The working river in China: Shipping in the Pearl River off Canton

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National Maritime Museum, First floor, Traders gallery

Study the vista across the Pearl River at Canton (Guangzhou) in southern China towards the European 'factories' or trading posts, which the European merchants were not allowed to leave.

In 1842 the Opium War between Britain and China ended with the signing of the Treaty of Nanking. This effectively opened up the five main Chinese ports of Canton, Amoy, Ningpo, Shanghai and Foochow to European traders, who needed considerable naval protection from the persistent depredations of Chinese pirates.

Canton was the centre of China's tea trade with Europe and by 1794 Britain was buying four million kilograms of tea each year, in a trade strictly controlled by China. The French and American factories identified by their flags are visible on the right, as well as the Dutch and French folly forts. A variety of shipping is at anchor and the scene is still and calm. A mountain is shown on the right.

A serene stillness pervades the scene of this highly stylized painting fusing western topographical methods with Chinese influences.