A view into the Bocca Tigris, at the entrance to the Pearl River, China
This painting - previously wrongly titled 'Shipping off Hong Kong' - is a view looking north-west into the Bocca Tigris ('tiger's mouth') or Bogue, the originally Portuguese name for the narrow and fortified entrance to the Pearl River leading up to Canton. Though the details of topography differ from other images, this re-identification is based on a very similar view of about 1860, also by an unidentified Chinese artist and using many of the same elements of shipping, in the Hong Kong Museum of Art (ref. no. AH88.42). That version has, for example, practically the same two junks in the lower left corner and an American ship where a British one is shown here in the centre foreground. The Annanghoy Forts are on the right or eastern shore, that of South Wantong Island on the left: North Wantong, also with a fort, is invisible behind this at a distance of 900 yards with the higher mainland behind that and to the left. The channel between the Wantong and Annanghoy side is only 750 yards wide, the forts forming the 'teeth' of the 'tiger's mouth'. In the distance here a western ship is coming down the river from Canton with the south end of Tiger Island to the left.
The vessels in the foreground are in the very large and most southerly reach of the river before the outer headlands through which it joins the sea. The British ship may be a Royal Naval sloop of about 18 guns, despite the lack of a naval pennant, and is flying 'blue peter' (P-flag) at the main as an indication of being about to sail.
In 1842 the Opium War between Britain and China ended with the signing of the Treaty of Nanking. This effectively opened up the five main Chinese ports of Canton, Amoy, Ningpo, Shanghai and Foochow to European traders, who needed considerable naval protection from the persistent depredations of Chinese pirates. By 1794 Britain was buying four million kilograms of tea each year, in a trade strictly controlled by China.
The variety of local and European shipping, and the serene stillness pervading the scene of this highly stylized painting, are typical of the fusion of western topographical methods with Chinese influences that characterize this type of Chinese work.
- Image reference: BHC1783
- National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
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