History of Trade with the Orient

Chinese painting of the Hongs of Canton

The earliest traders between Europe and the Far East crossed Asia over land routes often called the Silk RoadSilk Road

An ancient caravan route across Asia by which early European explorers traveled to China.
. Europeans prized Chinese silks and spices from the East Indies. Venetian explorer Marco PoloPolo, Marco Marco Polo

1254-1324. Venetian who traveled to China in a journey that lasted 24 years and returned and wrote about it. His was the first major account of a world outside of Europe and opened up trade to China.
was the most famous early traveler to ChinaChina

During the period of the China Trade, when Mainers were sailing to ports in China, the Qing (or Ch'ing) Dynasty (1644-1911) was in power. The Qing Dynasty was established by the Manchus in northeastern China, and expanded to surrounding territories of Inner Asia, establishing the Empire of the Great Qing.Read more.
, venturing to the site of present-day Beijing in 1261.

In 1498 Portuguese explorer Vasco da GamaDa Gama, Vasco Vasco da Gama

c. 1469 - 1524. Portuguese explorer who in 1497 led the first European expedition to sail directly from Europe to India, returning in 1499. He sailed twice more to India and was directly responsible for the Portuguese presence there.
sailed around the Cape of Good Hope, opening seas and ports all the way to Nagasaki, Japan. Thanks to his explorations, Portugal gained early control of trade with the Far East.

By the late sixteenth century, piracy had forced China to close its coastal ports to trade with Japan. In 1557 China “rented” Macao to Portugal in return for help with defense. Macao was an important city because of its location at the mouth of the Pearl River leading to Whampoa Harbor and Canton.

In 1600, Queen Elizabeth I chartered the British East India CompanyBritish East India Company

A joint stock company that was granted a Royal charter in 1600 to challenge the Dutch-Portuguese spice trade monopoly and given a monopoly to trade with India. It was eventually transformed from a trading company to the ruler of India, until the British government took over India in 1858.
, and in1602 the Estates-General of the Netherlands formed the Dutch East India CompanyDutch East India Company

Founded in 1602, granted a monopoly by the Dutch government for trading and colonization in the East Indies, the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC, as it was known in Dutch, was the world's first multinational stock company.Read more.
. These groups were the managers of trade with the Orient.

By 1675, England, Holland, France, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, and Spain were all established in Canton. Western merchants were restricted to HongsHong

A combination living quarters, business office, and warehouse for foreigners in China.
: combined residences, warehouses, and trading centers.