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British Jndia and its Dependencies :
bury, Fort William, ani Fort St.
currences, Births, Marriages, Deaths,
Proceedings of the Royal Asiatic So-
ciety of Great Britain and Ireland.
pany's Ships for the Season.
JANUARY TO JUNE 1829.
8c. c. 8c.
THE AMERICAN COMMERCE WITH CHINA.
It appears by recent advices from Canton that an important change bas taken place in the mode by which the American merchants have of late years conducted their commercial transactions with the Chinese empire. A violent outery has been raised by those merchants against the ripracargoes of the English East-India Company at Canton, on account of their supposed concern in effecting this change, and the mercantile community in America seems to be endeavouring to make the dispute a state affair, which must necessarily lead to some very important discussions between the two governments. The accounts which have reached this country from America have already given rise to much misrepresentation : for although the allegations of the Americans bear on the face of them no case against the Company which can justify complaint on the part of the British public, whose interests in this point are directly at issue with the pretensions of the American merchants, yet such is the prejudice prevailing against the Company in England, and such the astonishing degree of ignorance amongst the bulk of the nation in regard to the Company's concerns, that even this occurrence (all the evidence regarding which we derive solely from a source interested in giving a partial and an unfair hue to it) is perversely distorted into a matter of accusation and reproach against them on the part of their countrymen. We are consequently induced to inquire into the subject.
Although it may be well known that the foreign trade at Canton is confined to an association of merchants, called the Hong, yet as the exact nature of this monopoly constitutes an essential part of the question in the present case, we must make it exactly understood.
As soon as the maritime trade of China with Europeans assumed an approximation to a permanent character, after the internal wars in the empire had ceased, the imperial government placed the foreign trade under the same regulations as the other great departments of revenue, such as salt, for example; that is, it vested the trade in an association of respectable native Asiatic Journ Vol.27. No.157. B
merchants, called a Hang (in the provincial pronunciation of Canton, Hong), who were entitled Yang-Hang-shang, which may be translated “Foreign-tradeCompany," to distinguish it from the salt and other Hangs. This mercantile body, to which was rigorously confined the external trade with Europeans and others, to the utter exclusion, under severe penalties, of all other natives, was made responsible to the Chinese government for the collection and payment of the imperial duties on merchandize, as well as other demands occasionally made by the government on foreign trade; and was further answerable for the conduct of all foreigners, mariners as well as traders, during their sojourn at the port. To effect these purposes, besides their exclusive privileges, the Hang merchants were invested with large powers. At first the Hang was a joint association, trading upon a general fund; but this mode of traffic was displeasing to Europeans, and in 1770, on the representation of the supracargoes, backed by a large present, the Cong-Hong, as it was termed, was abolished; and the Hang merchants have since transacted business individually, though they still remain a body, and assemble for general objects, such as defraying presents and impositions exacted by the imperial officers.
When a foreign vessel arrives in the river of Canton, she is not permitted to land, to trade, or to have any intercourse whatever with the inhabitants of the country, till she is secured by one of the Hang becoming her surety, whence the Hang are called.“ security-merchants.” The vessel inay then deal with any member of the Hang.
Such an institution as this is an instrument of pre-eminent utility to a government like that of China, influenced by narrow views in regard to commerce, and jealous to timidity of foreigners; and the whole of its details are under the control of ministers, to whom the prospect of acquiring exorbitant wealth offers almost the sole incentive to office. Hence every attempt to overturn the Hang, or break through their monopoly, has been, and will continue to be, ineffectual. No contrivance could by possibility be substituted, which would afford the Chinese government equal security.
In practice, of late years, the severity of this monopoly has been somewhat relaxed; that is, the outside-dealers, or unlicensed merchants, at Canton, have succeeded in driving a petty trade with foreigners, without the actual intervention of a Hang merchant. Still, some one of the Hang must be nominally the agent, since no goods can be landed or embarked but in the name of one of the Hang; and as some of them, through losses, want of integrity, or other causes, are but little employed in regular business, they have lent their sanction to such irregular transactions in consideration of a present or commission. Such a trade has always, however, been regarded as illicit, and consequently hazardous.
The East-India Company, by the extent of their dealings, the unerring regularity of their transactions, their proverbial probity, and the duration of their connexions with China, have obtained a character and influence which have tended, in a great measure, to counteract the mischievous effects which such a combination might have produced to trade. They have also been obliged to sustain the credit of some of the Hang merchants who had become insolvent, and who thereby were in some degree under the control of the Company : a power which the latter have exerted to keep down any attempt to fetter trade or enhance the cost of merchandize.
When the Americans began to trade with China to any extent, their method of dealing was entirely discordant with such a system as this. Although they were compelled to trade with the Hang in all their large transactions