Archive for November, 2010


November 21, 2010

They say the devil takes many disguises.  After initial contact with 16th century European merchants, many Ming Dynasty Chinese would have agreed.

They called all foreign merchants “Fan Kwae,” or Foreign Devil.  The Portuguese were “Se-yang Kwae,” or Devils of the Western Ocean.  The Dutch were “Po-ssu-hu,” or Red Haired devils.  The English were also “Red Haired” devils.  Merchants from India were “White Haired” devils.  The devilish French were “Fat-lan-sy.”  Swedish devils were “Suy.”  The Danes were “Yellow Flag” devils.  Americans were “Flowery Flag” devils…

It’s understandable that the Chinese would use these terms.  In 1517 the first Portuguese ship arrived in Canton, China.  After dropping anchor without permission the ship’s captain ordered a broadside to be fired thinking it would impress the locals.  The Chinese had no idea who these people were, but the crude display of violence was most unsettling.  In 1637 the English arrived.  Tired of waiting to met by Chinese officials, the English captain also decided to get everyone’s attention with a broadside.

These foreign devils courted the Celestial Kingdom for tea, mostly.  And porcelain.  And money.  A lot of money.  Today of course the tea and porcelain are no longer relevant.  But to get an idea what the original union meant to both parties, consider how they described each other.

From a 1627 English East India Company memo:

“Concerning the trade of China, three things are especially made known unto the world.
The One is, the abundant trade it affordeth.
The Second is, that they admit no stranger into their country.
The Third is, that Trade is as Life unto the Vulgar, which in remote parts they will seek and accommodate, with Hazard of all they have.”

And from the T’ai-wan Fu-chih, an 18th century Chinese text:

“The people which we call Red-hair or Po-ssu-hu …live in the extreme west of the Ocean extending from Formosa…  They are covetous and cunning and have good knowledge of valuable commodities and are clever in seeking profits.  They spare not even their lives in looking for gain and go to the most distant regions to trade…  If one meets them on the high seas, one is often robbed by them…wherever they go, they covet rare commodities, and contrive by all means to take possession of the land.”

Not exactly a marriage made in heaven.

China Trade Porcelain. John Goldsmith Phillips.  Harvard University Press/Cambridge, MA. 1956.

The Geldermalsen, History and Porcelain. CJA Jörg.  Kemper Publishers/Groningen, The Netherlands. 1986.


A Nice Little Piece of Propaganda

November 7, 2010

The problem, as Josiah Wedgwood described it to his business partner Thomas Bentley in 1765, was this:

“This trade to our colonies we are apprehensive of losing in a few years, as they have set foot on some pottworks there already, and have at this time an agent amongst us hiring a number of our hands for establishing new a pottworks in South Carolina; having got one of our insolvent Master Potters there to conduct them.  They have every material there, equal if not superior to our own, for carrying on that manufacture; and as the necessaries of life, and consequently the price of labor amongst us are daily advancing, it is highly probable that more will follow them…”

Emigration was a thorn in the side of Wedgwood and the other English pottery moguls.  It was hard enough to keep local competitors at bay.  John Bartlem was lured away in 1765.  On October 4, 1770, Bartlem advertised in the South Carolina Gazette that he was about to open a “China manufactory and Pottery” near Charleston.  He urged other Staffordshire potters to join him.  Evidently some did.  The trickle to America eventually became a flood – due in large part to Wedgwood’s labor practices.  Something had to be done.  People had to know what they were really getting into.

So the response, as Wedgwood put it in his 1783 pamphlet entitled “To the Workmen in the Pottery on the subject of entering the service of Foreign Manufacturers,” was this:

“…This adventure being encouraged by the government of that province, the men, being puffed up with expectations of becoming gentlemen soon, wrote to their friends here what a fine way they were in and this encouraged others to follow them.  But change of climate and manner of living accompanied perhaps with a certain disorder of mind…carried them off so fast, that recruits could not be raised from England sufficient to supply the place of the dead men.”

In short, they “…fell sick as they came and all died quickly.”

The Rise of the Staffordshire Potteries. John Thomas.  Augustus Kelly Publishers/New York.  1971.

The Pottery and Porcelain of the United States. Edwin Atlee Barber.  G.P. Putnam’s Sons/New York.  1909.

The Art of the Potter. Diana and J. Garrison Stradling.  Main Street-Universe Books/New York.  1977.