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Merchants of War and PeaceBritish Knowledge of China in the Making of the Opium War$
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Song-Chuan Chen

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9789888390564

Published to Hong Kong Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.5790/hongkong/9789888390564.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM HONG KONG SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.hongkong.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Hong Kong University Press, 2022. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in HKSO for personal use.date: 03 July 2022

Breaking the Soft Border

Breaking the Soft Border

(p.38) 3 Breaking the Soft Border
Merchants of War and Peace

Song-Chuan Chen

Hong Kong University Press

A third force at play in the British maritime public sphere, an inadvertent participant neither anti-war nor pro-war, was the ‘Canton system’. More than the physical border of the Thirteen Factories (Canton’s foreign trading quarters), the Canton system was primarily a ‘soft border’ made of a series of rules and regulations that constrained British merchants’ activities in China and restricted their interaction with Qing subjects. Soft borders here were figurative borderlines on the maritime frontier that cut through transnational information and interaction networks. By preventing interactions other than those necessary for trade, the Qing believed they had successfully prevented the possibility of foreigners joining forces with Chinese rebels—the dynasty’s major threat. The security order in Canton was paramount to the Qing ruling class. However, the Warlike party believed it necessary to start a war to abolish the system that confined British trade expansion and insulted the British Empire.

Keywords:   Canton system, Canton lobby, soft border, mutual responsibility system, Chinese knowledge of Europeans

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