JARDINE, MATHESON & COMPANY (Western Colonialism)

The firm of Jardine, Matheson & Company was founded in 1832 by William Jardine (1784-1843) and James Matheson (1796-1878), two Scottish participants in the private ”country trade” between India and Canton (Guangzhou) during the last years of the British East India Company’s monopoly. By the time of the monopoly’s repeal in 1834, Jardine Matheson was the most prominent trading house in China, dealing in opium, teas, and textiles.

In addition to pioneering the extension of the opium trade along China’s east coast, the firm’s partners were active in the politics of the China trade in Britain, lobbying the British government to adopt more aggressive policies toward eliminating Chinese trade restrictions. In the 1870s, when the Suez Canal, steamship lines, and telegraph connections sped communications between China and Europe, the China trade became increasingly competitive, and Jardine Matheson diversified its import-export business into shipping, insurance, and banking and withdrew from the opium trade in 1872. After 1895, the firm established industrial enterprises in China’s treaty ports that included cotton mills, a silk filature, and a brewery. In 1898 it formed the British and Chinese Corporation in partnership with the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank in order to advance railway loans and equipment to the Chinese government.

From the 1830s through the 1950s, Jardine Matheson was the largest foreign concern in China, with headquarters in Hong Kong and Shanghai, and branch offices throughout China and in Yokohama, Japan. The firm survived significant disruptions during World War II, but was compelled to leave mainland China in 1954 by the government of the People’s Republic. For the next several decades, Jardine Matheson operated from its Hong Kong headquarters, establishing transportation, hotel, and supermarket businesses in Southeast Asia and Australia. Following economic reform in the People’s Republic of China, the firm reestablished its presence in mainland China and continues to be involved in business there.

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