CHAPTER SIXTEEN British Enterprise and China

China was the El Dorado of the age, over which hardheaded business men and politicians allowed themselves their dreams. The disparity between vision and fulfilment was acutely felt. "Our trade with China has been miserably small hitherto", said a speaker in an Opium Debate in Parliament in 1883--Belgium was taking more of our goods than all China. "On the Manchester Stock Exchange, there is nothing that excites so much astonishment as the little elasticity of our trade with China. At the present time the outlets for British capital seem almost choked up. There is nothing that the country needs so much as a large field for the investment of its capital. What field in the world would equal China?"1

One trouble was the monetary problem that came so much in those days between economists and their sleep. Gold production was not keeping pace with commercial expansion, which helped to make prices droop. Simultaneously silver was being thrown on the market in vast quantities, from the mines of Nevada and the demonetised stocks of Germany; while the Indian absorption of silver was slumping. Silver, therefore, depreciated seriously against gold (and, in China, against copper). All transactions involving silver countries became risky, more because of uneven fluctuations in the fall than because of the fall itself.2 Trade that up to about 1875 had been financed with bills on London, now had to buy bills from the Eastern banks, who to cover themselves against loss charged very high rates.3 In 1885 Goschen said: "I fear that the un-

Hansard, 3rd Series, 277. 1333 ff. The Economist was pointing to China as an immense market (3.9.81, 29.7.82).
Remer, Foreign Trade of China, 78.
See evidence of A. D. Provand, exporter to China, before the Gold and Silver Commission of 1887. He complained that India merchants were better


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British Diplomacy in China, 1880 to 1885


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