20 Kasım 2013 Çarşamba

Quotation: Princeton University A World History of The World, "Cultural Perceptions Between China and Europe in the 18th Century: One Trade Policy to Rule Them All"

Gandalf performing his wizardry

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous novel, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the author describes a mythical kingdom, Rohan, ruled by a sickly king, who has been possessed by an demon spirit and therefore refuses to join mankind’s struggle against the evil forces of Mordor. The legendary wizard, Gandalf, personally visits this backwards king as an envoy for the various kingdoms of men to compel him to change his mind. However, the king laughs in Gandalf’s face and vehemently refuses after numerous requests. Finally, Gandalf decides he has no choice and casts a spell upon the old king that removes the demon from his soul, returns his youthful vigor, and clears his mind to the error of his once stubborn ways. Rohan then valiantly rides to the defense of mankind.
Although J.R.R. Tolkien constructed a fictional “middle earth” in his novels, there is no doubt that many Europeans in the late 18th century could have viewed themselves as fulfilling the role of Gandalf in the aforementioned story. While there is no evidence to suggest that Europeans believed the Chinese were possessed by “demons,” they certainly sought to rid the Chinese of what Europeans considered a stubborn, outdated policy: their aversion to world trade. Just like Gandalf argued that Rohan had a duty to come to the defense of mankind, the Europeans viewed world trade as an equally beneficial practice (for both the Qing and international community) that China, as a powerful empire, had a responsibility to engage in.

Robert Clive, Governor of Bengal

In the late 18th century, Enlightenment principles came to dominate European thought. Scholars became obsessed with discovering objective laws that would apply across disciplines to all conditions and to all peoples. They began to trust nature and human reason more than established institutions or traditions. But, rather than merely collecting new knowledge about the world around them for the European elite, Enlightenment scholars sought to spread these new concepts to people of any social standing or nationality. Oftentimes, they viewed world trade as a perfect vehicle with which to spread these ideals to faraway, less “enlightened” populations. For instance, in India, Robert Clive, an employee for the East India Company, believed that colonization and trade with the Mughals could help bring civilization to a people who were not “enlightened” enough yet to govern themselves.

The Enlightenment certainly gave Europeans a sense of confidence and arrogance about the superiority of their own civilization. Although Europeans always maintained a level of respect for the Chinese, the Enlightenment degraded their perceptions of the Qing Empire also.

Matteo Ricci, Italian Jesuit Priest

Writing about the Chinese in the late 16th century, Matthew Ricci, an Italian Jesuit priest, spoke highly of both China’s natural abundance and its people’s good manners. Ricci seemed to justify China’s aversion to world trade by explaining that they do not need any products from foreign lands: “everything which the people need for their wellbeing and sustinence, whether it be food or clothing or even delicacies and superfluities, is abundantly produced within the borders of the kingdom and not imported from foreign climes.” He also complimented the Chinese for respecting “the universal practice of urbanity and politeness.”

However, by the late 18th century, it is clear much of the Europeans’ initial admiration towards the Chinese had faded. John Barrow, while serving as a secretary for a British ambassador to the Qing Emperor, wrote, “the abuse of the laws, by which they are governed, have rendered them indifferent, unfeeling, and even cruel.” Barrow then described numerous Chinese customs that his European contemporaries would consider atrocious (and counter to the principles of the Enlightenment), including flogging people of lower social class and the practice of exposing unwanted babies to the elements. Notably, Europeans did not believe these practices made the Chinese “barbaric” since the ancient Greeks and Romans, widely considered throughout Europe to be examples of great civilizations, both engaged in similar customs. Nevertheless, Europeans would have considered those actions to be “backwards” and “outdated.”

Although the onset of the Industrial Revolution obviously encouraged Europeans to seek more trading partners that could provide markets and raw materials for manufactures, Europeans also began to view world trade as fulfilling a moral purpose. Like Gandalf illuminating the mind of the King of Rohan, Europeans felt they were called upon to bring the Enlightenment’s wisdom to China and open its people’s eyes to reason.

Expansion of China Under the Qing Dynasty

Even as certain economic changes in China were making the Empire more dependent on European commerce, the Qing Emperor maintained the same attitude towards world trade that China had practiced for centuries. China, having moved to the “Single Whip Tax System,” was now more dependent upon New World silver than ever before. In addition, as the empire expanded into areas with harsher soil, they relied upon crops from the New World to settle these regions. Nevertheless, the Emperor refused all King George’s requests for free trade and frequently referred to the British people as “barbarians” throughout his letter. Ironically, even though the Europeans felt they must educate the Chinese, the Qing Emperor claimed that he only allowed some Englishmen enter his country to be educated by Chinese civilization. However, the passivity of this approach shows how the Qing, like their predecessors, maintained Chinese isolation in matters of world trade.

Such continued isolation was most likely the result of the Qing’s desire to follow ancient traditions. As Manchus, the Qing rulers were in the minority in their own empire and therefore relied on tradition to legitimize their rule.

The Europeans and Chinese possessed somewhat similar perceptions of each other but what differed immensely was the way in which they chose to act upon those perceptions. Because the Enlightenment motivated Europeans to explore the world and spread their ideals, European cultural perceptions played a greater role in shaping the global framework during subsequent centuries. Eventually, just as Gandalf succeeded in driving the demons from the old king, Europeans succeeded in forcing the Chinese to abandon their isolation from world trade through superior military innovations, spawned from European competition and willpower over the course of the last few centuries.

- Bibliography

Images
Gandalf: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PY9eRkdIeuk
Robert Clive: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Clive,_1st_Baron_Clive
Matteo Ricci: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matteo_ricci
Qing Expansion: http://www.lasalle.edu/~mcinneshin/325/wk06.htm

Texts
Ricci, Matthew. China in the Sixteenth Century: The Journals of Matthew Ricci: 1583 - 1610.
Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: Volume II
Barrow, John. Travels in China. Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: Volume II
MacNair, Harley Farnsworth. Modern Chinese History Selected Readings. Worlds Together, Worlds Apart:
Volume II

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