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Shanghai And The West: First Contact


For several hours, virtually every day, over a period of six months in late 1606 and early 1607, father Matteo Ricci, the pioneer Jesuit missionary to China, sought to convey the precise meaning of Euclid’s Elements to Xu Guangqi, a convert to Christianity, known as Paul Xu. Laboriously, he read and explained the contents of one of the seminal books of Western civilisation so that Xu could translate it. The axiomatic style of The Elements was difficult to convey in Chinese, which had no copulative verb, linking complement to subject, in the affirmative. Furthermore, China had no mathematical tradition of definition.

After many years of study and struggle with the Chinese examination system, Xu had passed the jinshi examination two years before. He was appointed to the elite Hanlin Academy, from whose ranks the most important positions in Chinese administration were filled.

Xu was a member of a wealthy gentry family from Shanghai, a background without any tradition of scholarly attainment, but which had an estate just outside Shanghai at Xujiahui, which would become a Jesuit sanctuary. Eventually Xu would hold the rank of Grand Secretary in Beijing – in effect Prime Minister to the Chinese Emperor – probably the highest post that any native of Shanghai has held in China. It is definitely the highest post ever held by a Christian.

Shanghai was a natural harbour safely tucked away 12 miles south of the mouth of the Huangpu River, the last tributary before the 50 mile wide Yangzi pours into the East China Sea. The Yangzi basin is a vast deltaic plain, created over the millennia by the eternal pulse of the muddy Yangzi, sweeping down over 3,000 miles of China and depositing hundreds of millions of tones of rich alluvial soil each year. “Earth”, an ancient proverb said “destroys water” just as, in the symbiotic circular antagonism of the Five Elements of Nature, “water destroys fire”; “fire destroys metal”; “metal destroys wood”; and “wood destroys earth”. Shanghai sat on several hundred feet of thick alluvial loam – earth that had displaced water – on the edge of a dense network of waterways created by hydraulic engineering.

It was, probably, his personal background in a family concerned with practical affairs in a region preoccupied with and dependent on the control of water that had attracted Xu to what the West had to offer. Early in his career he had produced a detailed proposal about the control of water which displayed a knowledge of Chinese mathematics and its practical application in the surveying of land and the drawing of maps.

Ricci had received a rigorous training in mathematics and astronomy at the Collegio Romano, the Jesuit University in Rome where he was taught by Christopherus Clavius, one of the great Renaissance mathematicians. He brought a detailed knowledge of Euclid’s text on his mission to China.

Xu would later explain his fascination for Euclid: “Western mathematics is more valuable as it supplies explanations which show why the methods are correct”. This was in contrast with the Chinese mathematical tradition, which had always concentrated on how to solve a problem, rather than upon the proof to explain why the solution worked. Rigorous proof had never been a goal of Chinese mathematics. However, such proof was of pivotal significance to the practical application of mathematical knowledge. Scorned by the scholarly class, which emphasized learning the humanities, Chinese mathematics had, to a significant degree, became the reserve of magicians who propounded geomancy and chose lucky days.

Ricci wrote in his Introduction to the Chinese edition of Euclid:

“My remote western country, though small in size, is unique among all other nations in the analytical rigor with which it schools examine natural phenomena. For this reason we have many books that investigate such phenomena in the fullest detail. Our scholars take the basic premise of their discussions to be the search for truth according to reason and they don’t accept other people’s unsubstantiated opinions. They say that investigation using reason can lead to scientific knowledge, while someone else’s opinions lead only to my own new opinions. A scientific knowledge is absence of doubt, opinion is always accompanied by doubt.”

When Xu and Ricci published Euclid, the level of Chinese technological development was still considerably higher than that of the West. Ricci in his Introduction to Euclid correctly prophesied the change to come. He summarized the practical utility of geometry, including in the design of mechanical devices for lifting weights or moving goods, the application to irrigation and drainage mechanisms, for the design of locks in waterways, the development of optical devices, the accurate geographic representation in maps and, with particular emphasis, the effectiveness of weapons such as the cannon, together with the calculation of military logistics and maneuvers and the construction of fortifications.

In the years to come, the influence of the translation of Euclid waned as Chinese mathematics reverted to a myth of a golden past when Chinese mathematics had once been highly developed but destroyed by an ignorant Emperor. Indeed, in his Preface to the translation Xu had felt obliged to refer to this Chinese loss. There developed a belief that Euclid had in fact had access to these now lost Chinese sources and, therefore, had nothing to say which could not be discovered within China itself.

