|Commodities of the Trade
Introducing the Lesson
Ask students to work with a partner to think of a product available in the
newly independent United States that could have been used to trade for goods
in China. Have students share their ideas with the class. What criteria do
goods have to meet to be useful in trade? (They have to be available
in quantity, transportable, and desired by people in the receiving country.) Do the products
suggested by the students fit these criteria?
Ask students what we import from China today (clothes, shoes, many kinds
of inexpensive manufactured goods).
Distribute the handout “Profits and
Commodities of the China Trade.”
What goods were Americans interested in getting from China during the late
Who could purchase these goods?
were tea, textiles, chinaware. Because Americans had to purchase goods in
China largely with silver coins,
ships going to China were heavy
with chests of money. Tea was the primary commodity purchased in China.
Because tea was a very light cargo, merchants would buy large quantities
porcelain (Chinaware) to use as ballast on its return voyage. Working class
American purhcased the cheap porcelain and nankeen cloth and wealthy Americans
purchased the best china and silk. All Americans purchased tea.
Because of the risks, distance, and difficulties of doing business with the
Chinese, only a small percentage of American merchant ships made the voyage
to China. However, it could be an extremely lucrative venture. Just two or
three successful voyages could make a merchant a millionaire. “Profits
and Commodities of the China Trade,” shows how a relatively small investment
could yield a large profit.
Be sure to point out that much of what American ships brought back to the
United States was then shipped to Europe to be sold in European markets. The
to profit from shipping goods was as important as profiting by selling goods
directly to American consumers.
Using the table, “Value of Goods Sold by Americans in Canton” on
a transparency, have the class answer the following questions:
What was the most important commodity Americans sold in China in the early
years of the trade?
Where did Americans obtain it? (Be sure the students
understand China’s need for silver because of inadequate domestic supply
and the importance of the Mexican silver mines in world trade of this period.)
commodities eventually come to replace silver?
Where did these come from?