What I know: During the period leading up to the Opium Wars, trade into China from Europe was locked down to 13 buildings in Canton known as the 13 factories. European merchants were only permitted to do business in the 13 factories.

What I want to know: What title were the merchants who had authorization to deal with the europeans in the 13 factories called? Was there a title for these merchants who were allowed to deal with the outsiders? Was this even a special privilege, or could anyone walk into the 13 factories and strike a deal?

While we're at it, what's a better name than "the period leading up to the Opium Wars" for this period in Chinese history? That's obviously a eurocentric way to specify the time period, and I'd rather not do that.

I'm shamelessly crossposting this with the Chinese Language Stack Exchange, because I can't figure out which one is the "right" place to put this question. If there's a clear policy on which one I should have used, please accept my apologies in advance and educate me.

  • 2
    I believe Chinese history is usually divided up by imperial dynasties, so this would be "during the Qing dynasty". However, that covers three centuries, so probably not the resolution you are looking for. If you want finer resolution, you'll probably need to go with the name of the Emperor at the time (Yongzheng Emperor?).
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 16:26
  • en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hong_(business)
    – Spencer
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 16:53

1 Answer 1


I'm not deeply familiar with this history and don't know Chinese, but can link you to some relevant terminology from Wikipedia.

The institutional arrangements for foreign trade under the Qing dyansty prior to the Opium War are widely known as the Canton System. Apparently the primary Chinese term for this was yīkǒu tōngshāng (一口通商) meaning "single [port] trading relations".

The Thirteen Factories at the center of the Canton System were referred to individually as hong and collectively as the cohong (公行) meaning "public trade".

The hubu (户部) or hoppo was the Qing official who oversaw the Canton System as Administrator of the Canton Customs or Yuèhǎi Guānbù (粵海關部).

On the European side, a key individual person dealing with the cohong would have been the supercargo of a ship.

  • Thanks! All good info. The specific term I'm looking for is what the merchants on the Chinese side were titled. If the merchant companies were "hong", what were the merchants themselves called?
    – baudot
    Commented Mar 24, 2019 at 23:37

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