The Chinese Silver Trade, the British Empire, and the Conflict Which Inevitably Ensued
Anthony Ambrosius Aurelius
“China made itself vastly wealthy during the 19th century by exporting silks and porcelain in exchange for silver. China became dependent upon silver during the 16th century when Emperor Zhu Yijun (pronounced “zhoo yee-joon”) demanded his subjects pay their taxes in silver. China has very little silver of its own so the bulk of silver reserves must be imported, creating a near perfect system of supply and demand.
Britain imports more tea from China than any other European country with 80% of all tea export shipping out of Canton, China destined for England. The governing body which overseen this import-export model was the British East India Company, an organization that by the end of the 18th century, had a private standing military force of almost 90,000 soldiers with a collection of heavily gunned warships.
The British realized their vulnerability brought forth by tea and tried multiple goods to replace silver (e.g. cotton, wool, textiles etc.). The East India Company compelled and convinced the British government to act and in 1792, an enormous trade campaign toward China was launched with statesperson and diplomat, Lord George Macartney at its head.
It was expected of Macartney that he would negotiate better terms of trade between England and China, the world’s two most powerful economies during the era. Macartney needed to persuade Chinese Emperor Qianlong (pronounced “chang-loo-ong”) to accept British items of export in favor of silver so that direct trade between Chinese tea and British goods could be established without the need for bullion or other forms of British currency. Macartney also needed to convince Qianlong that the Chinese needed to establish a British trading base along China’s coastline.
Macartney preferred a detached island or a patch of ground which would be specifically designated for the British, effectively an embassy construct of the modern day. Macartney was clear that the British needed neither fortification nor protectionary defense, with only merchants being protected by the Chinese government.”