Anson at Canton, 1743: Obligation, Exchange, and Ritual in Edward Page’s “Secret History”

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In her study of English trade in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Cynthia Klekar has called attention to the ways in which rituals of gift-giving sought to bind both East India Company merchants and the courts of Tokugawa Japan and Qing China into complex relationships of mutual obligation, deference, and duty. Between 1600 and 1800, as Klekar, James Hevia, John E. Wills, Jr., Annette Keogh, and Elizabeth Kowaleski-Wallace have shown, European emissaries performed these diplomatic rituals without being fully aware of—or willfully misinterpreting—the implications read into their actions by their Chinese and Japanese hosts: what the Europeans assumed were ceremonies of mutual obligation and equivalent exchange, their hosts perceived as unambiguous signs of deference. In this essay, I examine a significant but often misinterpreted episode in the history of Sino-European relations to explore what Klekar calls the “fantasy of reciprocal advantage that sutures over relations of domination and the potential for conflict”: the second stay of Commodore George Anson and his battered flagship Centurion in Canton harbor in 1743. Many accounts either argue or assume that Anson’s sojourn marks the beginning of a sea change in English perceptions of the Qing Empire that culminated in the widespread denigration of China and all things Chinese by the early nineteenth century.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Culture of the Gift in Eighteenth-Century England
EditorsLinda Zionkowski, Cynthia Klekar
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9780230618411
ISBN (Print)9780230608290
StatePublished - Jan 5 2009


  • mutual obligation
  • gift exchange
  • East India Company
  • Chinese official
  • Chinese merchant

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences
  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Environmental Science


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