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Historical Description[]

Located on the Pearl River Delta in southeastern China, the history of foreign trade in Guangzhou stretches back to the maritime Silk Road. Starting with the British in 1685, the East India Companies of a number of countries set up offices along its waterfront. The Qing Dynasty accepted the European merchants, but barred them from trading anywhere outside of Guangzhou in 1757.

The foreign trade that developed there came to be known as the ‘Canton system’ after the European name for the city. While the purchase of tea, silks, spices, and other goods proved profitable, the European merchants were subject to Chinese law and a number of other restrictions while in port. The Chinese were also not interested in European wares, insisting on payment in silver. The scramble to come up with enough silver led indirectly to the First Opium War, in which the British soundly defeated the Qing. The resulting Treaty of Nanking in 1842 opened up a number of ports outside of Guangzhou, bringing the Canton system to an end.

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