Karl Marx in New York Daily Tribune
Articles On China, 1853-1860

Trade and the Treaty

Written: October 5, 1858;
Transcribed by: Harold Newson;
HTML Mark-up: Andy Blunden;

October 5, 1858

THE UNSUCCESSFUL issue, in a commercial point of view, of Sir Henry Pottinger's Chinese treaty, signed on August 29, 1842, and dictated, like the new treaties with China, at the cannon's mouth, is a fact now recollected even by that eminent organ of British Free Trade, the London Economist. Having stood forward as one of the staunchest apologists of the late invasion of China, that journal now feels itself obliged to "temper" the sanguine hopes which have been cultivated in other quarters. The Economist considers the effects on the British export trade of the treaty of 1842, "a precedent by which to guard ourselves against the result of mistaken operations." This certainly is sound advice. The reasons, however, which Mr. Wilson alleges in explanation of the failure of the first attempt at forcibly enlarging the Chinese market for Western produce, appear far from conclusive.

The first great cause pointed out of the signal failure is the speculative overstocking of the Chinese market, during the first three years following the Pottinger treaty, and the carelessness of the English merchants as to the nature of the Chinese demand. The English exports to China which, in 1836, amounted to 1,326,000, had fallen in 1842 to 969000

Their rapid and continued rise during the following six years is shown by these figures:

1842 969,000 1843 1,456,000 1844 2,305,000 1845 2,295,000

Yet in 1846 the exports did not only sink below the level of 1836, but the disasters overtaking the China houses at London during the crisis of 1847 proved the computed value of the exports from 1843 to 1846, such as it appears in the official return tables, to have by no means corresponded to the value actually realized. If the English exporters thus erred in the quantity, they did not less so in the quality of the articles offered to Chinese consumption. In proof of the latter assertion, the Economist quotes from Mr. W. Cooke, the late correspondent of the London Times at Shanghai and Canton, the following passages:

"In 1843, 1844 and 1845, when the northern ports had just been opened, the people at home were wild with excitement. An eminent firm at Sheffield sent out a large consignment of knives and forks, and declared themselves prepared to supply all China with cutlery... They were sold at prices which scarcely realized their freight. A London house, of famous name, sent out a tremendous consignment of pianofortes, 'which shared the same fate.' What happened in the case of cutlery and pianos occurred also, in a less noticeable manner, 'in the case of worsted and cotton manufactures.' ...Manchester made a great blind effort when the ports were opened, and that effort failed. Since then she has fallen into an apathy, and trusts to the chapter of accidents."

Lastly, to prove the dependence of the reduction, maintenance or improvement of the trade, on the study of the wants of the consumer, the Economist reproduces from the same authority the following return for the year 1856:

1845. 1846. 1856. Worsted Stuffi (pieces) 13,569 3,415 7,428 Camlets 13,374 8,034 4,470 Long ells 91,531 75,784 96,642 Woollens 62,731 56,996 38,553 Printed Cottons 100,615 8x,150 281,784 Plain Cottons 2,998,126 1,859,740 2,817,624 Cotton Twist lbs 2,640,098 5,324,050 5,579,600

Now all these arguments and illustrations explain nothing beyond the reaction following the overtrade of 1843-45, It is a phenomenon by no means peculiar to the Chinese trade, that a sudden expansion of commerce should be followed by its violent contractions, or that a new market, at its opening. should be choked by British oversupplies; the articles thrown upon it being not very nicely calculated, in regard either to the actual wants or the paying powers of the consumers. In fact, this is a standing feature in the history of the markets of the world. On Napoleon's fall, after the opening of the European continent, British exports proved so disproportionate to the continental faculties of absorption that "the transition from war to peace" proved more disastrous than the continental system itself. Canning's recognition of the independence of the Spanish colonies in America was also instrumental in producing the commercial crisis of 1825 Wares calculated for the meridian of Moscow were then dispatched to Mexico and Colombia. And in our own day, notwithstanding its elasticity, even Australia has not escaped the fate common to all new markets, of having its powers of consumption as well as its means of payment over-stocked. The phenomenon peculiar to the Chinese market is this: that since its opening by the treaty of 1842, the export to Great Britain of tea and silk, of Chinese produce, has continually been expanding, while the import trade into China of British manufactures has, on the whole, remained stationary. The continuous and increasing balance of trade in favour of China might be said to bear an analogy to the state of commercial balance between Russia and Great Britain; but then, in the latter case, everything is explained by the protective policy of Russia, while the Chinese import duties are lower than those of any other country England trades with. The aggregate value of Chinese exports to England, which before 1842 might be rated at about IC.7,000,000, amounted in 1856 to the sum of about IC 9,500,000. While the quantity of tea imported into Great Britain never reached more than 50,000,000 lbs. before 1842, it had swollen in 1856 to about 90,000,000 lbs. On the other hand, the importance of the British import of Chinese silks only dates from 1852. Its progress may be computed from the following figures:

