An Overview of the Chinese Expositions during the Late Qing Dynasty – An Article Celebrating China’s First Ever World Expo in 2010 (2009-08-11)

During the late Qing Dynasty, western countries forced the opening of China to the outside world. Hosting commercial and industrial expositions had become one of the Qing government’s modernization policies.

The first ever such exposition was organized by Zhang Zhidong (Figure 1), who was the governor of Hubei and Hunan provinces. Back in 1898, Zhang established a commerce bureau in Hankou. He displayed locally manufactured goods, along with their origins and prices, and encouraged Chinese and foreign businessmen to participate. In 1904, the Hubei and Hunan provincial bazaar was constructed. There were three departments inside. The first department displayed the manufacturing goods of Hubei. The second department displayed the manufacturing goods and machineries from other provinces and from foreign countries. The third department displayed the local products such as minerals, coal, herbal medicine, leather, etc. These local products were there to facilitate exports to other provinces and foreign countries.

Figure 1: Medal awarded to governor Zhang Zhidong (click on images to enlarge.)

On September 7th 1903, the Qing government established the ministry of commerce.  In 1905, the ministry enacted regulations which encouraged local and foreign businessmen to host expositions. In 1906, Shengjing general Zhao Erxun set up a display of commercial products in the province of Fengtian. Also in 1906, the commerce association in Tianjin founded the bazaar at the Tianhou Palace for the first ever commercial products exposition (Figure 2). In 1906, the commerce association in Guangdong hosted a display of manufacturing goods. The next year it established a bazaar. In 1908, Jiangsu’s industrial bureau hosted a display of commercial goods. In 1909, Jiangnan’s commercial bureau also set up a display of commercial goods. In 1910, Jiangnan’s commercial bureau hosted the Chancellor of Nanyang Products Exposition which displayed products from the southern provinces (Figure 3). In 1909, an exposition was hosted in Shanghai which displayed the products from seven prefectures in the Songjiang district. This should be the first ever exposition in Shanghai (Figure 4).

Figure 2: Medal for the Tianjin exposition in 1906 (Click on images to enlarge.)

Figure 3: Medal for the Chancellor of Nanyang Products Exposition (Click on images to enlarge)

Figure 4: Medal for the Songjiang products exposition hosted in Shanghai (Click on images to enlarge.)

It is worth mentioning that from 1906 to 1911, the province of Sichuan hosted six commercial expositions in Chengdu (Figure 5). The first three focused on manufacturing industry. The last three was broadened to cover the agriculture industry, the manufacturing industry, and the commercial industry. There were eight display categories: 1) machineries, 2) hand made goods, 3) government made goods, 4) educational products, 5) agricultural products, 6) animal related products, 7) plant related products, 8 ) natural products. There were more than a thousand types of products at each of these expositions. In order to encourage participations, awards were given to the participants. Four awards were given at each exposition: 1) the first class medal was the Red Peony Gold Medal. It was presented to participants who displayed machineries that could rival those from the western countries. 2) the second class medal was named the Lotus Silver Medal, which was presented to participants who displayed products that were not available in the Sichuan province; 3) the third class medal was named the Cherry Apple Silver Medal, which was presented to participants who had made improvements to Sichuan products; 4) the fourth class medal was named the Plum Blossom Bronze Medal, which was presented to participants who displayed innovative commodities.

Figure 5: Medal for the Sichuan commercial expositions hosted in Chengdu (Click on images to enlarge.)

In September, 1909, Chen Kuilong succeeded to the position as the governor of Hunan and Hubei provinces, and set up exposition at the warehouses outside Wuchang’s Wenchang Gate and Pinghu Gate (Figure 6). The exposition lasted forty five days. The main display houses were sorted into categories such as natural products, industrial crafts, arts, educational materials, and antiques with a total of six thousand types of displayed items. Furthermore, the exposition also included seven special display houses and sixteen extra special display rooms with more than fourteen hundred items. The special display houses were the Zhili House, Hunan House, Shanghai House, Ningbo House, House of Hanyang Steel Factory, House of Hanyang Military Factory, and House of Hanyang Training Factory. Overall, there were over a thousand participants with more than eight thousand types of displayed items.  In China, this was the first ever large exposition with participants from different regions across the country.

