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Report from China: The Canton Fair: An Academic Perspective

  • Daniel Tretiak

About 50 per cent of China's foreign trade is negotiated at the Chinese Export Commodities Fair (the Canton or Kwangchow Fair), making it a major instrument in Chinese foreign trade activities. However, it also provides a rich experience for China specialists who wish to observe and participate in the workings of an important Chinese institution over a considerable period of time. The experience is particularly valuable for anyone with an academic interest in Chinese foreign policy, for the Fair can provide an opportunity to gain not only insights into the day-to-day workings of the Chinese foreign trade process, but also into various trends in Chinese foreign policy generally.

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1. Metcalf, John E. and Ranganathan, Vembar K., China Trade Guide (N.p.: First National City Bank, 1972), p. 8;

2. I have participated actively in the Autumn 1972 and Spring 1973 Fairs held in Kwangchow.

3. len-min jih-pao (People's Daily) 16 May 1973, p. 4.

4. For various accounts of pre-Opium War trade, see: Fairbank, John King, Trade and Diplomacy on the China Coast (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1953); Wright, S. F., Hart and Chinese Customs (Belfast: William Mullan and Son, 1950), especially pp. 937; Fitzgerald, C. P., Flood Tide in China (London: The Cresset Press, 1958); especially chap. 8; and Vogel, Ezra, Canton Under Communism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1969), pp. 1823 and 350;

5. It may be more than pure coincidence that the Fair began in 1957, as Sino-Soviet all-round relations began to worsen. Perhaps the Chinese authorities at that time were already looking for a venue to start re-directing trade towards the West and Japan.

6. English-language lessons began in May 1973 over Kwangchow Radio, with a very high response.

7. It should be noted that there are also rewarding group or individual opportunities for travel to Chinese institutions in or near Kwangchow which have little if anything to do directly with the Fair (i.e. visits to factories, communes, hospitals and educational institutions) as well as casual sightseeing in Canton itself. All of these activities are encouraged by Fair officials.

8. I am concerned particularly with attitudes towards Americans, although from conversations with businessmen from other nations, I am led to believe these observations are generally applicable.

9. It should be noted that Chinese women play an important role in Fair negotiations. They seem to be more prominent, have higher status and more responsibility for decision-making than in other local institutions I have visited. It is difficult to estimate what percentage of all Chinese negotiators are women, but a figure of 20 per cent would not be surprising.

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The China Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0305-7410
  • EISSN: 1468-2648
  • URL: /core/journals/china-quarterly
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