1852. 1853. 1854. 1855. 1856. Silk imp'd lbs 2,418,343 2,838,047 4,576,706 4,436,962 3,723,693 Value .... .... 3,318,II2 3,013,396 3,676,116

Now take, on the other hand, the movement of the


1834 842,852 1835 1,074,708 1836 1,326,388 1838 1,204,356

For the period following the opening of the market in 1842 and the acquisition of Hong Kong by the British, we find the following returns:

1845 2,359,000 1846 1,200,000 1848 1,445,950 1852 2,508,399 1853 1,749,597 1854 1,000,716 1855 1,122,241 1856 upward of 2,000,000

The Economist tries to account for the stationary and relatively decreasing imports of British manufacture into the Chinese market by foreign competition, and Mr. Cooke is again quoted to bear witness to this proposition. According to this authority, the English are beaten by fair competition in the Chinese market in many branches of trade. The Americans, he says, beat the English in drills and sheetings. At Shanghai in 1856 the imports were 221,716 pieces of American drills, against 8,745 English, and 14,420 of American sheetings, against 1,240 English. In woollen goods, on the other hand, Germany and Russia are said to press hardly on their English rivals. We want no other proof than this illustration to convince us that Mr. Cooke and the Economist are both mistaken in the appreciation of the Chinese market. They consider as limited to the Anglo-Chinese trade features which are exactly reproduced in the trade between the United States and the Celestial Empire. In 1837, the excess of the Chinese exports to the United States over the imports into China was about 860,000. During the period since the treaty of 1842, the United States have received an annual average of 2,000,000 in Chinese produce, for which we paid in American merchandise 900,000. Of the 1,602,849 to which the aggregate imports into Shanghai, exclusive of specie and opium, amounted in 1855, England supplied 1,122,24I, America 272,708, and other countries 207,900; while the exports reached a total of 12,603,540, of which 6,405,040 were to England, 5,396,406 to America, and 102,088 to other countries. Compare only the American exports to the value of 272,708 with their imports from Shanghai exceeding 5,000,000. If, nevertheless, American competition has, to any sensible degree, made inroads on British traffic, how limited a field of employment for the aggregate commerce of foreign nations the Chinese market must offer.

The last cause assigned to the trifling importance the Chinese import market has assumed since its opening in 1842, is the Chinese revolution, but notwithstanding that revolution, the exports to China relatively [swelled] in 1851-52, in the general increase of trade, and, during the whole of the revolutionary epoch, the opium trade, instead of falling off, rapidly obtained colossal dimensions. However that may be, this much will be admitted, that all the obstacles to foreign imports originating in the disordered state of the empire must be increased, instead of being diminished, by the late piratical war, and the fresh humiliations heaped on the ruling dynasty.

It appears to us, after a careful survey of the history of Chinese commerce, that, generally speaking, the consuming and paying powers of the Cclestials have been greatly overestimated. With the present economical framework of Chinese society, which turns upon diminutive agriculture and domestic manufactures as its pivots, any large import of foreign produce is out of the question. Still, to the amount of L8,000,000, a sum which may be roughly calculated to form the aggregate balance in favour of China, as against England and the United States, it might gradually absorb a surplus quantity of English and American goods if the opium trade were suppressed. This conclusion is necessarily arrived at on the analysis of the simple fact that the Chinese finances and monetary circulation, in spite of the favourable balance of trade, are seriously deranged by an import of opium to the amount of about 7,000,000.

John Bull, however, used to plume himself on his high standard of morality, prefers to bring up his adverse balance of trade by periodical war tributes extorted from China on piratical pretexts. He only forgets that the Carthegenian and Roman methods of making foreign people pay, are, if combined in the same hands, sure to clash with and destroy each other.