Trading posts of the VOC in China

The People's Republic of China - China for short - is a country located in East Asia. The capital of China is the city of Beijing and the country is divided into 24 provinces, 5 autonomous regions, 4 city provinces and 2 special administrative regions. China borders Mongolia and Russia in the north, is bordered by North Korea in the east and Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Pakistan in the west. In the south, China is bordered by the countries of India and Nepal. Bhutan, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. China is one of the earliest centers of civilization and was (partly) united into one large country even before the official era.

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Overview of the Dutch trading posts in China

During the years that the VOC was active on the Chinese territory, it established a total of three trading posts.

Trading posts in China

Legend
a. Comptoir Amoy
B. Comptoir Hoksieu
C.. Comptoir Canton


Comptoir Amoy

No data is available on this compound located in the city of Amoy (today called Xiamen, Fujian). It is only clear that the VOC traded in this area and presumably had a base there to store its purchased merchandise.

Comptoir Hoksieu

Comptoir Hoksieu (nowadays called Fuzhou, called Fujian) was opened after the year 1662, but the exact year in which it opened its doors is unknown. Fine porcelain and Chinese silk were traded via this comptoir, two products that were highly sought after in the Netherlands.

Comptoir Canton

The Dutch trading post in the city of Canton (now known as Guanzhou) was opened around 1728. All other Europeans had long had a trading post here, and after they had left, the Dutch East India Company took over control of this area. The comptoir was closed in 1803 and was important for the purchase of tea and porcelain during the time that it was active.

The Chinese trade ban

Before we look at how the VOC traders came into contact with China, we first take a closer look at China from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. China was a strange duck in this period, especially in the trade field. Since trade was very low on the social ladder - and the Chinese emperor (s) had an ideal image of a China consisting of farmers and scholars - a trade ban applied throughout China in the fifteenth century. When the Chinese villages and hamlets began to grow in the course of the fifteenth century, it turned out to be impossible to enforce the trade ban and the Chinese emperor (s) decided to allow barter trade (turning a blind eye). However, the Chinese barter trade was ousted in the early sixteenth century by the use of silver coins and the Chinese emperor (s) faced a problem. In China itself there was simply not enough silver available to meet the demand for silver coins and the Chinese had to buy this abroad. To make matters worse, only enemy Japan turned out to have enough silver and Japanese traders were also prepared to exchange their silver for the (very good) Chinese side. Because direct trade with the enemy was out of the question, China decided to use an intermediary and in 1567 China decided to allow trade with the Portuguese.

The discovery of China

The first attempts by the VOC to play a role in trade between China and Japan date from the years 1603 and 1607. Since the Portuguese owned the Chinese trade monopoly, it was important to break their power. To achieve this, in the aforementioned years the VOC attacked the Portuguese, who were based on the Chinese peninsula of Macao, but both attempts were unsuccessful. Since it was impossible to make contact with the Chinese traders or emperor, the VOC decided to focus on conquering other areas. Between the years 1607 and 1621 the VOC managed to get a foothold in Japan and opened a Dutch trading post on the island of Hirado. In 1622, the Dutch Governor-General, Jan Pieterszoon Coen (1587-1629), was full and he decided to make a new attempt to chase the Portuguese - with great violence - from the Chinese island of Macao. To accomplish this, Coen sent an expedition consisting of eight ships and 1024 persons to Macao, but the attack became a major failure. One of the first Portuguese cannonballs that was fired ended up in the powder stock of the VOC and the Dutch were forced to immediately stop their attack. Now that the attack on Macao had failed, the VOC decided to focus on conquering the island of Penghu - the largest of the Pescadores - and built a fort there without the permission of the Chinese.

Indirect trade

Because the Chinese had been impressed by the firepower of the VOC, they did not dare to drive her away from Penghu, so they chose to negotiate with the VOC. However, in the spring of 1624, the measure was full for the Chinese and the VOC had to completely demolish its fort on Penghu. To make sure that the Dutch would not return for the time being, the Chinese sent a guide with the VOC to accompany them to the island of Formosa (now called Taiwan). From the materials of the fort at Penghu, the Dutch fort Oranje was built on Formosa, which was renamed Fort Zeelandia a few years later. On Formosa, the VOC soon came into contact with the Chinese traders who were active there and, in addition to buying silk (both raw silk and silk yarn), they also bought porcelain, gold, ginger and opium from them. Some time later the range was expanded to include sapan wood (also known as paint wood) and alumina (a basic ingredient for making glass, ceramics and paper). The Chinese were in turn interested in the many products of the VOC such as spices, sandalwood, cotton fabrics, pewter (both from India), ivory and deer skins. Now that the VOC was familiar with the many (precious) goods that were available in China, it became even more keen to expel the Portuguese. In 1639 the success of this plan seemed to come a lot closer when the VOC acquired the trade monopoly in Japan and in 1641 the Portuguese position in Asia weakened considerably, because the VOC had managed to conquer the Portuguese region of Malacca.

