Seaports, Captains, Merchants

China. The Canton Trade.

China: Pagoda Island

° Amoy ° Fuzhou, Pagoda Island ° Canton (Gunagzhou) ° Qingdao ° Hong Kong ° Fuzhou ° Macau ° Ningbo-Zhoushan ° Qingdao ° Peking (Bejing) ° Shanghai ° Tianjin ° Tientsin ° Whampoa ° Yangzhou ° Xiamen ° Pirates in the China Seas
° The Great Wall ° Mahjong ° Opium Wars ° Shaolin (Kung Fu) ° The Jews of Kaifeng (Henan Province)

Fifteen minutes of Fuzhou lies Mawei, cradle of Chinese seamanship, and site of the famous Pagoda Anchorage. Chinese named giant rocks, Double Turtle Guarding Door, Five Tigers Defending Gate, and Warriors Leg. Sailors from Fuzhou were trading overseas before most of China knew that seas existed... and the city was an international trading port by year 618 AD.

After opening Canton consulate in July 1843, George Tradescant Lay arrived in Fuzhou in July 1844. He was forced off his ship at Pagoda Island and made to go up river in a small boat. Fuzhou authorities allocated him a house built of boards, over the river, which flooded twice a day.

China.Fuzhou, China.

Between Pagoda Anchorage and the sea, Min surged through a narrow gorge that was so tight that old salts claimed monkeys jumping from one side to or got tails caught in rigging; these were tall tales but many a ship, likeOriental in 1853 and Vision in 1857, sank in mighty Min. No one took Min for granted especially the Chinese, who were among the greatest ocean-going adventurers of our ancient world.

In 1859, Sea Serpent loaded for tea at Pagoda Island. . . her time from crossing bar of Min River to London was only 130 days—during height of adverse monsoon. She beat all clippers who anchored alongside her.

In 1866, Foochow became the starting point of Great Tea Race . . . 16 clippers were loaded tea at Pagoda Anchorage. In late May and early June, they began their race across 16,000 miles of open ocean to London Docks, arriving 99 days later. China.Eastern Seas. 1875.

The Taeping reached Gravesend first, followed by Ariel and Serica.

1869: There are few scenes that linger in my memory more vividly than the Pagoda Anchorage in Foochow River a day or two after the "new teas" market had opened, when the first flight of clippers was getting ready for sea.

The "opening of market" was a feature peculiar to Foochow tea trade. In city of Foochow, stocks of first pickings from teagardens in the interior had accumulated since early in May, but Chinese merchants were slow in making up their minds to sell at prices acceptable to foreign buyers.

It was perhaps known from the outset that certain foreign "hongs" — that is, mercantile houses — would eventually purchase particular "chops" of tea. A "chop" was a number of boxes of the same make and quality of leaf, variable as to weight, but usually a product of one particular garden. "Chops" bearing a well-known name were bought year after year by the same foreign merchants, yet, even so, weeks were often spent in haggling. The price was slowly and reluctantly lowered by the Chinese merchant . . . When it had been reduced sufficiently, some of more important firms were tempted to close. Then the hurry began.

A Century of Travels in China.China. 
A Century of Travels in ChinaChina. 

As soon as it became known that Jardine's or some other well-known English firm had opened the market, all merchants began to buy their favourite "chops" at proportionate prices.

Speed was the order of day. Forty-eight hours or so were required to weigh and label tea-chests, then each "hong" made all haste to load them into lighters which waited to convey the fragrant leaf for Foochow to Pagoda Anchorage, a distance of about twelve miles . . .

Generally some three or four clippers with good records were chosen as "going ships," and combinations of shippers would concentrate on filling these . . . it was a keen contest; yet it was not always the ship considered fastest which got away first. Much depended on tonnage of the vessel and status and influence of the agents concerned . . .

It would usually happen that a dozen or more clippers would be lying ready, with holds swept and garnished, for two or three weeks perhaps. . . then one day, or one night as likely as not, immediately after the opening of market, watchmen on the waiting ships would be kept on qui vive by hearing blowing of many conch shells and a distant din on river . . . as the first "tea chops" came down. The men on board vessels kept up insistent sing-song calls, which represented, in Chinese tongue, inquiries as to where they should anchor to be near the particular vessel for which their cargo was designed.

The method in vogue was to chant in a long drawn-out wail Chinese name of the "hong" which owned tea. Thus Jardine Mathieson's employees would wail out: "Ee-wo! Ee-wo!"; those in Turner and Company would snap back a discordant "Wha-kee! Wha-kee!" . . .

