MIT Visualizing Cultures

Rise & Fall of the Canton Trade System – Lesson 01

Life of a Canton Merchant

Handout 01-A | Printer-friendly PDF

Life of a Canton Merchant Visual Data Analysis

Your assignment is to collect as much information as possible on the lives of merchants engaged in the Canton trade system in the 18th and 19th centuries. Your teacher will assign you a focus of study, either Chinese merchant life or Western merchant life.

Write your assigned focus here: ________________________________________

1. Information from visual sources. Review the images of Chinese or Western merchant life, depending on your assignment, in the Lesson 01 mini-database, “Images of Merchant Life in Canton.” First, identify whether each image is a portrait of an individual, a picture of a scene, or an art object. Then, use the appropriate questions below to pull as much information as you can from each image.

  A. For portraits:
1. Who is pictured and what is the person doing?

2. What can you tell about the person from his pose, his clothing, and the setting of the portrait?

3. List four adjectives to describe the person.

4. What does the portrait convey to you about this person’s life? Is he rich or poor? Is he successful? Powerful? Why do you think so?
  B. For scenes:
1. Describe the setting.

2. Describe the activity. What are people doing? Is it a work scene or recreational scene?

3. What does the scene seem to be saying about the life of a merchant?
  C. For art objects:
1. What is the object and what is it used for?

2. What decorations are on the object?

3. What does the object reflect about the life of a merchant?

2. If your teacher directs you to read an essay about merchant life, record what you learned from this written resource.

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