The Dutch East India Company and the China Trade
C.R. Boxer describes how porcelain, silks and, above all, tea formed the basis of a lucrative trade between the Chinese and Dutch in the eighteenth century.
Long before the Portuguese rounded the Cape of Good Hope and made direct contact with Canton in 1514, the China Trade had been an aspiration for many Europeans, including Christopher Columbus, who were entranced by mediaeval tales of the riches of Cathay. With their settlement on the ‘Water-Lily peninsula’ of Macao, in or about the year 1557, the Portuguese were able to develop the China Trade on a regular basis, chiefly in silks and porcelain. The bulk of these goods were marketed by the Portuguese in the interport trade of Asia from Japan to the Persian Gulf; but more were exported to Europe via the Cape of Good Hope than is often realised.
Fr. Bartholomeu dos Martires, the saintly and ascetic Archbishop of Braga, told Pope Pius IV in 1563 that he should set a good example to other prelates and princes by substituting Chinese porcelain for costly silverware in table services. The archbishop claimed that the beauty of blue and white Ming porcelain surpassed that of sapphires and alabaster. Its relative fragility was more than offset by its wash-ability and cheapness; and, the archbishop added, stocks were always available in the Lisbon market.