The finest display of clippers that I ever remember seeing waiting for market to open was in 1869. In that year, no less than fifteen of these beauties, more like yachts than merchantmen, lay moored off Pagoda, with holds ready, ballast levelled, ground chop stowed, waiting for new teas. I do not suppose that in any port in the world one could have seen such a fleet of beautiful craft as were assembled in the River Min on that occasion.

Among them were Thermopyle, Leander, Windhover and Kaisow, all on their first trip;Spindrift and Lahloo on their second; the proven and noted flyers Sir Lancelot, Ariel, Taeping, and Serica; as well as somewhat older but still handsome vessels Black Prince, Falcon, Min, Flying Spur and little Ziba. . .


Ariel and Taeping
Montague Dawson

The Tea Race of 1866 caused an enormous stir in the sporting and nautical circles of Britain. Ariel and Taeping had left Fuzhou together and arrived home on the other side of the globe still together, Ariel‘s winning time being seven thousandths of one percent faster than her rival’s. The Tea Race was never so close again in its 30-year history.

Hundreds of clipper ships were built between 1845 and 1875, mostly in the U.S. and Scotland, and tested against each other in what became highly publicized “tea races” as they vied to be first home with the new season’s cargo. The clippers were distinguished, first, by the rakish bows that gave them their name, which swept forward at an angle of up to 50 degrees and lent the vessels a lean and eager look, and, second, by their narrow beam and lofty sail plans. Below the waterline they boasted radical new lines, with knife-edge stems, narrow foreparts, a long flat run aft to the rudder, and a sharp “rise of floor”— the slope at which the hull angles outward from the central keel to the ship’s sides.

Tea was one of the very few commodities carried at speed in the heyday of sail. Other cargoes were either too bulky or insufficiently valuable to make it worth risking a whole ship and crew in racing through the typhoons and the shoals of the South China Sea with all sails set, just to be able to dock in the Port of London a few hours or days ahead of the pack. But in the middle of the 19th century, demand for fresh tea was such that the first vessel home from Fuzhou or Shanghai could command a premium of at least 10 percent for her wares, and a clipper ship that cost perhaps £12,000 or £15,000 to build might bring home a cargo worth almost £3,000 on her first voyage.

Captain John Keay, master of the new British clipper ship Ariel, had secured the first cargo of tea to come to market at the great Chinese port of Foochow in 1866 — 560 tons of first and second pickings, freighted at the high price of £7 a ton: the very finest leaves available. The cargo had been floated out to him in lighters, packed in more than 12,000 hand-made tea chests, and stowed below decks in the record time of just four days. Now Ariel was weighing anchor at 5 p.m. on the evening of May 28–the first tea clipper to sail for London that season.

Thus it went at Foochow, and Foochow in sixties was the premier port for shipment of teas. Though it had been opened to foreign trade as far back as 1842, for a number of years afterwards Canton, or Whampoa, was the more important place. "Orange" and "Flowery Pekoe," "Scented Capers" and or choice teas were those for which this port was famous.

Andrew Shewan
Great Days of Sail

Part of the trials and tribulations of these ports were pirates . . . each year several cases of piracy -- attempted or accomplished -- were recorded. There were thieves among the seafaring population all along China coast, but reportedly none were as bloodthirsty as Cantonese and their neighbors.

By 1871 newer steamships began to replace these great ships. Tea Clippers were vital to tea trade until the opening of Suez Canal in 1869 and were in operation until the end of 1880's.

China.The Thermoplaye Leaving Foochow, Montague Dawson.

The Thermopylae leaving Foochow
Montague Dawson


Montague Dawson was the son of a yachtsman and the grandson of the marine painter Henry Dawson (1811 1878). Dawson was born in Chiswick, London in 1895. For a brief period around 1910 Dawson worked for a commercial art studio in Bedford Row, London, but with the outbreak of the First World War he joined the Royal Navy. Whilst serving with the Navy in Falmouth he met Charles Napier Hemy (1841 1917), who influenced his work. His paintings are featured in the Royal Naval Museum and the National Maritime Museum. After the War, Dawson established himself as a professional marine artist, concentrating on historical subjects and portraits of deep-water sailing ships often in stiff breeze or on high seas.

The Silk Road.Pagoda Anchorage.

On a Saturday morning in August 1884, the French destroyed the Chinese fleet in about half an hour. The French commander had warned foreign consulates and the Chinese day before, but international law required at least 30 days notice.

The French refused China's request for one more day to prepare, they attacked, and seven hundred Chinese seamen went to a mass grave beside Memorial Hall of Majiang River Naval Battle.

