Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Thirteen Factories: Refuge In Canton

Thirteen Factories (1825)
Trade was limited to port of Canton in China. During the mid-18th century, the Qing government in Beijing permitted all foreign trading ships to land only in Canton. Ever since, the port became a thriving center of foreign trade. And near to the docks, a whole street, which was the center of all trading activities, became the refuge of foreigners and became known as the Thirteen Factories.

During the reign of Emperor Kangxi (r. 1661 – 1722) trade was much wider. Under his rule, foreign shipping could enter almost the whole eastern coast of China. However, due to convenience, most of the foreign ships choose to land in the Guangzhou Province, and in particular, Canton.

Things began to change when Kangxi’s grandson ascended to the dragon throne. Emperor Qianlong had concern over the missionary work and its impact to the Chinese Confucian society. And the missionaries were alongside the trading ships. Thus, in 1757, he limited access of foreign ships only in Canton and nowhere else.

And within the port of Canton, they movements were also limited. The Europeans could not leave the waterfront or enter the city walls. They could not also bring their families. Prohibition concerning the bringing of families was logical. Foreign merchants could only do business between October and March and after that, they must all leave the island. They were also not allowed to learn Chinese. Most importantly, the foreign merchants must made all transaction through intermediaries called the Hongs.

The Hong provided wide ranges of service to the foreign traders. They collected taxes, watched over any misdemeanors, and most importantly, provide them with a place for them to stay or made transaction.

This then resulted for the creation of the Thirteen Factories or Shisan Hang in Chinese. The thirteen factories were not manufacturing buildings in modern sense. They were buildings rented out by the Hongs to foreign business agents called factors.

Each of the Thirteen Factories were owned and rented out by Hong. From the accounts of the American Edmund Roberts the Hongs that own the factories were Mowqua, Puankhequa, Goqua, Futqua, Kingqua, Sunshing, Mingqua, Saoqua, Punhoqua, and the most prominent was Howqua. They were the landlords of factors during their seasonal trading.

The Thirteen Factories were line up side by side facing the Pearl River. From the accounts of William Ruschenberger, the length and the width of the whole street occupied by the Thirteen Factories. From East to West, it measured 200 yards. Then from north to south, it was 130 yards.
From east to west the factories lined up as follow: Creek Factory, Dutch Factory, English or New English Factory. Between the New English Factory and the next factory laid the narrow Hog Lane. Across the Hog Lane laid the factories Chow-chow, Old English, Swedish, Imperial, Paoushun, and the American. After the American another street, the China Street transverse. Then the Chunqua, French, Spanish factories followed. Then between the Spanish and the last factory, the Danish, laid the New China Street.

Each of the factories were named either by the nationality that occupied the factory or by the Hong owner of the factory. Chow-chow came from the Chinese word that meant assorted or mixed. It was mainly due to the occupants coming from the British East India Company composed of Indians, Parsees, and even Persians. Paoushun and Chunqua came from the name of its owners.

Each of the factories were given a Chinese name, which would bring prosperity. For the Creek Factory, it was called Justice and Peace, in Chinese e-ho-hang. For the Dutch, it was Factory of Collected Justice or tseih-e hang in Chinese. The name for the New English was Factory That Ensures Tranquility or paon-ho-hong. For the Chow-chow, it was called The Great and Affluent and in Chinese, fung-tae-hang. The Old English had no Chinese name but was called bung-shan-hong. The Swedish was called suy-hang. And the Imperial Factory was called ma-ying-hang. The Paoshun hang was already a Chinese name and meant the Precious and Prosperous. The American Factory was given the name Factory of Wide Fountains or kwang yuen-hang. The French, Spanish, and Danish had were given no name equivalent name.

The design and materials of the Thirteen Factories were chosen by the Hong and the foreigners. During the start of the Canton System, the designs of the factories were blended to the surrounding Chinese style. When the foreigners settled, its front changed to specifications of the nationality that stayed in the factory. The houses were built with local bricks. But as time went by and the foreigners settled, houses were renovated to be made to either stone or granite. The houses occupied by the British East India Company even imported materials from India.

The latter half of the 18th century saw the dominance of the British in the Canton trade. But in 1780’s American ships began to join the lucrative trade. Also before 1841, a substantial Parsee community also settled in the area.

Foreigners were initially only allowed to stay from October to March. However, by the entry of the 19th century, some foreigners began to reside in the area. Representatives of Denmark, Spain, France, Sweden, Britain, and the Netherlands chose to stay in the Thirteen Factories even if the trading season was off. The Qing Government by that time just tolerated it. In the 1800’s, some of the factories were rented and converted by foreigners to serve as hotel. For example, in 1830’s the Imperial factory had a hotel managed by a certain C. Markwick. Another hotel was also managed by Robert Edwards in the American Factory. During the 19th century, the foreigners that settled began to issue newspaper. Canton Register and Chinese Courier was the two dominant English newspaper in the Thirteen Factories.

The end of the Thirteen Factories was alongside the end of the Canton System. Besides foreign trade, because it was the only opening to China, it became also the center of the opium trade. Opium led to the addiction of thousands of Chinese and the start of cancer to the Chinese society. In 1839, the Qing government of Emperor Daoguang launch a ban against opium. The British reacted by starting the Opium War. China was humiliated and defeated. In 1842, the Treaty of Nanjing opened new ports in China. Thus the monopoly of Canton and the Thirteen Factories came to an end.

The Thirteen Factories was part of the legacy of the Canton Systems. It was the only land made available to the Europeans during the period of late 1700’s and early 1800’s. It became a home to the foreigners in the midst of the hermit policy of Imperial China. 

See also:
Roberts, E. Embassy to the Eastern Courts of Cochin-China, Siam, and Muscat: In the U.S. Sloop-of-war PeacockNew York: Harper & Brothers, 1837.

Ruschenberger, W. A Voyage Around the World: Including an Embassy to Muscat and Siam. Carey, Lea & Blanchard, 1838.

Shammas, C. (ed.). Investing in the Early Modern Built Environment: Europeans, Asians, Settlers, and Indigenous Societies. The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill, 2012.

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