In the centuries ahead new scrolls would be discovered. They indicated that Chinese mathematical knowledge had had just such a regression. Chinese mathematics became about finding rather than creating and the view developed that Western mathematics, like everything else from the West, had nothing to offer.

One of the reasons why Euclid’s Elements was treated with suspicion was the question raised by later mathematicians as to why it was that only the first six books of Euclid had been translated into Chinese. Xu had wanted to translate the whole but Ricci, in accordance with the actual curriculum of the Collegio Romano that he had studied, knew that it was the first six books that mattered.

The later Chinese mathematicians wanted to know what it was that Western scholars were trying to hide from them, perhaps it was the original Chinese sources. Books 7 to 15 of Euclid would not be translated until the mid 19th century when, in the Shanghai compound of the London Missionary Society, a technically trained evangelist called Alexander Wiley would each morning, together with the corpulent Chinese mathematician Li Shan-Lan, go through the same painstaking process that Xu Guangqi and Matteo Ricci had undertaken two and a half centuries before.

By then, however, the advances of Western technology, determined in large measure by Euclidean methodology, had returned and enforced a new technological superiority, notably at Shanghai itself. * * * * * * * *

On 20 June 1832, with symbolism bordering on the vulgar, two English sailors from The Lord Amherst shouldered open the locked entrance gates of the major public building in Shanghai so that their commander could present a petition demanding that the city be opened to British trade. As the commander, Hugh Hamilton Lindsay, reported to his superiors in the British East India Company: “They shook them off their hinges and brought them down with a great clatter”. However, conscious of British standards of proper behavior, he took pains to report that, of course, he had knocked first.

Inside the compound, the Chinese officials, who had spent the morning sending polite messages of prohibition to Lindsay, finally accepted that the visitors were incapable of civilized behavior and invited them for tea. None of these mandarins, as members of the official class were already called by Europeans, had ever had direct contact with the fortress community of Western traders at Guangzhou, then called Canton, so they assumed that a soothing example of proper decorum would lead to the cessation of this brash disruption.

“You cannot trade here”, the second ranking official in Shanghai told Lindsay. “You must go to Guangzhou”.

However, Lindsay’s covert mission for the East India Company – whose monopoly on the China trade was under threat and would be removed two years later – was precisely to test how strictly the rule that Western trade had to go through Guangzhou would be enforced. He demanded an audience with the senior official in the City, the Daotai. The message from the Daotai was the same: “It is an unheard of thing for any ship to come to Shanghai”, he told Lindsay, and what was without precedent was plainly impermissible. “Conform to the established laws of the Celestial Empire”, he continued, “and don’t trouble us with your presence”.

From the first cup of tea, the Chinese engaged Lindsay in detailed negotiations about his departure. Would he stand or be permitted to sit in the presence of the Chinese officials? Eventually he sat. Would he take back his original petition once it had been read and copied? He wouldn’t. Would he accept a reply to his petition which used terminology of rejection not just refusal? No, he wouldn’t. Most of all, so far as the later folklore on the China coast was concerned, he was the first to reject the use of the word translated as “barbarian”, which Chinese officials had hitherto used to describe Europeans.

Two days before Lindsay’s arrival, the Daotai, warned of the approach of The Lord Amherst, had issued a public proclamation stating: “All commercial intercourse with the barbarian ship is strictly forbidden”.

Reacting to the use of the word “barbarian”, Lindsay protested: “The affront is intolerable, for by such conduct the respectability of my own country would suffer. The great English nation has never been a barbarian nation, but a foreign nation”.

A document was produced which referred to him as an “English trader”. Even though the Shanghai public never saw it, Lindsay was placated. However, his conduct was not calculated to convince any Chinese that the term was inappropriate.

Lindsay could neither buy nor sell without official connivance – approval being out of the question. The Daotai offered Lindsay the supplies he needed as gifts. Lindsay, perhaps perversely for a trader, refused to accept. He was determined to buy them, if only to establish some slight precedent for trade. The Chinese officials eventually relented the prohibition, when it became clear that Lindsay’s refusal would delay his departure.

Lindsay stayed for 18 days. The official report to Beijing explained that the length of the stay was only due to the inability of the barbarian ship to travel in the inclement weather. The barbarians, it said “came only to plead for trade, but since they had now been enlightened by proclamations (about the Imperial law) they perceived and repented and did not dare ask for trade again”. Once the wind had changed, of course, the barbarians “dared not loiter”. Most significantly, it was formally reported, there were no “clandestine dealings” in Shanghai.

