Guangzhou, Guangdong: Foreign trade
From 1757 until 1842, Guangzhou, or Canton as it was called back then, was China’s only official door to the outside world. With the aim to control China’s foreign trade, the ‘Canton System’ meant that all imports and exports had to pass through Canton. This exposed the Cantonese to people and products from overseas.
However, even in Canton, trade was restricted: foreigners could only trade through a designated Chinese monopoly called the Cohong, and could only stay and trade in 13 factories at the Canton port from October to March.
In spite of these restrictions, Canton was a popular, bustling port that took in rice from southeast Asia and exported silk and porcelain to Europe and beyond. China’s most popular export product at the time was the dried leaf of a plant called Camellia Sinensis. The British, in particular, developed a liking for the aromatic little beverage that would be drawn from it.
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