The Silk Road is a historically important international trade route between China and the Mediterranean. Because silk comprised a large proportion of trade along this road, in 1877, it was named 'the Silk Road' by Ferdinand von Richthofen, an eminent German geographer. From the time Zhang Qian opened up the world-famous Silk Road during the Han Dynasty, until the collapse of the Yuan Dynasty, it enjoyed a history of about 1,600 years.

Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea, 1300-1800The Silk Road of the Sea.
John N. Miksic
The Silk Road of the Sea.This book synthesizes 25 years of archaeological research to reconstruct the 14th-century port of Singapore in great detail. The picture that emerges is of a port where people processed raw materials, used money, and had specialized occupations. Within its defensive wall, the city was well organized and prosperous, with a cosmopolitan population that included residents from China, other parts of Southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean. Fully illustrated, with more than 300 maps and color photos, Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea presents Singapore's history in the context of Asia's long-distance maritime trade in the years between 1300 and 1800. The author is Associate Professor, Southeast Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, and Head of the NSC Archaeology Unit, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

China.Dragon Lady: The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of ChinaThe Last Empress of China.
Sterling Seagrave

China.1421: The Year China Discovered America
Gavin Menzies
On March 8, 1421, the largest fleet the world had ever seen set sail from China to "proceed all the way to the ends of the earth to collect tribute from the barbarians beyond the seas." When the fleet returned home in October 1423, the emperor had fallen, leaving China in political and economic chaos. The great ships were left to rot at their moorings and the records of their journeys were destroyed. Lost in the long, self-imposed isolation that followed was the knowledge that Chinese ships had reached America seventy years before Columbus and had circumnavigated the globe a century before Magellan. And they colonized America before the Europeans, transplanting the principal economic crops that have since fed and clothed the world.

A Cruise in Chinese Waters: Being the Log of "The Fortuna." (c 1882)
Augustus F. Lindley
Cornell University Library Print Collections

China. When China Ruled the Seas:
The Treasure Fleet of the Dragon Throne, 1405-1433
Louise Levathes
A hundred years before Columbus and his fellow Europeans began making their way to the New World, fleets of giant Chinese junks commanded by the eunuch admiral Zheng He and filled with the empire's finest porcelains, lacquerware, and silk ventured to the edge of the world's "four corners." It was a time of exploration and conquest, but it ended in a retrenchment so complete that less than a century later, it was a crime to go to sea in a multimasted ship.

China.Khubilai Khan's Lost Fleet
In Search of a Legendary Armada

James P., Delgado
In 1279, near what is now Hong Kong, Mongol ruler Khubilai Khan fulfilled the dream of his grandfather, Genghis Khan, by conquering China.

The Grand Khan now ruled the largest empire the world has ever seen—one that stretched from the China Sea to the plains of Hungary. He also inherited the world's largest navy—more than seven hundred ships. Yet within fifteen years, Khubilai Khan's massive fleet was gone. What actually happened to the Mongol navy, considered for seven centuries to be little more than legend, has finally been revealed. Renowned archaeologist and historian James P. Delgado has gone diving with a Japanese team studying the remains of the Khan's lost fleet. Delgado pieces together the fascinating tale of Khubilai Khan's maritime forays and unravels one of history's greatest mysteries: What sank the great Mongol fleet?

Chinese Maritime Activities and Socioeconomic Development, c. 2100 B.C. - 1900 A.D.
(Contributions in Economics and Economic History)
K. Gang Deng

Chinese Sailed to America Before Columbus: More Secrets from the Dr. Hendon M. Harris, Jr. Map CollectionChina.
Charlotte Harris Rees

Silk and Religion
An Exploration of Material Life and the Thought of People, AD 600-1200

(Oxford India Paperbacks)
Xinru Liu

China. A Century of Travels in ChinaChina.
Douglas Kerr, Julia Kuehn, Editors
Hong Kong University Press

China: The World's Oldest Living Civilization.
China: The World's Oldest Living Civilization Revealed.China: The World's Oldest Living Civilization Revealed.
Thames & Hudson Publishers
China's recorded history dates back more than 3,500 years. "China" examines the turbulent history of this immense nation, including the inventiveness of the Bronze Age society, the Barbarian invasions, the conquest by Genghis Khan, the rise and fall of the dynasties, and the Opium Wars. It takes in the architecture of the emperors; the magnificent buildings of the Forbidden City; the imperial tombs, and the mysterious entombed warriors

A Borrowed Place:
The History of Hong Kong
Frank Welsh
The tumultuous history of Britain's last major colony. In 1842 a "barren island" was reluctantly ceded by China to an unenthusiastic Britain. "Hong Kong", grumbled Palmerston, "will never be a mart of trade". But from the outset the new colony prospered, its early growth owing much to the energy and resourcefulness of opium traders, who soon diversified in more respectable directions. In 1859 the Kowloon Peninsula was sold to Britain, and in 1898 a further area of the mainland, the "New Territories", was leased to Britain for 99 years.

