skip to content

The Centre for the Study of Global Human Movement



The paper discusses the development of the British chambers of commerce in mid-19th century China, including the Canton General Chamber of Commerce, the Canton British Chamber of Commerce and the Shanghai British Chamber of Commerce, to whom previous studies paid not enough attention. Transferring the focus from the foreign diplomats and the customs commissioners to the foreign merchants, this paper argues that the development of these chambers was interwoven with the transformation of the global trade institution in China. With the impact of these organizations, the global trade institution in China was transformed from the Canton System to the Treaty Port System, a new system firstly stipulated in the Sino-British Nanjing Treaties and reconfigured in the Tientsin Treaties. In the meantime, the roles of these three organizations and their relationships with various governments changed over the period. The Shanghai British Chamber of Commerce gradually took the place of the Canton chamber, becoming the most influential mercantile group in China. Moreover, activities and the changing roles of the chambers reflected the fact that the system in Nanjing Treaties, which was mainly based on the bilateral Sino-British relationships, was incompatible with the ever-developing global trade. The reconfiguration of the trade system in the Tientsin Treaties was fruit of international competition and collaboration from both the diplomatic and the private layers. This paper attaches more importance to the foreign merchants and their influences on the trade system transformation, through which the papers explores the complexity of the West in the East, and argues that the evolving context of the Treaty Port System between two opium wars.


Jiaxin Jiang, PhD Candidate, History Faculty, Sun Yat-sen University and Visiting Student, University of Cambridge


Please register for the event via the following page:

Papers and zoom details will be sent out in advance of the event.

Friday, 27 November, 2020 - 14:00 to 15:00
Event location: