The Qianlong Emperor
r. 1736-1796

Barbarian Ruler...
...or Confucian Sage?

The Chinese have traditionally drawn sharp distinctions between “ethnic” (a.k.a. Han) Chinese and nomadic “barbarians.” However, the Qing Dynasty lasted more than 250 years (1644-1911), whereas the Yuan lasted less than 100 (1279-1368).
  • How did Qianlong help to win the approval of the Chinese majority and thereby legitimize this “foreign” dynasty?
[Qianlong and his ministers maintained] the Confucian tradition of political thought that idealized low taxes and minimal government, since whatever the ruler took was a diminution of a fixed store of goods available to the people. The ruler’s duties were to find and employ the most talented and unselfish ministers, to listen to them, and to set an example to ministers and people of virtuous conduct and moderate expenditure; to seek to increase revenues in order to “enrich the state and strengthen the military” was to be distracted from these fundamental duties and to go the route of Qin. The defeat of the Wang Anshi policies had been the last time that more dynamic and growth-oriented state policies had been seriously considered. (Mountain of Fame, 239)

In short, Qianlong as well as his predecessor, Kangxi (1662-1722) — consciously adopted the role of the Confucian sage-ruler by patronizing traditional Confucian projects:
  • Kangxi:  Compiled a collection of Tang poetry, two major dictionaries, and a huge encyclopedia.
  • Qianlong:  Compiled Qingding sishu wen (Imperially Authorized Anthology of Four Books Prose), Siku quanshu (Complete Collection of the Four Treasuries) with 3593 works copied into the manuscript, many representing the best or only editions of these texts.
    • Employed scholars that couldn’t be given bureaucratic posts.
    • Worked tirelessly as the head of the bureaucracy, met with his ministers every morning, and personally supervised the jinshi examinations.
So, did the barbarians transform China...
or did China transform the barbarians?


East Meets West
The British East India Company
The British East India Company was founded in 1600 and granted a monopoly on East Indian trade by the British government. By 1800 they were buying over 23 million pounds of tea at a cost of 3.6 million (roughly equal to $350 million in contemporary currency), not to mention what they spent on silk and porcelain.
Edict to King George III
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. This then is my answer to your request to appoint a representative at my Court, a request contrary to our dynastic usage, which would only result in inconvenience to yourself. I have expounded my wishes in detail and have commanded your tribute Envoys to leave in peace on their homeward journey. It behooves you, O King, to respect my sentiments and to display even greater devotion and secure peace and prosperity for your country hereafter. Besides making gifts (of which I enclose a list) to each member of your Mission, I confer upon you, O King, valuable presents in excess of the number usually bestowed on such occasions, including silks and curios — a list which is likewise enclosed. Do you reverently receive them and take note of my tender goodwill towards you! A special mandate. (The Search for Modern China: A Documentary Collection, 105-6)
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 First Opium War: 1839-1842
& The Treaty of Nanjing