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Autor: anton 11 November 2010
Words: 1377 | Pages: 6
China, the Middle Kingdom, has always had its own unique view on the world. Throughout history China has proven to be a culturally superior and technologically advanced country. To augment this, China had an unusual foreign policy, a tributary system, which it used effectively for hundreds of years, until the arrival of the British. The arrival of the British brought the Chinese into full conflict with their own traditional way of dealing with barbarians. There adherence to traditional Chinese policy and overestimation of their own supremacy would be the key to their weakness. This clash of cultures would eventually lead to the Opium Wars, which would alter Chinese history forever. For the first time China was on the losing end of a changing world landscape.
The attitude of the Chinese and especially the emperor showed a true lack of understanding the culture of the British. The Chinese had a traditional, set way of dealing with people who were not Chinese, and believed all people should bow down in front of the Son of Heaven, the Emperor. Certain systems were set into place with the belief that China was the center of everything. Certain political traditions had worked for centuries with more familiar barbarians.
The traditional system involved a very specific set of rules and regulations. All foreign peoples must pay tribute to the superiority of China. To even enter the system a foreigner must send envoys to do the kotow. The physical aspects of the kotow were something that would definitely upset the British sense of the world, let alone its cerebral implications.
From the very beginning of British contact with China, a clash of cultures was taking place. In Ch'ien-lung's letter to King George III, written in 1793, it states "Traditionally people of the European nations who wish to render some service under the Celestial Court have been permitted to come to the capital. But after their arrival they are obliged to wear Chinese court costumes, are placed in a certain residence, and are never allowed to return to their own countries. This is the established rule of the Celestial Dynasty with which presumably, O King, are familiar. Now you, O King, wish to send one of your nationals to live in the capital, but he is not like the Europeans, who come to Peking as Chinese employees, live there and never return home again, nor can he be allowed to go and come and maintain any correspondence. This is indeed a useless undertaking."
How rude and offensive this must have sounded to the British, especially the idea that just to have formal relations with the Chinese in their own country, one could never leave! The Chinese on the other hand thought that this was the best and only way in which to conduct foreign relations. To do otherwise would not be adhering to the traditions a China that had existed for a thousand years.
As time progressed and the Opium trade began to pick up speed, further misunderstanding on the half of the Chinese ensued. In an attempt to appeal to moral sensibility, Lin Zexu's writes a letter to Queen Victoria, in 1839. He blatantly calls the English barbarians to their own Queen (even if she never actually received the letter, just the sheer audacity of it is profound.) and the amount of mis information he is displaying about Britain goes to show just how little the Chinese understood them, or tried to understand them. Also Commissioner Lin informs the Queen of the new regulations to control the Opium trade. "Now we have set up new regulations governing the Chinese people. He who sells opium shall receive the death penalty and he who smokes it also the death penaltyÐ’â€¦Ð’â€¦.Therefore in the new regulations, in regard to those barbarians who bring opium to China, the penalty is fixed at decapitation or strangulation. This is what is called getting rid of a harmful thing on behalf of mankind."
In Lin's mind I am sure he believed that the Queen of England would surely understand the Chinese sense of what is right and what is wrong. I don't think that Queen Victoria saw opium as a harmful thing to mankind; in fact, it was helping to increase her cash flow and foothold in Asia. Also Lin Zexu is now applying Chinese law to British citizens, completely disregarding the British notion of an extradition to British courts. This is just another example of the lack of understanding of the Chinese for the British, thus pushing for further impetus to war.
Lin Zexu, well ahead of most of the Chinese and especially the imperial court, realized that the British were a force to be reckoned with, although most in the imperial court did not as of yet. The Chinese were losing the war to the British so they decided to take another course of action, one that still adhered to the traditional way in which the Chinese conducted foreign affairs. Part of this tradition involved appeasement. The appeasement of the foreign powers was the next step the Chinese traditionally took when dealing with barbarians.
This appeasement led to a series of treaties signed with the British, as well as the French and American's. The Chinese thought that by signing these treaties, their immediate problems with the Europeans would be solved. They were not looking at the long term changes that these treaties would bring to China. The Chinese official, mainly Lin Zexu and Ch'i-ying, were in a very bad position, on the one hand understanding that China was in a position to sacrifice much, while on the other hand understanding that under pain of death the imperial court would not believe that China could be brought to its knees.
The Chinese did not understand any other way of dealing with foreigners other then their traditional methods. In Ch'i-yings view as well of that of the other Chinese, the traditions of the foreigners were extremely odd and disconcerting. Yet the Chinese just could not change their attitude that their way was the only way. Ch'i-ying writes "With this type of people from outside the bounds of civilization, who are unawakened in styles of address and forms of ceremony, if we adhere to the proper forms in official documents and let them be weighted according to the status of superior or inferior, even though our tongues were dry and our throats parched (from urging them to follow our way), still they could not avoid closing their ears and acting as if deaf."
Still in a losing position, we can see that the Chinese officials just did not understand that they would have to change their own ways if China was to come out on top. They truly believed that by ceremony and traditional styles of foreign relations that they could a sway the British. The history of the Opium war is filled with references such as this. It was not until the time of Prince Kung that new foreign policy began to be initiated, almost twenty years later. Finally he understands China's plight. He writes in 1861, "As to England, her purpose is to trade, but she acts violently, without any regard for human decency. If she is not kept within limits, we shall not be able to stand on our feet. Hence she may be compared to an affliction of the limbs." Prince Kung also initiates various foreign policies to help China get the upper hand. He establishes an office for the interpretation of foreign languages, and puts Chinese officials in all the trading ports. Finally veering away from traditional foreign policy, Kung tries to give China time to re-gain strength.
China came out on the losing side of the Opium war. The Chinese stuck to traditional methods of dealing with foreigners even when that method was not working for them. It did not enter their mind set till much later that a new set of rules would have to be put into place when dealing with foreigners, but by this time China will have already have placed itself into a position that would alter the course of Chinese history forever.
Teng, Ssu-yu, Fairbanks, John K., China's Response to the West (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1982), 48.
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