The China Trade

as seen from

"My China Room"
(part 3)

The China trade paintings in my China Room are very cleverly made copies - - -
The originals are all hanging in the Hong Kong Museum of Art, and ,- needless to say-, they are priceless.
But as mentioned earlier, - my copies are so well made-, that it is hard to tell the difference between them and the originals - - --
And what a story those paintings tell - - -

When the Portuguese first arrived in China in 1557, they found an empire which in many ways was far more advanced than the Europe they came from.
The Chinese were very much aware of that, and as the most natural thing, they expected the intruders to adapt to the superior culture and  standards of the "Middle Empire".

But the Chinese were not really interested in trade with the Europeans, because ,- as the Emperor said-, China had everything it needed within its borders.
Therefore China did not have any use of anything Europe could produce - - -
This was probably very true,- but the Europeans looked at it in a completely different way - - -
And the Chinese totally underestimated the "Foreign Devils" .
First of all,- the Europeans did not adapt to the Chinese ways,- and furthermore they desperately wanted to lay their hands on all the magnificent goods that China could produce, - so they insisted on trade - - -

Eventually the Chinese gave in, and in 1685 trade was finally opened at Guangzhou,- a city at the  Pearl River.
Warehouses were established nearby, and finally the "Foreign Devils" could ship out their silk and tea in large quantities.
In those days Guangzhou was considered to be situated at the out most frontier of the Chinese empire,- far away from the "real" Chinese civilization-, so the bad influence from the "Foreign Devils" were avoided by cleverly selecting that remote place as trading station - - -

In the early days, the Europeans were the weaker part in the trade exchange.
They had to pay very well for the Chinese goods, - with pure silver-, but things changed - - - -
In 1757 the Chinese wanted more control with the trade and the foreigners,- and restricted the trade to a single merchants' guild situated on a small island,- Shamian-, where the foreign traders were allowed to do their business.
They were not allowed outside the area,- and were not allowed to have any contact with the Chinese people, except for the officials that controlled the trade.

Thus the famous "13 Hongs" were born - --
The "Hongs" were trading houses,- or "factories" as they were called - - -
Here the major seafaring nations from the Western world could trade,- and they could be completely controlled by the Chinese authorities - - -
Those nations were besides Denmark,- also Spain, France, USA, Austria, Sweden, England and Holland.

But let us have a look at my paintings,- and see what it looked like in those days - -

First a classic painting of the "13 Hongs" showing the Guangzhou factories facing the Pearl river - -

The "13 Hongs" on Shamian island,- Guangzhou

This scene shows what it looked like in 1855 or 1856 - - -
The traffic on the Pearl River is extremely intensive with a lot of small boats and Chinese junks everywhere - -

The Danish factory - -

Here is a small section of the painting,- showing the Danish factory just above the sail of the Chinese junk.
Also you can see a Western paddle wheeler,- the "River Bird"-, an American passenger-cargo vessel that sailed between Guangzhou and Hong Kong in those days - - -

What you do not see, are the big clipper ships - - -
The reason for this is,- that the Chinese authorities did not allow them to go all the way up to Guangzhou.
The ships and their big crews were not wanted in the restricted trade zone.
Also it would not be possible for most of them because of draft restrictions in the river.

Therefore the Western ships were moored at Huangpu,- an island a little further down the river.
Here the cargoes were transferred to Chinese junks, and sailed up to the factories where the actual trade took place - - - -

In my collection I also have a picture showing this well known place from the great age of sail.

The Huangpu anchorage,- and Dane's Island - - -

Here it is,- Huangpu-, and the year is 1850  - - - -
Huangpu island is seen in the middle of the picture,- and the famous Huangpu pagoda can be seen in the distance - - - -

In the foreground you see Dane's Island,- which was used as burial ground for those sailors that did not survive the trip to China.
(Click to find the link to "The Lost Graves on Dane's Island.")

An island to the left of Dane's Island was called French Island,- and it has been suggested, that the Danes and the French enjoyed special privileges,- and had special good relation to the Chinese authorities,- since they had  islands named after them.

