China sold porcelain, tea, and silk to the West; the West forced Opium on China

Chinese porcelain originated in the Shang Dynasty (16th century BC), and Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province is a well-known Chinese city where porcelain has been an important production center in China since the early Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD).

Caravans carried China’s famous porcelains west: ceramic lusterware, lacquerware, snow-white vases, bowls, glasses, and dishes with sophisticated patterns. Only the Chinese knew the secret of making the thinnest and resonant porcelain, making it very expensive in European markets. Silk Road Encyclopedia.com and Gotheborg.com

Chinese porcelain was also available in the American colonies as early as the 17th century, but it did not become commonplace until after 1730. Before the U.S. Revolution, porcelain was exported to the colonies mainly by English and Dutch traders. European traders sailed to Canton (Guangzhou) in southern China, exchanged their goods (mostly opium) for Chinese products, and then returned to sell porcelain and other Chinese imports on the European and colonial markets. In addition to porcelain, teas, and silks were also exported from China in large quantities. Mount Vernon.org

Early American Trade With China says, “The demand for Chinese products: tea, porcelain, silk, and nankeen (a coarse, strong cotton cloth), continued after the U.S. Revolution. Having seen the British make great profits from the trade when the colonies were prevented from direct trade with China, Americans were eager to secure these profits for themselves.”

This hunger for Chinese products, while the Chinese found little in the West to buy, led to the Opium Wars, which Britain and France started, and won, to force China to even the trade imbalance.

China continued to sell the West silk, porcelain. and tea, while the West sold opium to China even though China’s emperors did not want the opium trade.

Discover China’s First Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, the man that unified China more than 2,000 years ago.

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