China began the 19th century still confident of her superiority over the rest of the world. Her population numbered 400 million. Her empire controlled the world's biggest economy.
China enjoyed a favorable balance of trade with the West, receiving great quantities of money to pay for silks, porcelain and, above all, tea. By 1800, the British consumed 10,000 tons of tea each year.
All foreign trade was channeled through designated warehouses in what was then the world's largest city, Canton.
So much money poured into China that a Chinese trader became the richest man in the world: Wu Ping-chien, known as Howqua, one of the few officially allowed to trade with foreigners.
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