The Governor of Jiangsu Province at this time was Lin Ze-Xu, a strong-willed vigorous and unusually incorruptible Confucian official with the appropriate nickname of “Blue Sky”, representing his stainless character. He suggested that The Lord Amherst be searched for opium, and if any was found, that it should be burned. He was reprimanded for this suggestion from Beijing. He had failed to appreciate the barbarian’s misfortune in not knowing how to behave properly. He had forgotten that indirect action and economy of effort were basic principles of good government, the objective of which was to re-establish harmony, not to ensure that some abstract principle were satisfied. The task of a good official was frequently stated as: “To reduce big matters into small matters and small matters into nothing”.

At this stage opium could still be regarded as a small matter capable of control. Eventually Lin was promoted to the Governor-Generalship of two inland provinces and vigorously enforced the law against opium smoking. However, as the problem grew, he was appointed as the Imperial Commissioner at Guangzhou and there took steps to eradicate the poison from Chinese society that would lead to the first Opium War and the creation of Shanghai as a Western treaty port.

The visit of The Lord Amherst was described, in the formal report from the Shanghai officials, in terms of the restoration of harmony by the skillful management of the local officials. However, by the time those reports reached Beijing it was known that The Lord Amherst had continued its voyage by travelling, impermissibly, to the north. The Shanghai officials were then chastised for their failure in “soothing and controlling the outlandish foreigners”.

Lindsay and Gutzlaff also made their reports which were published in England and became very influential. Lindsay was particularly critical of the deceptive conduct of the local officials referring to their “petty and degrading duplicity”. He said this without a trace of embarrassment about the fact that, in order to hide his association with the East India Company, Lindsay had given a false name and claimed to be a private trader blown off course on a voyage from Bengal to Japan. Gutzlaff, who had also given a false name and translated everything that Lindsay said, had spent some of his time distributing Chinese language excerpts from the Bible and certain religious tracts with such titles as “A Tract against Lying”; “A Tract against Gambling” and “A Tract in Praise of Honesty”.

Lindsay was adamant as to the model of effective European conduct. “Compliance” he reported, “begets insolence; opposition and defiance produces servility and friendly professions”. It apparently never crossed his mind that he was simply being humored in order to speed his departure.

In his report, Lindsay’s strongest contempt was reserved for his assessment of Chinese military prowess. He dismissed the war junks he saw as “wretched and inefficient”. He thought the army, with its antiquated and decrepit armaments, would be dispatched by one-tenth the number of European troops.

Gutzlaff, the missionary, plainly shared the low value placed on military virtues by the Chinese scholar gentry and its difficulty in accepting the proposition that great skill in the art of killing others was a mark of a superior civilization. He seemed to understand the Chinese position when he said: “From the long peace which China has enjoyed, all their military works have fallen into decay. They even seem anxious that all should crumble into dust and that wars should be blotted from remembering … They detest bloodshed and have generally made the greatest sacrifices to prevent it. We attach no blame to their cowardice”, a word he clearly used bearing his European audience in mind, “but hope that while they continue to be pacific they will cease to be overbearing towards other nations who have power to humble their arrogance”.

The Shanghai that Lindsay visited was a great trading port. On his first approach, just beyond a protective bend in the river where the Huangpu veered north and the Suzhou Creek came in from the west, Lindsay had seen a forest of masts. During his stay his sailors had counted the junk traffic reporting, in one week, the arrival of about 400 trading and fishing junks, ranging from 100 to 400 tonnes in size.

The city, Lindsay would report, “possesses extraordinary advantages for foreign trade. One of the main causes of its importance is found in its fine harbour and navigable river by which, in point of fact, Shanghai is the seaport of the Yangzi and the principal emporium of Eastern Asia”.

Shanghai was also surrounded by an extensive productive region, particularly of cotton. As Gutzlaff reported: “As far as the eye could reach over this extensive plain, there was no spot bare of cultivation or of exuberant vegetation”.

All of this was the product of massive construction projects which had built protective seawalls, drained marshes, created canals, established flood control systems, redirected and dredged rivers, which infrastructure had largely been created at a time when Lindsay’s and Gutzlaff’s ancestors were being called “barbarians” in Latin.