Figure 6: Medal for the exposition hosted in Wuchang in 1909 (Click on images to enlarge.)

The Nanyang Exposition was the largest national commercial exposition during the late Qing period (Figures 7 & 8). Duan Fang, who was the governor of Jiangsu and Jiangxi, requested to host the first ever exposition in Nanking in December, 1908. In May, 1909, Duan Fang moved to the new posts as the governor of Zhili and the chancellor of Peiyang.  Zhang Renjun, who was the governor of Guangdong and Guangxi, assumed Duan’s position. On July 13th, the Qing government approved Duan’s request, and assigned Zhang as the chair of the exposition. Due to the massive scale of the exposition, a new government agency was established to make preparations. The government decided to host the exposition with business and industry. The initial budget was five hundred thousand silver taels, and was shared between the Jiangsu government and Jiangsu’s businesses and industries. The budget was later increased to one million silver taels. Since 1873, the Governor of Jiangsu and Jiangxi also held the position as the chancellor of Nanyang. Because of this reason, the exposition was named the Nanyang Exposition.  The Nanyang Exposition opened on June 5th , 1910 in Nanking. The main sites, which occupied an area of over 140 hectares, were located in the regions of Dingjiaqiao and Sanpailou.  There were display houses for a number of provinces, which were Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, Zhili, Shangxi, Shanxi, Hubei, Hunan, Sichuan, Henan, Yunnan, Guizhou, Shandong, Zhejiang, Fujian, etc. As the host, Jiangsu and Jianxi had the largest displayed houses. Display categories were industrial crafts, agriculture, machineries, transportation, education, health, arts, and weaponries. There were also specialized display houses for Hunan’s china industry, Boshan’s glass industry, Nanking’s textile industry, Shanghai’s industrial bureau, Guangdong’s educational products industry, Zhejiang’s fishery industry, oversea Chinese businesses, and foreign products. Display items were mostly from light industry, agricultural by-product industry, arts and crafts industry. Directed by chief inspector Yang Shiqi, and led by renowned Nanking scholar Li Ruiqing, more than seven hundred experts of the exposition research group evaluated the quality of the display items. From nearly one million displayed items (four hundred and forty types), they presented first class awards to sixty six items, second class awards to two hundred fourteen items, third class awards to four hundred twenty eight items, forth class awards to twelve hundred eighteen items, fifth class awards to three thousand three hundred forty five items (a grand total of five thousand two hundred seventy one awards.) The Nanking Exposition drew extensive attention from people throughout the Chinese society, and attracted many high profile merchants, scholars, and government officials to attend. Also attended were the large delegations from Japan, United States, and Chinese residents from Southeast Asia. The Nanking Exposition lasted six months, and came to an end on November 29th, 1910. Over three hundred thousand people visited. Trades during the exposition were worth tens of millions of dollars. At that time, people considered the Nanking Exposition as a grand event in five thousand years of Chinese history.

Figures 7 & 8: Medals for the 1910 Nanyang Exposition (Click on images to enlarge.)

Although China was a very weak country during the late Qing dynasty, it had already written its history in hosting expositions. China is now becoming one of the world’s economic powerhouses. With its strength and resources, we believe China will host a very successful 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.

In 1906, the commerce association in Guangdong hosted a display of manufacturing goods. The next year it established a bazaar. In 1908, Jiangsu’s industrial bureau hosted a display of commercial goods. In 1909, Jiangnan’s commercial bureau also set up a display of commercial goods. In 1910, Jiangnan’s commercial bureau hosted the Chancellor of Nanyang Products Exposition which displayed products from the southern provinces (Figure 3).
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