Nineteenth Century China
Threats from Without & Within
 
The British EIC [East India Company] had been founded in 1599, when a group of London merchants acquired a royal charter from Queen Elizabeth I. The EIC enjoyed a monopoly over all British trade east of the Cape of Good Hope and soon became the largest British chartered company doing business outside of England. The “East India” in its title originally referred to the “East Indies” (modern Indonesia), but the British were driven from there by the Dutch, and the focus of EIC activity turned to the Indian subcontinent. As of the start of the nineteenth century, all British imports from the Far East were required to be deposited and sold from EIC warehouses. The EIC docks and warehouses in London employed fifty thousand persons, the company owned some 115 ships, and it had the largest standing army in Asia. In fact, as of the 1830s, the EIC army was more than twice the size of the regular British government army. The Crown granted the EIC the right to coin money and administer justice, and it was actually the EIC rather than the British government that first brought India under British control.
       Victory in the Napoleonic wars in the early nineteenth century established overwhelming global British naval superiority and, together with the early British lead in mechanized industry, made Britain the sole global superpower of the nineteenth century — and the largest empire in the history of the world. British success stimulated imitation, however, and before long, a second wave of late industrializing countries arose, including the United States, Germany, Russia, and Japan. ... These countries (together with France, which, although now in relative decline, was still a major player) became the new great powers, and they soon engaged in a frantic competition for empire. Between 1876 and 1915, a quarter of the world was colonized by these roughly half dozen major modern powers. (HEA, 220)
 
 
Beginning in 1757, all Western maritime commercial activity in China was confined by the Qing Dynasty to the single port of Guangzhou (in English, Canton). ... Most prominent, now, among those Western merchants were the British, who had developed a considerable appetite for a Chinese product called tea, which they were beginning to purchase in substantial quantities. Even in Guangzhou, Westerners were not allowed inside the city walls. They were confined, instead, during the six-month trading season, to a cluster of so-called factories southwest of the city walls near the Pearl River. More permanent foreign residences were downriver in Portuguese Macao. Repeated British efforts to renegotiate these restricted terms of trade, most famously during the mission led by Lord George Macartney in 1793, were simply rebuffed by Beijing.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Although Western merchants sold many different products in exchange for Chinese tea, silk, porcelain, and lacquerware, only rarely could they sell enough to balance the exchange. The deficit, or trade imbalance, had to be made up with payments in cash (which, in China, meant silver). (HEA, 221-2)

 
Lord Macartney’s Commission to China
1793
Macartney: “Thus, then, have I seen ‘King Solomon in all his glory’. I use this expression, as the scene recalled perfectly to my memory a puppet show of that name which I recollect to have seen in my childhood, and which made so strong an impression on my mind that I then thought it a true representation of the highest pitch of human greatness and felicity.” (The Search for Modern China: A Documentary Collection, 100)
 
 
Qianlong’s Edict to King George III
1793
You, O King from afar, have yearned after the blessings of our civilization, and in your eagerness to come into touch with our converting influence have sent an Embassy across the sea bearing a memorial. I have already taken not [sic] of your respectful spirit of submission, have treated your mission with extreme favour and loaded it with gifts, besides issuing a mandate to you, O King, and honouring you with the bestowal of valuable presents. Thus has my indulgence been manifested. ...
  1. Your Ambassador requests facilities for ships of your nation to call at Ningpo, Chusan, Tientsin, and other places for purposes of trade. ... For the future, as in the past, I decree that your request is refused and that you shall be limited to Macao.
  2. The request that your merchants may establish a repository in the capital of my Empire for the storing and sale of your produce, in accordance with the precedent granted to Russia, is even more impracticable than the last. ... This request is also refused.
  3. Your request for a small island near Chusan, where your merchants may reside and goods be warehoused ... is a flagrant violation of the usage of my Empire and cannot possibly be entertained.
  4. [With regard to your request] for a small site in the vicinity of Canton city, where your barbarian merchants may lodge or, alternatively, that there be no longer any restrictions over their movements at Macao ... it is best that the regulations now in force should continue unchanged.
  5. Regarding your request for remission or reduction of duties on merchandise discharged by your British barbarian merchants at Macao and distributed throughout the interior, there is a regular tariff in force for barbarian merchant goods, which applies equally to all European nations. ...
  6. As to your request that your ships shall pay the duties leviable by tariff, there are regular rules in force at the Canton Custom house respecting the amounts payable, and since I have refused your request to be allowed to trade at other ports, this duty will naturally continue to be paid at Canton as heretofore.
  7. Regarding your nation’s worship of the Lord of Heaven ... sage Emperors and wise rulers have bestowed on China a moral system and inculcated a code, which from time immemorial has been religiously observed by the myriads of my subjects. ... The distinction between Chinese and barbarian is most strict, and your Ambassador’s request that barbarians shall be given full liberty to disseminate their religion is utterly unreasonable.
It may be, O King, that the above proposals have been wantonly made by your Ambassador on his own responsibility or peradventure you yourself are ignorant of our dynastic regulations and had no intention of transgressing them when you expressed these wild ideas and hopes. I have shown the greatest condescension to the tribute missions of all States which sincerely yearn after the blessings of civilization, so as to manifest my kindly indulgence. I have even gone out of my way to grant any requests which were in any way consistent with Chinese usage. Above all, upon you, who live in a remote and inaccessible region, far across the spaces of ocean, but who have shown your submissive loyalty by sending this tribute mission, I have heaped benefits far in excess of those accorded to other nations. But the demands presented by your Embassy are not only a contravention of dynastic tradition, but would be utterly unproductive of good result to yourself, besides being quite impracticable. (The Search for Modern China: A Documentary Collection, 106-9)
 
