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Chinese Export Art: The Thirteen Hongs Collection

How did Qing-era China use art and craft to project an identity to the outside world?

How did export objects draw upon both Chinese and European visual traditions?

 13 Hongs People 2 Cropped

The Thirteen Hongs - also known as the thirteen Factories, or Canton Factories - was a neighbourhood along the Pearl River in southwestern Guangzhou (Canton) during the Qing Empire from c. 1684 to 1856. After the Qianlong Emperor closed all trade ports in 1757, these Thirteen Hongs were the principal and sole legal site for trade between China and Europe, from 1757 to 1842. Various materials such as wallpaper, silver, lacquer furniture, porcelain, painting, enamel, ivory, glass mirrors and fans were exported to European countries through these Thirteen Hongs.

This project will research catalogue objects in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum from the Thirteen Hongs, including nearly 200 export paintings, an important group of 15 reverse-painted glass mirrors, alongside ivories, painted enamels, fans, ceramics and silverware. 

Silver cake basket, by Kwong Man Shing

The Fitzwilliam Museum (2023) "Silver cake basket, by Kwong Man Shing" Web page available at: Accessed: 2023-03-20 15:37:03

Among those export materials produced in China during the 19th century for European markets, silver is one that we don’t usually see in museum collections. This cake basket is part of a set of silver, which also includes a cream jug, sugar bowl, tea pot and coffee pot. The set was purchased in 2009 to fill a gap in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum.   

The Chinese silver produced in this period is highly decorative and distinct from that of previous periods. The base and flared sides of the oblong basket are raised from a single sheet and seamed to a flared foot rim. The sides of the basket are pierced in eight panels of flowers (chrysanthemum, prun flowers, iris, bamboo and camellia) and separated by chased bands. The hinged central swing handle tapered at either end is made to resemble bamboo. The base is impressed with the letters ‘KMS',  (Kwong Man Shing, Hong Kong, active around 1900).  

Related publications

This research will be published as a journal article and via the collections online portal.

Project team

James Lin (Senior Curator of Chinese Art)

Chih-Chieh Chang (Reserach Associate)

Mike Jones (Photography Manager) 

Jo Dillon (Senior Objects Conservator)

Richard Farleigh (Senior Paper Conservayor) 

Li Li, Founder of Guangzhou Thirteen Museum (Honorary Curator)

(Fellow of Lucy Cavendish College & Visiting Scholar of Cambridge University) 



Outcomes of the project

1) Improved collections documentation 

2) Better access to these objects for researchers via the museum website

3) Incubator for larger projects around the Chinese collections, which might include scientific analyses or display opportunities

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