This paper will assess the poorly known Spanish trade in Canton and Macao by the late eighteenth century, as a result of the Philippine commercial transformation at the time. China was one of the closest export markets for the new plantation economy, where Manila merchants traded Philippine produce for Chinese manufactures. Changes within the supply side of the Manila Galleon also drove Manila merchants to China, as the need for cheaper merchandize, and the evolution of the Fujian trade––which supplied the bulk of the Galleon cargoes––together with the 1755 expulsion of the Chinese, were surely factors behind this trend.
The two main forces of the Philippine commercial system at the time engaged in the China trade: the networks of the Galleon trade, and the advocates of the Bourbon Reforms. While having differing visions on the control of the Philippine economy, both shared an urge for change. When the Canton factory of the Royal Philippine Company (Real Compañía de Filipinas) was established in 1787, it merged with the already existing Manila trade, thereby showing, at some points, both actors’ converging interests. With their differing views, they both represented an awareness of––and entwinement with––the changes in the regional trade, while the advances of the European powers jeopardized the feasibility of the Spanish colony.