China Only Yesterday, 1850-1950: A Century of Change

By Emily Hahn | Go to book overview
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Chapter One

William Hickey was a very young man when he stopped off in China in 1769, coming home after his first voyage to India, but even then he was a good observer. The amiable chatterbox he became in his old age gave a vivid picture in his memoirs of the peculiar life he shared in Canton with his compatriots for those few weeks. To be sure, it wasn't the true China that he saw. The "factory" district, i.e., the place of foreign factors, or traders, was a fringe of flat land squeezed in between the city wall and the river, and this site, with the row of long narrow buildings that nearly filled it, was the only mainland ground on which the Red Hairs were permitted to set foot. Now and then they went to some island for a picnic; the sailors from their ships, in fact, had to take shore leave on certain islands. But the city of Canton, and the ordinary land of China, must not be entered. The country's rulers did not wish their people to be perverted by foreign devils. They trusted only a few merchants and a severely restricted number of domestic servants to have dealings with the dwellers in the factories. On one occasion the high-spirited Hickey broke the rules and went through a gate in the wall into the city. Children threw stones at him, and he was glad to get back to the East India Company territory where he lodged and had his meals with Company officers, ships' captains, and supercargoes, as the business managers of imports and exports were called. The East India Company held the monopoly of foreign trade in China. Hickey made no mention of what must have been a strange sight to his inexperienced eyes--the great walls of the City of Rams, the teeming narrow streets, the gaily painted boards or silk banners that advertised a shop's wares, and the pigtailed, shaven-pated men, clacking about the cobbled streets in clogs or moving softly in slippers.


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China Only Yesterday, 1850-1950: A Century of Change


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