Essential Information

Type Talks and tours
Date and Times Tuesday 13 February 2024 | 5.15-6.30pm
Prices Free

A resident of Canton named Liao A-ting was killed on 24 February 1807. This took place during a chaotic brawl involving 52 British sailors and hundreds of Cantonese townspeople. Identifying Liao's killer was crucial and time was of the essence since goods worth three million Spanish dollars (the global trade currency of the period) were at stake.

At this time, the Qing Chinese government maintained a tight control on how European merchants operated within their jurisdiction. They made it clear that unless the East India Company (EIC) identified and handed over a suspect for trial, British ships loaded with tea, porcelain, silk and other Chinese goods would be going nowhere. If the ships didn't set sail by May at the latest, they would miss the seasonal winds necessary to get back to London.

Join us for a free online talk discussing this complicated event and what it has to tell us about the long history of Chinese-Western interactions.


Event overview

Dr Song-Chuan Chen (University of Warwick) will explore the dispute between the Qing Chinese government and the EIC by analysing two oil paintings from Royal Museums Greenwich’s collection that document the trial of the 52 sailors.

He will delve into these fascinating artworks by unknown Chinese artists. The murder case encapsulates a world of understanding, misunderstanding, similarities and differences between China and Britain, resonating across the centuries.

Who killed Liao A-ting? How were Qing officials, EIC traders, sailors and ordinary Cantonese people depicted in these paintings? What does artwork like this tell us about relations between China and the West? Was Qing China really that different to Georgian Britain?

Joining the event

This event is free and open to everyone, and will take place via Zoom. There is no need to book; please click on the button below shortly before 5.00pm on the day. 

Join the event

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