China's Full of Eastern Promise for the Scots

Daily Mail (London), October 12, 2004 | Go to article overview

China's Full of Eastern Promise for the Scots


Byline: TIM LUCKHURST

ON too many occasions in recent years, Scotland's First Ministers have seemed frantic to leave the country. They have grabbed chances for foreign travel with alacrity, jetting off to capitals such as Washington DC, Brussels and Dublin as if Scotland's future depended on it.

Often the purpose of these trips has been too vague to justify the expense involved. The impression conveyed has been that of a politician determined to escape ridicule at home to enjoy the egoboosting experience of being treated like royalty abroad.

Jack McConnell has been only slightly less guilty of this luxurious, publiclyfunded wanderlust than his predecessor Henry McLeish. His appearance in that appalling excuse for a kilt during New York's Tartan Day festivities marked a nadir in First Ministerial dignity.

But this week Mr McConnell is on a trip that is entirely justified. His presence in China as part of a UK Government delegation has the potential to reap economic and cultural dividends for Scotland.

China, with its vast human resources of 1.3 billion citizens, is undergoing what has been described as a second industrial revolution. In the Chinese economy, though not in politics, rigid communist orthodoxy has been abandoned and enterprise encouraged.

This dash for prosperity has created the world's fastest-growing economy.

China is a huge exporter and an increasingly lucrative market for imported goods as well.

Scotland already has a foothold in this market. Last year, [pounds sterling]156million worth of goods were exported from this country to China. Scottish energy, financial and information technology firms operate there and, last week, the Scottish Executive announced it will appoint a fulltime diplomat to further strengthen links between the two countries.

They have deep historic roots. At the end of the 16th century, the first British visitor to Macau on the southern coast of China was a Scottish adventurer called William Carmichael.

Next, along the overland route from Russia, came Dr John Bell, originally from Antermony in Stirlingshire. Bell arrived in Beijing in 1719, having travelled by camel and on horseback. A guard of 500 Imperial horsemen cleared the way for his entry to the city. There he met the emperor, who served a lavish banquet which Bell ate from gold platters with chopsticks he later described as 'a couple of ivory pins'.

The first trading ship to sail direct from Scotland to China arrived there in 1834, carrying cotton goods manufactured by James Finlay and Company to exchange for Chinese tea, ivory and other luxury goods.

But Scottish trade with China really boomed after the treaty of Nanking agreed British access to many Chinese ports. As the tea clippers raced to deliver fresh teas from China to Britain, Scots put themselves at the heart of this lucrative trade.

One was William Melrose, who i n 1848 was working as a tea-taster or 'smellum', as the Chinese called them, for a powerful consortium of Scottish importers in Macau. Melrose recorded that he was working so hard 'tasting and comparing' that his mouth was sore.

The tea trade sponsored industrial growth at home, too. In the 1860s, Clyde shipbuilders such as Robert Steele and Charles Connell pioneered the development of the ultra-fast clipper ships. The world-famous Cutty Sark was built on Clydeside in 1869. …

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