Indeed, it was engineering that created the safe haven of Shanghai harbour by diverting the original flow of the river towards the north, so that it became a tributary of the Yangzi and no longer flowed directly to the sea and the perennial need to dredge silt was removed.

The advantages of Shanghai’s natural location were, however, not sufficient to ensure its mercantile role. By Imperial edict, as far as I am aware, of unknown purpose but typical of the detailed political interference with commerce, junks from the south were not permitted to go beyond the Yangzi and junks engaged in trade from the north were not permitted to go further south. Reorienting the river to become a tributary of the Yangzi established Shanghai as an entrepot where junks from both north and south could call. Shanghai merchants acting as commission agents, jobbers or brokers, accumulated supplies from small producers or broke down bulk shipments from both the south and the north, dispatching the repackaged goods on their way. They also traded in the considerable agricultural and manufactured produce of the region.

Shanghai junks of brown oiled wood with four masts, engaged in trade with the northern coastal provinces, exchanging the products of the south and of the Yangzi basin, notably silk and cotton, for northern products such as the Shandong peninsula’s soya beans, a versatile source of numerous food forms which, even after being fed to animals, returned 80 percent of their fertilizing value to the land on which cotton was grown in the region. Through the port flowed an endless stream of food stuffs – rice, sugar, fungi, fish, tea, fruit and gourmet delicacies like birds nests – as well as timber, bamboo, shoes, paper, leather goods and cotton or silk products in every form.

The goods carried north had been brought to Shanghai on the flat bottom sand junks of Jiangsu Province or on the round bottom junks from the southern province of Fujien with their high elaborately painted sterns or on the black hulled Ningbo junks from the adjoining province of Zhejiang or on a flotilla of varied designs from the places permitted to trade in Shanghai including Thailand, Malaya, Taiwan, Vietnam and Japan, but not Westerners.

Every week hundreds of junks with their high sterns, out thrust bows, watertight compartments, massive rudders capable of performing as keels, square lug sails with separately maneuverable panels each stiffened by bamboo battens, would discharge and collect goods directly from the wharves along the deep river frontage. Other junks made up the large fishing fleet based in Shanghai. All of these junks were extremely efficient vessels, of great structural rigidity, able to sail very close to the wind. The centuries old Chinese technological superiority with respect to sailing ships had only recently been surpassed in the west. The Huangpu River and its surrounding network of creeks and canals teemed with countless sampans transporting material within the river port.

The owners of the junks and sampans, like the crew of the East India Company on its ships, found it expedient to permit their crews to engage in trade on their own account. An entrepreneurial spirit was alive in Shanghai, within the confines of an inhospitable political system.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the Shanghai trade was the fact that the largest single item of China’s internal trade was diverted elsewhere. This was the grain tribute, a national system of taxation by which the Qing Emperors, descendants of the conquerors from the northern province of Manchuria who expelled the Han Ming Dynasty, fed their northern provinces by means of the Grand Canal, an internal man-made transportation route, safely distant from the pirates who had, in the past, attacked the coastal provinces.

In 1824, when the canal had completely silted up just north of the Yangzi river, urgent alternative arrangements had to be made. Over 1500 privately owned junks were chartered to carry the grain from Shanghai to Tianjin in the north. The success of this alternative route and its superior economic efficiency should have been apparent. However, Chinese commerce was not capable of adapting in this way. The dominant Confucian ideology, based on centuries of experience and contemplation, emphasized the preservation of social harmony. Economic productivity was not highly regarded.

Accordingly, the grain tax from the Yangzi Basin did not come through Shanghai but went inland into the interstices of a debilitating bureaucratic machine, the Beijing controlled Grain Tribute Administration, for transport by the specialist Grain Transport Service through the Grand Canal, which was the particular preserve of these corrupt conglomerates.

Tens of thousands of hereditary boatmen, who sometimes assigned their rights to vagrant laborers, poled and hauled grain barges along the 1,000 mile, flood prone, frequently silting Grand Canal, past hundreds of overland inspection points, protected by a specialist constabulary, directed by ever increasing layers of official sinecures, on all of which numerous communities were reliant. The euphemistically styled “inspection fees”, payable at each of the superfluous inspection points, almost trebled between 1800 and 1821 as the venality of the officials was given free reign. Every effort to divert even part of the transport to the swifter, cheaper coastal route had been stymied by the strength of the vested interests dependent on the trade.

