internal economy of His Celestial Majesty's mode of Government, if his people are content therewith. We have no desire to sow the seeds of strife and contention, but with their external policy, we have much to do, and if the Chinese think they may with impunity, apply their own principles to their commercial intercourse with "barbarians from without," it is fit that the "barbarians from without" should convince the savages within, that they will not submit to their knavery."
(you can also search for other articles from early Australia!)

Between the East India Company and the Chinese regulations, the China Traders were pretty well hemmed in. The traders had eliminated the East India Company's influence, and were now working to overcome the Chinese impediments.

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