Authored by Krystal Castaneda
To read the Spanish transcription, please click here.
Although the Spanish were a pivotal player in the Canton trade during the 18th century, Spanish presence in Canton is relatively underresearched and underexplored. This reality emphasizes the academic significance of the transcribed diaries of Manuel de Agote, a Spaniard hired by the Royal Philippine Company as the first Factor of a new factory established by the company in Canton in 1787. As a representative of the Spanish trading empire, De Agote’s diaries provide insight into Spain’s relationship with Chinese merchants and offer his perspectives on other major traders in Canton, such as the British East India Company. De Agote had been writing diaries since 1779, beginning during his employment by the Ustariz Company, tracking voyages and recording information for the Spanish monarchy. De Agote played an important role for the Spanish monarchy by helping the monarchy maintain close contact with the Philippines after a period during which Spain lost Manila to the British in 1762. Prior to the British seizure of Manila, contact with the Philippines was limited to the Manila Galleon trade route running between the Philippines, Spanish colonies in Latin America, such as Acapulco Mexico and Lima Peru, and Spain. Due to the fact de Agote spent significant time traveling at sea between these colonies, de Agote’s initial diaries recorded almost daily reports of meteorological observations, accounting details (including details regarding merchandise, prices, and persons on board), and other information he thought pertinent to the Spanish monarchy. After de Agote’s appointment to First Factor of the Royal Philippine Company’s factory in Canton in 1787, de Agote stayed for longer periods on land, writing monthly reports with similar information, but also reports on local news in Canton and Macao, titling sections “Different News that Has Occurred,” “Extraordinary News,” “Mercantile News,” and “Conchinchina Revolution News (Southern Vietnam).”
A primary topic of de Agote’s diaries is that of the ‘Cohong,’ “a group of some thirteen indigenous commerce houses, named by the government, called janistas in Spanish sources, who had to be responsible for the conduct of foreigners, mediate their relations with the Chinese authorities and take charge of compliance with the commercial provisions and the collection of the fees payable for merchandise and ship.”1 The janistas were the only merchants that foreigners, such as the Spanish, were permitted to conduct trade with in Canton. As a result, merchants such as Manuel de Agote were conscious of their relationship with these janistas, particularly with regards to the control of the janistas by the hoppu. The hoppu was the person charged with collecting trade duties from janistas and would sometimes use their authority to extort janistas for personal profit. Maintaining financial solvency seemed to be a consistent problem for the janistas, evidenced by de Agote’s description of a prominent janista, Sekenkua, going bankrupt. Solvency generally means the possession of assets in excess of liabilities, but in Canton during this period, solvency also entailed balancing the demands of creditors despite the large amount of debt held by janistas.2 There was significant pressure on hoppu by the Qing Dynasty that janistas generate enough revenue. However, Qing Dynasty policies, such as favorable interest rates on loans and government protection on debt repayment, contributed to the difficulty experienced by janistas and hoppu to generate sufficient revenue.3
As mentioned previously, a prominent figure in de Agote’s diaries is the Chinese merchant Sekenkua, or Shy Kinqua, who succeeded his parents as the head of the Eryi hong to become a janista.4 Sekenkua was a prominent merchant who traded with many foreign companies, including the British East India Company, but eventually went bankrupt, owing debt to various foreign companies and tea merchants. De Agote writes much about Sekenkua’s bankruptcy. Evidencing Sekenkua’s prominence, there are other accounts of Sekenkua’s financial decline, such as from Hosea Ballou Morse. In Morse’s The Chronicles of the East India Company, Trading to China 1635-1834. Vol., II, one can read the perspective of the British East India Company regarding Sekenkua’s decline into financial insolvency. It is evident from de Agote’s diaries that Sekenkua’s downfall stemmed in part from his decision to accept and market foreign wool (which turned little profit) from the British East India company because of the company’s inability to pay for trade with silver. Furthermore, Sekenkua also purchased various trinkets, such as watches, that would never turn a profit, but were most likely used to bribe officials.5 According to Morse and the account of Kuo-Tung Anthony Ch’en, Sekenkua was tortured to death some time during or after the writing of de Agote’s diary.6
The transcription, available on the website of the Emory Journal of Asian Studies, provides fascinating insight into the life and responsibilities of Manuel de Agote, along with important information and perspectives pertaining to the Spanish monarchy and the Canton System. This transcription should be subject to further research.
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- Sebastián, Donostia-San. PERMANYER UGARTEMENDIA, Ander: “Españoles en Cantón: los Diarios de Manuel de Agote, primer factor de la Real Compañía de Filipinas en China (1787-1796)”, Itsas Memoria. Revista de. (Translated by author), 6.
- Paul Van Dyke, “Conclusion: UNWRITTEN REALITIES OF TRADE.” In Merchants of Canton and Macao, 1st ed., (Hong Kong University Press, 2016), 209– 16.
- 4 Dyke, Conclusion, 209-216.
- Ch’en, Kuo-Tung Anthony. The Insolvency of the Chinese Hong Merchants, 1760- 1843 (The Institute of Economics, Academia Sinica, 1990); Grant, Frederic Delano Jr, and Faculteit der Letteren. The Chinese Cornerstone of Modern Banking: The Canton Guaranty System and the Origins of Bank Deposit Insurance 1780-1933. 24 Oct. 2012, https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/handle/1887/20013.
- Morse, Hosea Ballou. The Chronicles of the East India Company, Trading to China 1635-1834. Vol., II. https://open.library.ubc.ca/collections/bcbooks/items/1.0373598.
- Morse, Hosea Ballou. The Chronicles of the East India Company, Trading to China 1635-1834. Vol., II. https://open.library.ubc.ca/collections/bcbooks/items/1.0373598. Accessed 6 Dec. 2018.