Officials who advocated the permanent adoption of the alternative coastal route were rebuffed. Indeed, they in fact received no support from the Shanghai junk owners who apparently had most to gain. However, the Shanghai maritime merchants had prospered on the periphery of official China. They had no desire to engage in a trade which necessarily involved bureaucratic supervision that would inevitably attach itself, like barnacles, to their fleet. For much the same reasons they were not excited, at first, by the prospect of trade with the Europeans.

The Shanghai of 1832, when The Lord Amherst arrived, was a city of some quarter of a million with an equivalent number in the immediately surrounding region. It bore no resemblance to the Chinese urban ideal, based on cosmological principles, of a square, walled city containing a precise grid of north south and east west intersecting avenues. This was never an official city. It was always a mercantile city. It had never been a capital of anything – not of a province, or of a prefecture. Eventually, it had become a city of the lowest possible official status, well below its economic significance.

Shanghai was oval shaped, with an attempt to create some order by 12 to 15 foot wide streets, located in a dense cobweb of six-foot wide alleys. It was surrounded by a 27 feet high, three-mile long wall, beyond which the city spilled in a compressed clutter of wooden houses, which congested the area between the wall and the riverside warehouses and piers where the junks, anchored in tiers, housed a floating population of unknown size. Such sense of urban design in the old city as had survived from the time of the Ming was entirely absent in the suburban sprawl to the east and south of the city wall.

The wall had been built during the Ming dynasty about 300 years before, ostensibly as a protection against marauding Japanese pirates. Old maps suggest that the Ming city had a gracious urban design with many gardens and temples. Under the Qing dynasty, real estate developers had obliterated most elements of grace.

By 1832 the city spread back gracelessly from the embankment rampart against the wall – an expanse of black tiles over tightly packed one storey buildings with weathered, grey-dull brick walls interspersed with temples, which provided a contrasting curved roofline of glazed tiles and the traditional upturned corner eaves, described in a Chinese poem as “bird’s wings spread out ready for flight”.

The serpentine street layouts slithered around a network of internal canals, theoretically cleansed twice a day by the tidal Huangpu through the city wall gates, but more frequently clogged by refuse and silt, stagnant and unsuitable for personal use without the liberal application of alum, a hydrated salt which served as a flocculent, aggregating the contents into removable sediment.

There was no street lighting, no sewerage, no water reticulation and no system of garbage disposal. The streets were cleaned by the rain, the mud was dried by the sun and the dust was swept by the wind. The collection of night soil was a private business enterprise with daily pickups from dwellings for sale as fertiliser to surrounding farms. Everything else went into the streets or the local canals.

The inexplicable hierarchy of streets and alleys – some impressively paved with flagstones, others merely with bricks or tiles – which was only tangentially related to destination or function, were all slippery with water, carried from wells and canals in buckets swinging on bamboo poles to homes for drinking and to the numerous bathing establishments where a steam room and hot water baths, 30 feet by 20 feet, were available at a price, in November 1843, of 6 copper cash or 1 British farthing – or 18 cash for first class treatment with private room, a cup of tea and a puff of tobacco.

The water carriers were an omnipresent feature of the bustling treadmill of daily life, a kaleidoscopic congestion of intense activity: bamboo pole coolies, jugglers, storytellers, fast food vendors, barbers, beggars with every conceivable human injury – often self-inflicted, storekeepers behind scarlet and gilt signboards, hotfooted sedan chairs and cumbersome wheelbarrows. Invariably there was a clamorous procession for either a funeral, a wedding or some religious observance, jangling and clinking towards one of the hundreds of temples and shrines individually dedicated to Gods with separate responsibility for wind, thunder, lightning, rain, agriculture, plague, pestilence, drought, literature, war, fire – the God of fire had two shrines, one of which was conveniently juxtaposed with a shrine for the God of water.

In the cacophony of deities that constituted Daoist religious practice, each separate trade had its own God from whom practitioners sought protection, harmony, salvation and prosperity for themselves and their community. Tea merchants had Luiu, beancurd traders had Liuan, rice dealers had Jiangxianggong, with other Gods for cooks and carpenters, barbers and butchers, cake makers and calligraphers, fishermen and financiers, printers and potters, dyers and diviners. Even the mandarin scholars, after many years of invoking the assistance of Kuixing, the God of Examinations, eventually graduated to Wenchang, a brilliant scholar of the Tang Dynasty immortalized as the God of Literature who, understandably, also served double duties as the patron God of stationers.

