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The Ultimate Travel Guide of Guangzhou in the Late 18th Century

Travel back in time with us to the late 18th century and visit the unique trading port of China – Guangzhou. From major landmarks like the Huaisheng Mosque, to the Dutch Folly Fort and the Flower Pagoda, let us guide you through a journey to explore Guangzhou.

Gentiloni Painting: Canton, late 18th century. HKMM2010.0031.0002


Guangzhou is the capital and the largest city of Canton province in Southern China. It has over 2,200 years of history and was a terminus of the maritime Silk Road and continues to serve as a major port and transportation hub. As soon as the Qianlong Emperor implemented the Guangzhou System in 1757, limiting Guangzhou as the only trading port open to the world, merchants from different countries flocked into this trading site that is geographically protected by the surrounding islands and shallow water of the Pearl River Delta region.

James Archer, View of Canton, 1830. HKMM2008.0216.0022

Getting there

To enter Guangzhou, foreign ships had to travel over the South Sea and waters near Lintin Island where piracy was rampant. Bocca Tigris is located at the entrance of waterway to Guangzhou; fortresses were therefore built on both sides of the canal to protect the inland waters. Since all foreigners were required to receive approval and proceed inland by local boats at Whampoa, they would be transported by sampans and junks that were smaller in size to access Guangzhou through the shallow and narrow channel.

Guan Lianchang (fl. 1840-1870), View of the waterfront at Canton with the paddle steamer 'Spark'. Tingqua studio, 1855. HKMM2008.0216.0012

Places to visit

The city is full of historic monuments and buildings not to be missed. We recommend a stroll around the city.

Huaisheng Mosque

Huaisheng Mosque in Gentiloni Painting: Canton, late 18th century. HKMM2010.0031.0002

Huaisheng Mosque was built during the Tang Dynasty (AD 619-907) when Muslim came to China through the silk route. The earliest contacts of Islam with China occurred in this area, subsequently spreading to other regions. It remains one of the oldest mosques in China, and also one of the oldest surviving mosques in the world, though it has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. It was rebuilt in 1350 and again in 1695 after being destroyed in a fire, and probably renovated or rebuilt at other times also.

Temple of the Six Banyan Trees and Flowery Pagoda
Flowery Pagoda in Gentiloni Painting: Canton, late 18th century. HKMM2010.0031.0002

Having a long history of about 1,400 years, the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees is one of the four best Buddhist temples in China. It originally built in AD 537, and named by Su Dongpo (蘇東坡). It is said that he visited there while returning to the north. During the visit, he found six banyan trees there particularly striking. The vitality of the trees put him in a good mood and cheered him up. When the abbot of the monastery invited him to suggest a name, Su Dongpo wrote down its present name.

Dutch Folly Fort

Dutch Folly Fort in Gentiloni Painting: Canton, late 18th century. HKMM2010.0031.0002

Built in 1647, Haizhu Fort, also known as Dutch Folly Fort, was one of the representative landmarks of Guangzhou. The tales of the Wenxi Temple and Tanhua Platform were passed on by word of mouth for centuries, saying that they were built to commemorate the place’s upright officials in Song Dynasty, Angying Li. There were twenty folly forts in total.


Guangzhou is a unique trading port and there were plenty of shopping opportunities throughout the Thirteen Hongs. You can find the high-quality tea and high-fired porcelain which produced in Jingdezhen. Payment is generally in silver.

A curio shop in Old China Street (Ching Yuen Street), 1860. On loan from Mr. Anthony J. Hardy, HKMM2010.0193.0008

Best-sellers: Tea and Porcelain

English tole painted green ground tea canister and cover, 1830. HKMM2011.0181.0001

Of all the commodities of export trading, tea was a supreme one in Europe as the aristocracy conceived it as a fashionable habit. It also served to reflect one’s lifestyle and wealth. This English Tea Canister was decorated with a view of Hongs in Guangzhou, implying the prosperity of Hongs and the tea trade.

Canton enamelled dish with an English sailing ship, 18th century. HKMM2008.0216.0014a

From early days, some European porcelain makers realised that it was the “China brand” that was popular, hence the English collective noun “china” for household crockery.

Luxury Souvenir

Folding fan with ‘The Hongs in Guangzhou’. This fan has elaborately carved French-style bones. The body of the fan depicts a scene of Guangzhou Hongs, and illustrates the Chinese craftsmen's ability to imitate foreign styles to suit a customer's taste. The painted scene shows the earliest factories including those of the Danish, French, Swedish, British and Dutch. The bones are decorated with European musicians playing wind instruments, as well as putti, two birds, and gold coins in a Rococo style. The reverse features elaborately painted Chinese-style flowers.

Folding fan showing the foreign factories in Canton, 1815. Gift of Ben Janssens, HKMM2006.0140.0001

We hope that you enjoyed your trip to the late 18th century of Guangzhou.

You can also discover more about Canton trade .


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