Swaying the wide world, I have but one aim in view, namely, to maintain a perfect governance and to fulfill the duties of the State; strange and costly objects do not interest me. If I have commanded that the tribute offerings sent by you, O King, are to be accepted, this was solely in consideration for the spirit which prompted you to dispatch them from afar. Our dynasty’s majestic virtue has penetrated unto every country under Heaven, and Kings of nations have offered their costly tribute by land and sea. As your Ambassador can see for himself, we possess all things. I set no value on objects strange or ingenious, and have no use for your country’s manufactures. (The Search for Modern China: A Documentary Collection, 105)
 
 
The Opium War
1839-1842

Opium is a narcotic drug produced from the sap of a flower called the poppy. Opium had long been a familiar substance throughout the Old World. It may have even been grown in ancient Egypt. What was new was the technique of smoking opium, which appears to have begun as a spin-off from the practice of smoking New World tobacco. Although opium smoking may have started simply by mixing tobacco and opium together, ultimately, instead of actually setting the opium alight and directly inhaling the smoke, the technique became to apply heat to a bead of opium in a special pipe until it vaporized and then inhale the vapor. Opium smoking became especially widespread in China, but the Chinese government also took a global lead in outlawing the practice, banning nonmedicinal use of opium by as early as 1729. Elsewhere in the world, opium use was far from universally illegal prior to the twentieth century. ...
 

 
The obvious problem with this lucrative opium trade was that it was illegal in China .... This made little difference, however, because the EIC continued to grow and manufacture opium in India, where it was perfectly legal, and auction the opium off to private firms, who then shipped it to China. The EIC’s British monopoly on trade with the Far East applied only to trade between Asia and Britain and never to trade between different ports within Asia. Opium imports into China therefore continued unabated. (HEA, 222-3)
British Sales of Opium to China
(The Search for Modern China, 128)
Year
1729
1750
1773
1790
1800
1810
1816
1823
1828
1832
Number of [130-160 lb. ] chests
200
600 (est.)
1,000
4,054
4,570
4,968
5,106
7,082
13,131
23,570
 
Lin Zexu’s Letter to Queen Victoria
1839

Magnificently our great Emperor soothes and pacifies China and the foreign countries. ... But there appear among the crowd of barbarians both good and bad persons, unevenly. ... There are barbarian ships that come here for trade to make a great profit. But by what right do they in return use the poisonous drug [opium] to injure the Chinese people? ... Of all China’s exports to foreign countries, there is not a single thing which is not beneficial. ... On the other hand, articles coming from outside China can only be used as toys; they are not needed by China. Nevertheless, our Celestial Court lets tea, silk, and other goods be shipped without limit. This is for no other reason than to share the benefit with the people of the whole world. [East Asia: A New History, 167; cf. China: Its History and Culture, 153.]
 
