History of the Ching Dynasty

Travel with us back in time to 300 years ago

You are invited to travel back in time with us. This journey transports us 300 years to the last dynasty of Imperial China – the Ching Dynasty. We visit the port of Canton and watch as humble artisans labour for countless hours to create exquisite items of hand carved mother of pearl gaming counters. As you hold and gaze upon a piece from the Ching Dynasty Collection you will marvel again and again at the intricate decoration of the piece which is hard for us to believe, that the tools at their disposal were so primitive. The finished products rival the finest jewels of Faberge in their attention to minute detail and aesthetic appeal. Such craftsmanship surpassing anywhere in the world during this period.

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The early years

The East India Trading Company established by Royal decree on December 31st 1600 by Queen Elizabeth 1st would come to play a vital role in the establishment of trading between Europe and China.

During the last dynasty of Imperial China, the Emperor Kangxi {1661-1722} took the decision in 1686 to permit foreign trading vessels to dock in Canton between October and March each year. The ‘barbarians’ ; foreign traders were treated with great suspicion and not permitted to roam freely in Canton, being restricted to outside the city walls, in what became known as ‘Thirteen Factories’ - foreigner’s quarters also referred to as ‘Barbarian Houses’. The streets immediately adjoining the 2 or 3 story buildings were named Thirteen Factory Street, Old China Street, and Hog Lane.

Each factory had a designated Chinese merchantman for trading. Foreigners were not allowed to learn Chinese by rule at the time and as such the merchantman played a key role in negotiating trade.

Trade was brisk

Although trade was restricted to only 6 months of the year, the tall ships seeking to fill their holds with exotic cargoes of brightly coloured silks, fine porcelain, ivory, herbs and spices and tea. These goods garnished high prices back in Europe although only accessible to Royalty and the most powerful and rich of Georgian society. The Captains and Supercargoes – those responsible for trading by the East India Trading Company were appointed to top positions, chosen for their connections, being to the rich and powerful families of the period. Captains were not highly paid; however, were permitted ‘private cargo’. They would seek to maximise their profit by taking commissions of ‘made to order’ porcelain services personalised with the coat of arms of the intended family. These armorials would also feature on the exquisite hand carved one of a kind gaming counters now available hundreds of years later as pieces of historical significance in the Ching Dynasty Collection. Sets of porcelain and counters were often ordered at the same time. Card play was a popular and fashionable pastime during the long candlelit nights of the Georgian era, with sets of gaming counters that were commissioned consisting of 20 rounds, 40 squares and 80 oblongs. This allowed the typical 4 person card games of Ombre, Quadrille and Pope Joan to provide each person with 5 – 10 – 20 gaming counters each which were then designated with an agreed value with which to gamble.

These Captains and early seafarers were indeed bold and brave, navigating in often uncharted and treacherous waters and extreme weather conditions which in part meant that only 1 round trip voyage could be undertaken every 3 years or so.

A trade imbalance

By the mid to late 1700’s goods from China were in great demand and the items of main interest to the Chinese {silver, tin, lead and wool} were becoming harder to provide. Grown in the poppy fields of India – Opium became a trading commodity for the British. This would ultimately lead to what would become a conflict to European Chinese trade.

The Opium Wars

It had been illegal to smoke and sell Opium in China since 1729 and the actions of the British traders ultimately would lead to conflict. In 1839 the Daoguang Emperor rejecting proposals to legalise and tax opium, appointed viceroy Lin Zexu to solve the problem by completely banning the opium trade. Lin confiscated around 20,000 chests of opium (approximately 1210 tons or 2.66 million pounds) without offering compensation and ordered a blockade of foreign trade in Canton. The British government, although not officially denying China's right to control imports of the drug, objected to this unexpected seizure and dispatched a military force to China. In the ensuing conflict the Royal Navy used its naval and gunnery power to inflict a series of decisive defeats on the Chinese Empire, a tactic later referred to as gunboat diplomacy.

The Treaty of Nanking

In 1842 the Qing Dynasty was forced to sign the Treaty of Nanking. In the wake of China’s military defeat, with the British warships poised to attack Nanking, representatives of the British and Qing Empires negotiated on board the HMS Cornwallis anchored at the city. The Treaty of Nanking—the first of what the Chinese later called the unequal treaties—which granted an indemnity and extraterritoriality to Britain, opened five treaty ports to foreign merchants, and ceded Hong Kong Island to the British Empire. The failure of the treaty to satisfy British goals of improved trade and diplomatic relations led to the Second Opium War (1856–60), and the Qing defeat resulted in social unrest within China. In China, the war is considered the beginning of modern Chinese history.

Llama BlueHistory, China