Canton in 1853


The Howlands were in Canton

from September 6-9, 1853.



Canton was the first major city up the Pearl River from Macao.

The Europeans called it Guangzhou.

Center for Trade

Prior to the First Opium War,

Canton was the center for trade for foreign merchants:

British, Austrians, Danish, Dutch, French, Spanish, Swedish and Americans.

The traders were only allowed there for the “trading season” – then they had to return to Macao.

They lived in segregated areas called “factories” (also called “hongs” or “merchant shops”)

which were living quarters, warehouses and offices.

This foreign quarter was known as the “Thirteen Factories”.

They flew their nations’ flags.


Foreign Women in Canton

The wives and families of the merchants stayed in the Portuguese colony of Macao.

Before the 1850’s, foreign women were not allowed in Canton.

Those who did go were novelties to the Chinese men who had never seen a Western woman.


Harriet Low and her aunt almost caused an international incident when they dressed as boys, secretly arrived in the city and stayed for 3 weeks!

Read about their Adventure Here

Harriet Parker, wife of Dr. Peter Parker, was the first Western woman to be permitted residence in China.

What was it like for Harriet Parker?

Sarah attended the Feast of Lanterns in 1852 in Canton with Dr. and Mrs. Parker.

What was Sarah’s Experience?

First Opium War

Tensions developed between the foreign merchants and the Chinese.

In an effort to halt the Opium Trade, the Chinese blockaded the factories.


The British used their naval power to defeat the Chinese,

forcing them to sign the Treaty of Nanking.

Four additional treaty ports were opened.

Low tariffs were established.

Hong Kong was ceded to the British.

Canton became less important for trade.

Feast of Lanterns


Sarah describes the Feast of Lanterns
Sarah describes another Chinese festival

In 1853 Canton was involved in the Taiping Rebellion…

This year Doctor Parker told me the ceremony would pass off very quietly and with little show – the Commissioners having requested the people on account of the rebellion to keep as quiet as possible and to prevent all large gatherings; also to save their money which they would probably ere long want.

Sailing for Home

On the 9th of September the Howlands and their passengers took the steamer to Whampoa

where they met the Sea Serpent.

Some of Commodore Perry’s vessels were in the harbor.

The band of the Mississippi played farewell songs

and they exchanged cheers to wish each other well.


Sarah describes the Scene
Canton by MIT Visualizing Cultures
Hong Kong vs Macao vs Canton