 
The Treaty of Nanjing
Concluding the Opium War

Signing the Treaty of Nanjing (August 29, 1842)
 

Article 2.  Determined the opening of five Chinese cities — Canton, Fuzhou, Xiamen, Ningbo, and Shanghai — to residence by British subjects and their families “for the purpose of carrying on their mercantile pursuits, without molestation or restraint.” It also permitted the establishment of consulates in each of those cities.

Article 3. The Island of Hong Kong to be possessed in perpetuity” by Victoria and her successors, and ruled as they shall see fit.

Article 4.  Payment of $6 million by the Qing as the value of the opium which was delivered up in Canton.

Article 5.  Abolition of the Canton Cohong monopoly system and permission at the five above-named ports for British merchants to carry on their mercantile transactions with whatever persons they please. The Qing government was also made to pay $3 million in settlement of outstanding Cohong debts.

Article 6.  Payment to the British of a further $12 million on account of the expenses incurred in the recent fighting, minus any sums already received as ransom for cities and towns in China since August 1, 1841.

Article 8 (the most-favored nation” clause) from the Supplementary Treaty of 1843: Should the Emperor hereafter, from any cause whatever, be pleased to grant additional privileges or immunities to any of the subjects or citizens of such foreign countries, the same privileges or immunities will be extended to and enjoyed by British subjects.

 

 
Indemnities to Foreign Powers
East Asia: A New History, 348

Reparations extracted from China by foreign powers, after successive defeats:

(Note that the value of an ounce of silver varied widely over time; in 1887 it was worth U.S. $1.20 but by 1902 it had fallen to $0.62.)
.
1842 21 million ounces of silver to Great Britain at the end of the 1839-1842 war
1858 4 million ounces of silver to Britain and 2 million ounces to France
1860 8 million ounces of silver to Britain and 8 million ounces to France
1862-9 Approximately 400,000 ounces of indemnities cumulatively for violence against missionaries
1870 490,000 ounces of silver to France after the Tientsin massacre
1873 500,000 ounces of silver to Japan after the Japanese expedition to Taiwan
1878 5 million ounces of silver to Russia
1881 An additional 9 million ounces of silver to Russia as the price of Chinese reoccupation of the Ili valley in northern Xinjiang
1895 200 million ounces of silver to Japan
1897 30 million ounces of silver to Japan, for her withdrawal of troops from Liaodong
1901 450 million silver dollars to the Western allies as the Boxer Indemnity
1922 66 million gold francs to Japan, for her evacuation of part of Shandong
 


 
The Visions
In 1837, after failing the first civil service examination for the second time, Hong Xiuquan went into a state of deep mental disturbance” and had a number of visions over several days:
 

In his visions he was taken up to Heaven. In the dazzling light he was received by beautiful maidens, but cast no sidelong glances at them.” He was washed to cleanse him of the filth of the world. His belly was cut open and his internal organs replaced by new, clean ones. Then he was led before a magnificent divine figure with a long golden beard, who lamented that the people of the world had lost their “original hearts” and were deluded by malicious demons. They no longer worshipped him, and they drank wine, smoked opium, and lived lives of debauchery and worldly vanity. Hong was eager to assist in chastising the demons and soon was allowed to do so, driving from Heaven the Dragon Demon of the Eastern Sea. Hong belonged in Heaven and had his own beautiful palace. It now was clear that the gold-bearded figure was his heavenly father, and he had a heavenly elder brother who assisted him in some of his battles. His heavenly mother and heavenly younger sisters brought him beautiful fruit to eat, and the younger sisters sometimes chanted sacred texts with him or joined him in his attacks on the demons. He was given a demon-slaying sword and a golden seal that forced demons too flee. Once he watched his father and elder brother chastise Confucius as one who had done the most to delude the people of the world. (Mountain of Fame, 265; cf. China: Its History and Culture, 157-8)

 
The Taiping Rebellion
On January 11, 1851 the growing Taiping army marched north from Guangxi, entering Nanjing, the old “Southern Capital,” on March 19, 1853 and declaring it the capital of their Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace (Taiping Tianguo). (cf. Mountain of Fame, 267 and China: Its History and Culture, 158-9)
 


The Self-Strengthening Movement
Towards the end of the nineteenth century it became apparent that China had to do something to combat the tremendous threat of Western imperialism. Inspired by Japan’s enormously successful transition to modernity, the intellectual elite adopted an approach that may be summarized by the statement:
 
“Chinese learning for substance;

Western learning for practical development.”