Traditional Chinese 公行
Simplified Chinese 公行
Literal meaning "public trade"

The Cohong, sometimes spelled kehang or gonghang, was a guild of Chinese merchants or hongs who operated the import-export monopoly in Canton (now Guangzhou) during the Qing dynasty (16441911). During the century prior to the First Opium War of 1839, trade relations between China and Europe were exclusively conducted via the Cohong, which was formalised by imperial edict in 1760 by the Qianlong Emperor. The Chinese merchants who made up the Cohong were referred to as hangshang (行商) and their foreign counterparts yanghang (洋行, literally "ocean traders").[1]

Foundation and structure

According to John Phipps, author of the 19th century Practical Treatise on the China and Eastern Trade, the merchant Poankeequa (潘启官)[2]:85 founded the guild in the 1790s, although Chinese historian Immanuel C.Y. Hsu cites an earlier date of 1720.[3]

Nominally a guild of thirteen merchants operating from "factories" located on the banks of the Pearl River outside Canton, over time membership of the Cohong fluctuated between five and 26 merchants[6] authorized by the Chinese Central Government to handle trade, particularly rights to trade tea and silk, with the West.[1] They were the only group at the time authorized to do this, making them the main controllers of all foreign trade in the nation.

Consoo Fund

The Cohong further functioned as controller of the Consoo Fund (公所, gōngsuǒ)(actually the name of the office of the Cohong in Thirteen Factory Street), a pool of money raised by levies (公所费, gōngsuǒfèi) on the trades of individual merchants to cover the debts of any bankrupt hong at year end and to pay the various exactions demanded by the government. Officially, the rate levied for the fund was 3% of the value of goods. This tax originally applied only to tea but by the late eighteenth century had expanded to cover 69 different products.[7][8]

See also


  1. 1 2 "Entry on Cohong in the Encyclopædia Britannica". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved January 31, 2014.
  2. Van Dyke, Paul A; Maria Kar-wing, Mok (November 2015). Images of the Canton Factories 1760–1822: Reading History in Art. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. ISBN 9789888208555.
  3. Hsu, Immanuel C.Y. (2001). The Rise of Modern China (中國近代史) (in Chinese). Chinese Culture University Publishing (中文大學出版社). p. 149.
  4. Liang Jiabin (梁嘉彬) (1999). Survey of the Thirteen Factories (廣東十三行考) (in Chinese). Guangdong People's Publishing (广东人民出版社).
  5. Morse, Hosea Ballou (1926). The Chronicles of the East India Company Trading to China 1635-1834. The Chronicles of the East India Company. 1. Harvard University Press.
  6. Liao, Hsien-chuan. "The Canton Hong System and Commercial Development in Ching Dynasty: a Study (論清代行商制度與貿易發展的關係)" (PDF) (in Chinese). Taiwan, Taipei: Chinese Culture University.
  7. Phipps, John (1836). A Practical Treatise on the China and Eastern Trade. London: Wm. H. Allen. p. 151.
  8. Van Dyke, Paul A. (2011). Merchants of Canton and Macao: Politics and Strategies in Eighteenth-Century Chinese Trade. Hong Kong University Press. p. 29. ISBN 9789888028917.

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