Individual Submission Summary

Direct link:

Collision over Camphor: Qing Forestry Regulations and British Mercantile Interests in Taiwan, 1860-1869

Sun, June 26, 1:00 to 2:50pm, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 118


Gunboat diplomacy leads to unintended economic consequences This paper examines the events and consequences of camphor trade in the late 1860s. British merchants, unhappy with how camphor was regulated by the local Qing government in Taiwan, used violence to pressure their way into the camphor trade, then called in a hot-headed British admiral who backed-up merchants’ rifles with naval cannonades. The conflict developed into what became known as the “Camphor War,” and led to an agreement between the British and the Qing officials to change the regulations on camphor production in Taiwan in ways that would open the market to anyone. The intentions of the British diplomatic and military officials in effecting this change were to support British merchants' entry into the lucrative trade in camphor as a luxury commodity, which had been trading in Hong Kong for upwards of twenty dollars per picul. The actual outcome, however, was quite different than they had expected: many small-scale local Chinese merchants were able to enter into the camphor trade; the production of camphor increased dramatically; and the market price dropped as low as eleven dollars per picul within one year. British merchants were forced to abandon camphor trading because the low prices meant they could not make a profit. A final consequence that can be extrapolated from this chain of events is that with the production of camphor drastically increased and the price cut by more than half, camphor became more easily accessible as a commodity and began to be put to more and more industrial uses, including its eventual use in plastic and film.