Howqua known as Wu Bingjian in chinese (1769-1843) was the doyen of the Chinese merchants in Canton and a man commemorated in many accounts of the city for his commercial probity, generosity and unusually friendly attitude towards the foreign merchant community. Around 1832, Mr Chichele Plowden of the East India Company commissioned from a western painter named George Chinnery (1774-1852) a portrait of Howqua.
During the time he lived in Canton from 1825 until his death, Chinnery had many chinese painters studying with him, learning the european manner. The most accomplished was Lamqua who is known to have executed in his studio, versions of Howqua's portrait. His own brother Tingqua who was the owner of the most prolific watercolour studio of mid 19th century in Canton, is also known to have reproduced this famous portrait.
One version of Howqua's portrait attributed to Tingqua, bearing his signature, and painted in watercolour on ivory plaque, is now kept at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. An illustration in C. Clunas, Chinese Export Watercolours, Victoria and Albert Museum, Far Eastern Series, p.196, pl.97 shows great similarities with the portrait presented here.