How did we end up with a trade war?

Local | Bernard Charnwut Chan 30 Jan 2019

Trade relations between China and the United States have been in the headlines recently.

If you want some historical context, you should head over to the Hong Kong Maritime Museum on the Central harbor front to see their special exhibition, The Dragon and the Eagle: American Traders in China, A Century of Trade from 1784 to 1900.

The exhibition examines the development of trade between what was then the ancient empire of China and the world's newest republic.

It covers several themes, starting with American merchants' visions of profiting from direct commerce with Asia after they became free of British trade restrictions. It goes onto to examine how traders broke into the new market, starting with a ship the "Empress of China" calling at Canton (Guangzhou) in 1784.

The story continues with technological and navigational developments that led to bigger and faster ships and better sailing routes, making long-distance trade more economical. The expansion of the United States to the Pacific coast also had an impact.

The exhibition also looks at the interaction between consumer tastes in America and the sorts of goods, such as tea and silks, that these ships carried.Not least, visitors can learn about the ways trade helped to build social and cultural ties between two different and distant peoples.

If today's news sounds a bit gloomy, this exhibition is a good reminder that US-Chinese economic relations go back a long way and have benefited both sides. See www.hkmaritimemuseum.org for details.

Bernard Charnwut Chan is chairman of The Jockey Club CPS Advisory Committee

standard@bernardchan.com

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