However, in Shanghai the greatest number of temples and shrines were dedicated to Tian Hou, the Queen of Heaven, the patron God of sailors. Her image was carried on every junk. She was a fisherman’s daughter from Fujien province and became Shanghai’s most popular selection from the Chinese pantheon of specialist gods. This, after all, was a major port.

Within the walled city, the temple of the city god, Chenghuan Miaou, was the place where the city magistrate, with his full entourage of chair bearers, militia, runners and secretaries, came to perform essential rituals on the 1st and 15th of each month. It was, like all the public buildings of Shanghai, an undistinguished structure.

Behind the temple, however, lay a significant element of civic virtue: a garden and a magnificent one at that. The Yu Yuan garden – the only remaining large garden of the Ming city – would not have been out of place in one of the great cities of the Empire, even in the provincial capital of Suzhou, 150 miles away, traditionally known for its magnificent gardens and as a Center of style, learning, art, grace, elegance and beautiful women – everything that a tawdry port and mercantile city could only envy.

The Shanghai garden was a labyrinth of snaking paths, of curving walls capped with undulating dragons, of grotesque rockeries – including a 25 foot high artificial mountain and a nine foot high single piece of perforated grey/green limestone, gnarled, porous and craggy, known as the Exquisite Jade Rock, originally selected for the Imperial collection by the rock convoys of the eccentric, art loving 12th century Emperor Hui Zong, but its transport had sunk near Shanghai. There were pavilions, courtyards, stairs, zigzag corridors, winding balustrades, terraces, wood carvings, stone statuary, molded tiles, lattice windows, moon doorways, semi-circular bridges, pebble patterned pavements, benches, sculptured reliefs, poetry inscribed panels, flowers, shrubs, bamboo groves, contorted trees, waterfalls, streams and ponds, all intricately sequestered and creatively intertwined to adduce surprise, to intrigue, to charm, to pacify, to salve or to relax the viewer through nature’s cycle of birth, growth and decay in the changing seasons.

There was no expanse of green grass and symmetrical flower beds of the Western garden tradition, which manifests a determination to conquer nature, rather than to rejoice in its lack of discipline. “Grass” as one Chinese gardener languidly and dismissively observed “while no doubt pleasing to a cow, could hardly engage the intellect of human beings”.

A Chinese garden such as this is a work of art, transforming and transcending its constituent elements into a total enveloping work requiring the skills of a painter, a sculptor, an architect, a naturalist, a landscaper and a poet, the combination of diverse talent creating an enfolding, changing art form of a kind not hitherto attempted in Europe, with the partial exception of the medieval cathedrals.

It had been the wealthy merchants of Shanghai who had originally bought the privately owned Yu Yuan garden and donated it to the City Temple as a public space. Major merchant guilds, including those for banking, the bean trade, hats, shoes, flowers, jewellery, firewood, butchery, copper utensils, and the beggars had their meeting places in the 30 pavilions of the Yu Yuan garden. Each guild accepted responsibility for the maintenance and development of its portion of this public facility. Far from the Daoist ideal of a scholar recluse seeking serenity by communing with nature, which the original garden designer – Zhang Nanyang, who built some of the great gardens of Suzhou – sought to invoke, the new owners superimposed intense commercial activity, organizing and directing the flow of goods and services to and from the surrounding region and for the entrepot trade of the port.

Near the Exquisite Jade Rock, and its special viewing pavilions, was a small rectangular lake with a nine turn zigzag bridge. The irregular form would prevent the entry of evil spirits which were, according to universally accepted superstition, conveniently low flying and travel only in straight lines. Here stood the Mid Lake Pavilion, headquarters of the blue cloth trade, the major local cottage industry, with carding, spinning and weaving performed not in separate factories, but in the peasant homes of dozens of hamlets surrounding Shanghai. Cotton goods were the leading local export.

Later the Mid Lake Pavilion would become a teahouse, perhaps the most famous amongst western residents of Shanghai who, desperately seeking confirmation of their sense of significance, adopted a story that this was the very same teahouse that featured on the willow pattern plate – the most famous western image of China during the 18th century chinoiserie fad, which passed into Western operatic folklore. In fact the pavilion was not even built until 1784 and its original regulations expressly forbade its use as a teahouse or for medicine and fortune telling. Its function changed only at the end of the 19th century, when the blue cloth guild collapsed under a flood of cheap textile imports.