A fan combines views of Hong Kong (right), Canton (left), China, ca 1850-1860.
$2700 / ≈ €2347
Estimate: $3500 - $4500
Bidder pays on top of the hammer price:
These cities attracted visitors and temporary residents from around the world, while simultaneously serving as funnels for Chinese products entering the global market. For most Westerners, they became windows on a far-away and alien world—albeit windows that were always narrow and usually all but closed to any real appreciation or understanding of life in the interior and among the Chinese people as a whole.
Foreigners by and large celebrated their own lives in sequestered enclaves on the China coast. They revealed their fine taste by collecting elegant Chinese artworks, all the while remaining largely silent about the fact that the funds that supported their exotic connoisseurship often rested on illicit trade in opium. Even while extolling the superior morality and civilization of the West and berating the Chinese for their shortcomings in “moral, honourable” conduct, they waged not one but two wars to force the Chinese to legalize opium imports, open additional ports to receive them, and agree to a low fixed tariff on all items in this great exercise in “free trade.”
The Opium Wars signalled the end of the old Canton trade system under which the great Qing dynasty held the upper hand and dictated who and how and under what restrictions trade could be carried out. China was indeed the “central kingdom” during this long span of time—powerful, self-sufficient, capable of warding off foreign threats and dictating the terms of its relations with other nations and peoples. Defeat in the Opium Wars, and the ensuing collapse of the old Canton-system regimen of controlled trade, signalled the emergence of the European and American powers as the new imperial arbiters of wealth and power—and the consequences for China were dire. England’s colonialization of Hong Kong was, in its way, a perfect symbol of this new impotence—and the modern history of China for a century and a half thereafter reflected this catastrophe. Once the commanding great civilization of Asia, China abruptly became an object to be acted upon—besieged for decades to come by both external threats and internal upheaval.
From early times China engaged in extensive trade relations with other countries, and until the mid 19th century Chinese officials directed by the imperial court in Beijing dictated the conditions under which such trade was conducted. From the 16th century to mid 1800s, three cities became the centres of the trading system linking the “Middle Kingdom” to Western European powers and eventually the United States: Macau, Canton, and Hong Kong.
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