Unreachable China

As it was forbidden - and impossible - for foreign traders to dock and / or trade in China, foreign traders were dependent on the so-called Chinese tribal system: At predetermined times (foreign) envoys were allowed to show respect to the Chinese emperor by visiting the imperial court in Beijing. The Dutch merchants of the VOC also went to Beijing to pay tribute to the emperor, but unfortunately returned unsuccessfully.

The road to Beijing

Under the command of Dutch merchants Pieter de Goyer and Jacob de Keyzer (unknown for both birth and death dates), on 19 July 1655 the Dutch yachts, the Koudekerke and the Bloemendaal, left the port of Batavia. The gentlemen were destined for the imperial court in the Chinese city of Beijing (then called Nekinsu) and to properly record the long journey, including the 1600-kilometer-long Keizerskanaal, the Dutch world traveler and artist, Johan Nieuhof (1618-) 1672), with the company. After passing the Keizerskanaal, the Dutch company arrived in the Chinese port of Canton and had to anchor here as the rest of the journey - from Canton to Beijing - was made by barge. After a journey of many months, the Dutch company finally reached the imperial court in Beijing, but after spending three months in the city it became clear that the VOC officials would not get to see the Chinese emperor. Deeply disappointed, De Goyer and De Keyzer gave the order to return to Batavia.

Three times is right

The following attempts to get a foothold in China took place between the years 1662 and 1664. Under the leadership of Admiral Balthasar Bort (1626-1684), an expedition was equipped up to three times to take on the enemies of to dislodge the ruling Chinese Manchu regime. With this action, the VOC hoped to get a good impression on the Chinese and soon drove the enemy Koxinga off the islands of Amoy (today called Xiamen) and Quemoy (contemporary Chinmen). To prevent the Koxinga from returning, the VOC established a small fort on both islands, but did not intend to stay there for a longer period. The VOC left the islands again in the year 1664. In the years 1667 and 1685 the VOC made two more attempts to get a foothold in Beijing by making a court trip, but both times the VOC succeeded not to see or speak to the Chinese emperor. In 1689 the Heren XVII thought it was good and they decided to put their attempts to trade with China on a low level.

Made in China

The fact that the VOC did not gain a foothold in trade with China did not mean that it could not buy Chinese products. Over the years, Chinese traders in so-called junks (Chinese sailing ships) had ventured to trade (illegally) in Batavia and in this way the VOC managed to purchase Chinese silk, porcelain and tea. Unfortunately in 1718 the junk trade came to an end unexpectedly as it was curbed by the then Chinese emperor and the VOC had to turn to the Portuguese to be able to purchase their Chinese merchandise. Between the years 1720 and 1723, the Heren XVII sent Dutch ships directly to China to buy tea, silk and porcelain, and after 1723 the Chinese junk trade got underway again. As the Chinese traders now made the crossing to Batavia again, the VOC stopped sending ships to China.

New century, new opportunities

Two years after the junk trade got underway again, the Chinese decided to allow trade with foreign nations, on a limited scale and under strict conditions. Whereas the English East-Indian Company opened a trading post in the Chinese city of Canton that same year, the Heren XVII decided not to take action until December 1728. The Dutch ship the Coxhorn sailed to the port of Canton to purchase the - in the Netherlands - increasingly popular tea. Since the voyage was a resounding success, between the years 1728 and 1734 the VOC decided to send a ship to Canton for twelve times to do some shopping. Between the years 1734 and 1756 the VOC sent two ships from Batavia to China each year, one ship returning directly to the Netherlands and the other ship first making a stopover in Batavia and then embarking on the long journey home. After 1756 the policy changed again and about four to five ships were sent from the Netherlands to the Chinese Canton every year.

Comptoir Canton

When the Chinese decided in 1728 to allow foreign trade on a limited scale, various warehouses and offices were built just outside the city of Canton. If a country wanted to trade with China, it was possible to rent a Chinese company and the Dutch VOC also made use of this construction. Foreign traders did not have much freedom of movement, however, as they were not allowed to enter Canton themselves and could only move freely within a radius of one kilometer around their own store. If the foreign traders wanted to trade, they were obliged to use a hong (Chinese trading house) that had a license to trade with Europeans. In spite of all these limitations, there were around forty VOC officials present in the Dutch company in Canton.

Video: Nagasaki, Japan: The Former Trading Post of Dejima (April 2020).

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