In 1652 the VOC sent a delegation to Canton to look into the possibilities for trade there. The court in Peking had repeatedly responded negatively to any overtures from the warlike Dutch, but the merchants in Canton showed more interest.
During the 17th century the Company only sailed to Canton occasionally, to buy silk and porcelain. This changed when Europe began drinking tea in the 18th century.
In the 18th century the VOC rented permanent premises in Canton, next to the building occupied by the British. Europeans were obliged to do business with the merchants who worked together in organisations known as 'Hongs' with an exclusive licence from the Chinese government to trade with foreigners. However, in spite of the monopoly of the powerful Hongs and the high taxes on trade, the profits that could be made in the tea trade gave the Europeans every reason to remain in Canton.
Tea and porcelain were the principal products purchased by the VOC in Canton. For some time the Company sailed directly from Holland to Canton. By cutting out the halfway house in Batavia, where the tea was often stored for long periods of time, the Company was able to supply fresh tea to Europe. But leaving the tea trade to Batavia meant that the VOC was able to pay in China with spices, rather than with silver or with lengths of fabric from the Dutch Republic.
European merchants were confined to their warehouses and trading offices along the quay outside the city walls, and were forbidden to enter Canton itself. Through the Hong merchants, the Chinese government exercised a tight control over the foreigners' trade and behaviour. All transactions were carried out through a merchant who was also authorised to collect taxes for the government and to ensure compliance wit the rules. The Europeans had little or no direct contact with the Chinese authorities.