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Hyder Collection

Chinese Court of Justice

19th century

Chinese Court at CantonDuring the late 18th century, Canton, located in southern China on the Pearl River, was the only location in China where foreign trade was permitted. Regulations were strict and foreigners were required to stay in the “Thirteen Factories” quarter, where thirteen buildings were set up with trading offices, warehouses, and living quarters. On February 24, 1807, fifty-two sailors, on shore leave from the East India Company ship, Neptune, caused a brawl with Chinese citizens. One Chinese man was killed and several others wounded. Qing officials stopped all trade and sought to punish the guilty party. Mowqua, one of the leading merchants who acted as an intermediary between foreign traders and the Chinese government, took responsibility for negotiating a settlement. Three trials were held in the English factory at Canton and are notable for being the first time Europeans were allowed at a Chinese trial. The fifty-two sailors were each questioned and each denied that he had done the killing. Ultimately, one sailor, Edward Sheen, was found guilty of accidental homicide. He was detained in the factory for one year and was released upon payment of twelve taels, or four English pounds, which was the traditional Chinese penalty for accidental killing.

This print is created from a litograph produced by A.M. Gauci (fl. 1810-1846). The original painting, on which Gauci's lithograph was based, is attributed to Spoilum. Spoilum, also known as Guan Zuolin, lived in Canton and was active between 1770-1810. His paintings often depict merchants, both Chinese and Western, as well as landscapes of the trading area of Canton. Though Spoilum's works are some of the earliest known works of oil on canvas by a Chinese painter, he generally used a small amount of oil paint that had been thinned with water and his techniques are typical of traditional Chinese watercolors.

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