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Sailing to China – an unusual expedition for French sailors
Unlike their Portuguese counterparts in the 16th century, or Dutch navigators a century later, both of which actively pursued trade with the Far East, most French merchants involved in maritime trading remained deaf to the siren call of Asian trade until the late 17th century.
La Compagnie Française pour le Commerce des Indes Orientales
In 1664, Louis XIV and his minister Colbert founded the Compagnie Française pour le Commerce des Indes Orientales (French East India Company), which held the monopoly on trade in this part of the world for a half-century. This domination of French trading in Asia meant that merchants had to be content with merely distributing Asian imports in France.
Nevertheless, a turning-point came around 1680 in the wake of the Franco-Dutch War (1672-1678). Bled white by naval conflict, the French East India Company was forced to negotiate partnerships with private-sector merchants. This opening did not last long, but it did provide an opportunity for French merchants to get a sense of the potential that lay in Asia.