Painting of Whampoa Reach, China

America began trade with China in 1784, with the Philadelphia ship the Empress of China. Popular trade goods were tea, porcelain and fabric. The Chinese were skeptical of foreign powers, and trading was restricted to certain ports, one of which was Canton. The Chinese government saw Canton as a major trading hub and felt that it needed to be controlled tightly to limit the influence of the foreigners.
The actual port for Canton was called Whampoa Reach and it was about 12 miles down river from Canton. Western vessels had to anchor at Whompoa Reach and transfer their cargo to junks which transported the goods to the city for trading.
In the painting there is a general view of the docks and warehouses, as well as hongs (foreign offices, warehouses, and residences for foreigners who did business with the Chinese government). Buildings are clustered around the edge of the river and both clipper ships and Chinese vessels are visible in the water. There are American, French, Swedish and British vessels in the harbor, but they appear separated from the smaller Chinese vessels. Several small Chinese ships also are seen close to the larger clipper ships. There is one small British vessel moving around with the Chinese vessels.
Currently not on view
Object Name
painting, oil
date made
ca 1840
Physical Description
oil on canvas (overall material)
without frame: 12 in x 22 1/2 in; 30.48 cm x 57.15 cm
with fame: 17 in x 26 1/4 in; 43.18 cm x 66.675 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Cigna Maritime Collection
See more items in
Work and Industry: Maritime
Cigna Maritime Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
Additional Media

Visitor Comments

Add a comment about this object

**Please read before submitting the form**

Have a comment or question about this object to share with the community? Please use the form below. Selected comments will appear on this page and may receive a museum response (but we can't promise). Please note that we generally cannot answer questions about the history, rarity, or value of your personal artifacts.

Have a question about anything else, or would you prefer a personal response? Please visit our FAQ or contact page.

Personal information will not be shared or result in unsolicited e-mail. See our privacy policy.

Enter the characters shown in the image.