Why Did The Qing Dynasty Court Prefer To Limit And Restrict Western Trade To Guangzhou?

Qing Dynasty Court

The Qing rulers who overthrew the Ming dynasty in china inherited the tribute from their predecessors which required western convoys to pay tribute to the emperor. This is the fact that the western communities were not willing to adhere to. They wanted to conduct trade with the Chinese business persons and were only interested in profits. The Qing rulers were not happy with the western culture and therefore did not want interference with their own culture. The people of china believed that their emperors were the rulers of everything living below heaven.

The Qing rulers after resuming the authority designed Qing court which was given the sole responsibility of developing and upholding laws that were then used in the governance of the Chinese regions. They developed rules that required all foreign nations that were conducting their trade within the Chinese boundary to pay tribute to their imperial courts at a specific duration of time and the form in which the tribute should be presented. The Qing court formed a system known as canton system which was used by the Qing rulers to control the trade activities conducted by the western countries in the Chinese territory. The Qing court ordered for the transfer of all trading activities to the Guangzhou which is the southern port based in canton. The policy was passed by the Qing court in the year 1757 whereby the Qing rulers thought it was easy to monitor the activities conducted by the western countries in their territories. The Qing rulers saw the western countries as a threat to their political ideologies and also their commercial activities. They thought the coming of the western culture was going to interfere with their activities.

The Qing emperor ordered that all the trading activities were to be controlled by the Chinese merchants. They operated the factories that were located at Guangzhou as a monopoly business. The Guangdong customs were set by the Qing court to regulate the activities of the Chinese merchants that participated in the business activities involving western countries. These customs were enforced by the supervisor picked by the emperor himself. The Chinese government under the leadership of the Qing rulers thought that the western countries did not pay enough recognition to their religious beliefs and therefore tried to introduce Christianity in this region. This compelled the Qing emperor to chase away all the missionaries were present in china except for the technicians and scientists who served the Qing court.

The Qing rulers did not understand the bureaucracy that was being used by the western countries. They also thought they were interfering with their education system and even social life. They finally started treating the western countries with suspicion and xenophobia as they thought they wanted to control their way of life. These regulations were designed by the Qing rulers just to ensure that they controlled all the foreign business activities. They also aimed at imposing restrictions on both the local and foreign traders who continued to protest.

What are the institutional assumptions that inform the Qianlong emperor’s views on China’s relations with the British?

There are several institutional assumptions that formed the basis of the Qianlong emperor view of the British embassy in china. The Qianlong emperor was skeptical on the visitors who came from Britain specifically in as much as he treated foreigner with a lot of contempt. Qianlong was very satirical on the British envoy to china and more when McCartney visited china and wanted to control the activities of the ceremony conducted by the visitors to the Qing emperor.

 Qianlong thought that the British envoy misinterpreted each and every activity that was being conducted in the region. Qianlong emperor treated the British convoy with the contempt based on the British participation in the slave trade, its political instability, its interest on the trinkets produced by the Chinese alongside other consumer goods, the Indian imperialism that it was currently playing a major part. According to Qianlong, the British government was out to exploit other nations without providing anything good in return. The British did not understand the Chinese way of life and according to Qianlong this was the main reason why it could not even restore peace in its own territory.

Qianlong emperor believed that the British envoy wanted to gain commercial benefits for themselves without considering what the Chinese government was gaining in return. He believed china was better off without any business collaboration with the foreigners and therefore they did not want to conduct further businesses with the British government. When Qianlong learnt that the British envoy who came to pay tribute to him were referred to as the imperial envoy according to Chinese interpretation, he was not impressed and demanded that they be referred to as the respect payer. McCartney did not present any resentment to the change that was directed by Qianlong and even did not object the rehearsal that was conducted at kowtow. He however refused to kneel down three times with his head touching the ground in front to Qianlong during the ceremony for paying tributes. Qing court and the McCartney did not agree on the procedure of paying tributes to the emperor. Qianlong became very furious with the disrespect that McCartney showed him.

The British showed their might to the Chinese by prompting Qianlong to order Qing court to be flexible when it comes to the protocol of greeting the emperor. Qianlong did not order for the change because he wanted to but he was just not aware of the culture that was being practiced by the western countries that came to pay their tributes to him.

Since Qing dynasty did not have any idea how the western countries conducted their businesses, it was very tricky for Qianlong to make decisions as far as the protocol for paying tributes to him was concerned. Qianlong was not aware of the political imbalance that existed between his country and the western counterparts. The court was liable to break the relationship that the western countries wanted to set up with Chinese government in case they were not going to conform to the set rules governing the process of paying tributes to the emperor given the mission from Russia had earlier failed to adhere to the standards. However, Qianlong emperor did not want to see this happen and therefore ordered Qing court to develop flexible protocol to allow the western countries to pay their attributes as per their wish. Qianlong deemed the British envoy to be superior prompting him to order for constitutional amendments. The British convoy made Qianlong to believe they were superior just by the gifts they presented to him when they paid their tributes to him. They presented gifts that were very impressive such as clocks, cannon, telescopes, astrological equipment and model warship.

 The British commanded a better treatment from the Qianlong emperor just by the warship they used to navigate to the Chinese territory. This show how there was an imbalance between the technological and political abilities of both countries. Qianlong emperor thought that being the British was superior to them; they were not going to conduct any business with them because they stood a chance of making little gains while the largest portion will be grabbed by the British government.

How does this compare with the British assumptions about how relations between China and Britain should function?

The British however, viewed china as a country that had vast business opportunities that if they exploited they were going to get all the wealth they required. The British government was also continuing with their practice of imperialism, whereby it was moving all over the world conquering new colonies. Since china was not colonized by that that time, they stood a higher chance of colonizing it. The people who planned for the McCartney mission had a lot of expectations and saw it as an economic breakthrough to the British government.

The British government believed that by establishing the East India Company in Chinese territory, they would net approximately €2 million every year with expectations that the value would rise substantially after a broader market is established for goods from Britain. The British did not believe the reports that were presented by the Russians which indicated that it was almost impossible to access the emperor himself. They thought they could access the emperor and strike business treaties that would see into it they expand their business activities in the region. The British believed they could trade in the tea that was being produced by china in exchange of other products.

The British government did not believe the report which indicated that the operations of the Chinese government. They did not heed to the fact that the Chinese government were not willing to conduct any trading activity with the western countries. The British had their focus on the porcelain, silk and tea which they believed could bring them a lot of profit. The people who planned for the McCartney’s meeting with Qianlong emperor was a meeting that was meant for two equal parties and not as the Chinese held their emperor as the ruler of the whole world and therefore each and every human being should kneel down before him three times with the head touching the ground. They believed that McCartney originated from the royal family just the same as Qianlong was and therefore their meeting was more or less of the equals.

 The British were desperately in need of tea that was being produced in china by 18th century and therefore when, the Chinese government turned down their demands, they resorted to export of opium into china through independent  traders in exchange of silver. The opium business was cut short by the Chinese government following prohibition of its implantation. The British thought the Chinese were very diplomatic but this was never to be because they did not accept any treaty with foreign countries especially western countries. For these reasons no business could take place between the two countries.


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