In the 16th century, at a time when most of China was closed to foreigners, Canton, a bustling port on the Pearl River north west of Hong Kong became one of the world’s great trading centres. Western merchants flocked there and trading routes were established quickly between Asia and Europe. Canton enjoyed a golden age of prosperity with cargoes of silk, tea and porcelain flooding out of the port.
Such commercialism needed accommodation for merchants, ship owners and the inevitable officials and so buildings sprung up along the waterfront, known as hongs. They provided offices, warehouses and even sleeping and eating facilities and were a hive of activity. However, by the middle of the 19th century, trade had moved to Hong Kong and the merchants gradually moved with it.
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