The first European influence dates from 1514 when the Portuguese Embassy arrived. Sea links with China were important, for the “Silk Road” across Aria was no longer a safe caravan route. In 1557 the Portuguese obtained mission from the Ming to settle on an island width they called Macao, some 70 miles downstream frown Guangzhou, Then came the Spanish and the Dutch. The next to appear in the China Seas were the British, but they did not establish themselves to any great extent until the early eighteenth century, preferring to concentrate their efforts in India. By 1715 the British East India Company had become the most important firm trading with China, but like other companies it was severely limited by the “Eight Regulations” which imposed strict sanctions on the conduct of all trade and restricted the movement of merchants. To keep foreigners out one Chinese regulation stipulated that vessels could anchor only at Whampoa, some 13 miles below the town center, to load and unload. By the early nineteenth century England had emerged as the most powerful nation in the Western world, and to underpin its growing influence in the Far East the British government “offered” a treaty regulating trade with China, an offer ha was not considered acceptable by the Chinese court. The differences between the British government and the Chinese court set the scene for the conflict that was to break out.
By this time British trade with China involved the exchange of various English products for Chinese tea and silk. The balance of trade in China’s favor was made up by payments of silver by the English. From l800 onwards opium from India was offered as a substitute for sliver, the original owners of the opium being the British East India Company, although it was sold to China by another organization. As opium imports into China were forbidden, it had to be smuggled in. Eventually the illicit traffic increased to such an extent that its value equaled that of legitimate imports into China.
The conflict between the Chinese authorities who attempted to put down the illicit trade, the Chinese and British merchants who were profiting handsomely from the business and the government of Britain which was trying to force reunions from the Chinese government in an effort to open up trade even further, led eventually to the Opium Wars, which began in 1839. At the conclusion of the Second Opium War of the mid-1850s, foreign merchants who had returned to find their warehouses and factories burned decided with the backing of their governments, to establish a foreign enclave. An island was created from a partially submerged sandbank in the Pearl River in the heart of Guangzhou, and by 1861 over 40 acres of land had been released for this purpose. Thus from the 1860s to 1949, with a short wartime intermission in 1941-46, foreign domination of Guangzhou came from Sha Mian.