The China Trade
American merchants participated in a lucrative but risky trade with China. They traveled the world looking for things the Chinese would buy. They then purchased Chinese goods for the American market. Trade made Americans resourceful and created wealth for almost everyone, including the Chinese merchant Howqua, who became one of the richest men in the world.
Dragon’s blood (a red plant resin) and rhubarb root, found abundantly in China, had a ready market here. Dragon’s blood was used in varnish; rhubarb in medicines. Card cases and fans, made inexpensively in China, gratified Americans’ desire for attractive goods at low prices.
The Chinese needed little from foreign merchants, so Americans struggled to locate objects to exchange for the goods they wanted. American ginseng root appealed to the Chinese for medicinal purposes. Mostly they sought Spanish silver dollars, an international currency. Look closely to see the Chinese merchants’ marks.