Western Enterprise in Far Eastern Economic Development: China and Japan

By G. C. Allen; Audrey G. Donnithorne | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III THE ORGANISATION OF THE EXPORT TRADE TEA AND SILK

FOR a full realisation of the part played by foreign merchants in the initiation and conduct of China's foreign trade, the generalised account given in the previous chapter needs to be supplemented by particular description. No attempt will be made, however, to provide a detailed history of the several trades, for the intention is merely to bring to light the diversity of methods employed while at the same time establishing the broad similarity of the problems that confronted the foreign merchant engaged in various lines of business. We shall concern ourselves, first, with a number of representative export commodities, and second, with a few of the leading imports. It is natural to begin with tea, the commodity which made up the bulk of China's exports to Europe before the modern era and continued to occupy an important place among them until recent times. The trade fell into two distinct sections, the leaf-tea trade which was mainly with Europe and the United States, and the brick-tea trade, which was almost exclusively with Russia. These sections will be treated separately since they were differently organised.


1. The Tea Trade with Western Europe and America

The export trade in leaf tea was built upon a great internal trade of ancient origin, and tea culture in China continued, even after a large export had been created, to be directed primarily towards supplying the home market. Furthermore, the establishment by foreigners of tea plantations was ruled out by the prohibition on the foreign ownership of land outside the Treaty Ports. These two conditions largely determine the rôle of the foreigners in this trade. They were precluded from organising the production of tea on a large scale (as they were able to do in India and Ceylon), and since the exports formed only a small part of the total supply, the foreigners could not exert as strong an influence upon the methods of production, treatment and sale of tea as in the case of goods produced primarily for export. The great distance that separated the tea-growing regions from the Treaty Ports was an additional reason why foreign influence over the organisation of tea production was comparatively weak. Yet the effect of these conditions must not be exaggerated, for, as we shall see, the foreign merchant was able at least to modify Chinese trade practices and certain methods of

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