The Man Who Loved China.
The Man Who Loved China:
The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom
The Man Who Loved China.
Simon Winchester

China. An Empire of Plants: People and Plants That Changed the WorldChina.
Toby Musgrave, Will Musgrave
Stories of seven plants - tea, tobacco, sugar, opium, quinine, cotton and rubber - whose discovery and cultivation changed the destinies of countries from America to China, India to Brazil. It investigates the complex legacy of trade routes overseas, the engine and imperative for colonial expansion, and shows how great fortunes were built upon a dark history of espionage, slavery, danger and conflict. Illustrated.

China and Maritime Europe 1500-1800: Trade, Settlement, Diplomacy, and MissionsChina. China and Maritime Europe.China.
John E. Wills, Jr., John Cranmer-Byng
A view of China in some of its most complicated and intriguing relations with a world of increasing global interconnection. New World silver, Chinese tea, Jesuit astronomers at the Chinese court, and merchants and marauders play important roles here. A full and clear summary, based on sources in Chinese and in European languages, making this information accessible to students and scholars interested in the growing connections among continents and civilizations in the early modern period.

China.When America First Met China:
An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail
Eric Jay Dolin
Ancient China collides with America in this epic tale of opium smugglers, sea pirates, and dueling clipper ships. Brilliantly illuminating one of the least-understood areas of American history, best-selling author Eric Jay Dolin traces our fraught relationship with China back to its roots: the unforgiving nineteenth-century seas that separated brash, rising naval powers from ancient empires. It is a prescient fable for our time, one that surprisingly continues to shed light on our modern relationship with China. Indeed, the furious trade in furs, opium, and bêche-de-mer--a rare sea cucumber delicacy--might have catalyzed America's emerging economy, but it also sparked an ecological and human rights catastrophe. Peopled with fascinating characters--from the "Financier of the Revolution" Robert Morris to the Chinese emperor Qianlong, who considered foreigners inferior beings--this saga of pirates and politicians, coolies and concubines becomes a must-read for any fan of Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower or Mark Kurlansky's Cod. Two maps, and 16 pages of color and 83 black-and-white illustrations.

Historical Fiction

The Dream of the Red Chamber Chinese Literature.China. Dream Of The Red Chamber
Hung Lou Meng: Book I

Cao Xeugin
Translated by H. Bencraft Joly
First appearing 1791, it is a masterpiece of Chinese literature and one of China's Four Great classical novels. It was composed during the Qing Dynasty and is generally acknowledged to be a pinnacle of Chinese fiction. The novel is believed to be semi-autobiographical, mirroring the rise and decay of author's own family and, by extension, of the Qing Dynasty. It is intended to be a memorial to the women the author knew in his youth - friends, relatives and servants. At the center of the story is Bao-yu, a precocious boy and his romantic affinity to his poetry-loving, orphaned cousin, Dai-yu. The novel is remarkable for its huge cast of characters and psychological scope, its precise and detailed observation of the life and social structures typical of 18th-century Chinese aristocracy.

The Honored Dead by Robert N. Macomber.The Honored DeadChina.
Robert N. Macomber
Seventh in the award-winning Honor Series. Lt. Cmdr. Peter Wake, in French Indochina in 1883, meets up with opium warlords, Chinese-Malay pirates, and French gangsters. Perfect for armchair historians and adventurers. It has been compared to the best historical sea fiction ever written by Patrick O'Brian and C.S. Forester as well as the historical fiction of Bernard Cornwell.

China. Pearl S. Buck and Stories of ChinaChina.
Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker was born on June 26, 1892, in Hillsboro, West Virginia. Her parents were Southern Presbyterian missionaries, most often stationed in China. From childhood, Pearl spoke both English and Chinese. She returned to China shortly after graduation from Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1914, and the following year, she met a young agricultural economist named John Lossing Buck. They married in 1917, and moved to Nanhsuchou in rural Anhwei province. In this impoverished community, Pearl Buck gathered the material that she would later use in her other stories of China. Her first novel, East Wind, West Wind, was published in 1930.

The Project

Maritime Nations, Sea Captains, Ships, Merchants, Merchandise, Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



Migration and Disruption.
Migration and Disruptions

Brenda J. Baker

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; Maritime Library, San Francisco, California.

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