However,- nothing supports that theory - - -
All Western nations were treated equal,- and all had to follow the same rules.
The Chinese had organized the trade down to even the smallest detail,- and in a very professional and orderly manner.
One of the manifestations of that was,- that the foreign ships had to be anchored in groups according to their nationality - - -
Therefore,- the island where the Danish ships had to anchor-, was called Dane's Island,- and where the French ships were moored,- the nearby island was called French Island - - -

But things changed - - -
The Western nations started to protest against this bureaucratic and restrictive way of doing things.
They wanted China to open for free trade with the rest of the world - - -
But the Chinese were not interested - - -
They never adapted themselves to modern times,- and eventually  the encounter with the European military might, became a disaster for the Chinese Empire.
In this power struggle,- the Chinese now became the loosing part.
The Chinese were forced to accept opium as payment instead of silver.
That step changed the trade balance tremendously in favour of the Westerners and fortunes were made in the opium trade.

China got opium,- and was drained for silver!
A real bad deal - - -
The Chinese Emperor was alarmed by this,- and also by the growing number of opium addicts.
This was totally unacceptable,- and something had to be done about it!
Therefore,- a Chinese force surrounded the British in Guangzhou,- cut out their food supply-, and demanded the surrender of all opium in their possession - - -
The British tried to hold out,- but in the end they had to surrender 20.000 boxes of opium.

This was in 1839 - - -

But the British,- who were by far the most aggressive and ruthless of the Western trading powers-, wanted to solve the trade problem, - and they wanted to acquire a stronghold at the China coast, where they could develop and protect their interests - - -
They retaliated violently with a military action,- that was later referred to as the "Opium War"  - - -

And in this war,- the British Crown Colony Hong Kong was born - - -

One fine day,- on the 26th. of January 1841-, a contingent of Royal Navy men went ashore on Hong Kong island,- and claimed it for the British Crown - - -
Finally the British Empire had extended its spider web to the China coast - - - -

That brings us to my last China Trade paintings,- Hong Kong in its early days.

British Crown Colony Hong Kong

Here it is,- Hong Kong island as it looked in 1854 -, as seen from Kowloon peninsula - - -
Hong Kong was rapidly emerging as an important trading port,- and the port is full of ships.

Also ashore there are clear signs of hectic activity,- with many major buildings already completed.
This position,- as one of the worlds greatest trade centers-, has been maintained up to this day.

More military actions between England and China took place later on, and China still has scars from that time.
Last year,- year 2000 -, I had the good fortune to visit Beijing,- and it is very sad to see priceless cultural assets,- without any military value-,  totally destroyed and in ruins to this day, after a senseless and totally unnecessary destruction carried out by combined British and French forces  - - -
And it was only done for greed,- greed for silver and power,- and for building the Empire - -
However,- other completely destroyed cultural assets,- like the famous Suzhou Street at the Summer Palace-, has been beautifully restored to its former glory after it was totally wrecked in 1860.

Yes,- the story of the China trade is indeed very exiting and violent,- and for not so long time ago I suddenly realized,- that the events that started with the arrival of the Portuguese in 1557-, has a red line attached to it, which leads directly to my own activities in Hong Kong and the China Coast in the first half of the 1970'es, when I served on Denmark's last China trader,- the "Emma Jebsen" of Aabenraa,- owned by well known China traders,- Jebsen & Co.  - - - -

That opens up for the story about the ship owners and sailors from Aabenraa, - and about the master shipbuilders,  who turned out the biggest and fastest clipper ships,- not only in Denmark, but in all of Scandinavia.

They made Aabenraa another unique maritime community.

Therefore I will tell something about "EMMA JEBSEN",- my favorite ship-,  it's owners ,- famous China traders JEBSEN & CO. of Aabenraa-, and something more about the town of AABENRAA itself, where once shipbuilding was perfected, and world-wide shipping was the main trade for about 150 year ago - - -

                        AABENRAA  -  another special maritime town

        "EMMA JEBSEN" -  Denmark's last China trader

Updated:   August 1st. 2001