Book Review – ‘The Remarkable Hybrid Maritime World of Hong Kong and the West River Region in the Late Qing Period’ by S. C. M. Paine
From the mid-nineteenth century on, the Chinese junk trade could not compete with foreign steamers on the Yangzi River or along the Chinese coast, yet it survived through the 1930s in the West River Delta, home to the two key treaty ports of Canton and Hong Kong. This book explains why. The six chapters show how the shallow waters of the West River and the secondary nature of the markets served, in combination with the dual maritime customs system of separate foreign and native customs collection, allowed the West River junk trade successfully to compete with the technologically advanced foreign steamship trade.
For anyone interested in these topics, the book is data-filled and definitive. It relies on a detailed reading of the provincial archives of Guangzhou (Canton) and Hong Kong, and a broad array of primary and secondary sources in Chinese, English, and, to a lesser extent, Japanese. It contains 27 tables, 8 diagrams, 8 maps, 16 beautiful illustrations, and 4 appendices containing the primary laws regulating the trade. The contents of the book are broader than the title suggests; it covers not only the late Qing dynasty but includes comparative data from the 1920s and 1930s.