Chinese responses to Western Intrusions
ITEM A The 18th century
saw a considerable increase in Western trade with China, the objects
of which were mainly silks, tea, ceramics and lacquered goods. However, trade was never easy owing to
the relative self-sufficiency of China and the accustomed presumptions of Chinese superiority to "the
foreign devils." European traders, mainly British, complained constantly about such restrictions as the
requirement that trade be conducted only at Canton and the refusal of official contact. The following
document--the famous "Eight Regulations" first issued in 1760 and later expanded-- illustrates these difficulties:
Regulations governing foreign trade (as conducted up to
Ref.: I. Hsu, The Rise of Modern China, p.201
- No foreign warships may sail inside the Bogue [i.e., the harbor approach to
- Neither foreign women nor firearms may be brought into the factories [i.e.,
the warehouse complex reserved for foreign traders within the harbor but outside Canton
- . . . foreign ships must not enter into direct communication with the Chinese
people and merchants without the immediate supervision (of a native Chinese)
- Each factory[ each trading nation had its own 'factory']
is restricted for its service to 8 Chinese (irrespective of the number of its occupants) . . .
- Foreigners may not communicate with Chinese officials except through the
proper channel of the Co-hong [i.e., appointees from among the native Chinese merchants
- Foreigners are not allowed to row boats freely in the river . . .On the 8th,
18th, and 28th days of the moon 'they may take the air . . . All ships' boats passing the
Custom-houses on the river must be detained and examoined, to guard against guns, swords,
or firearms being furtively carried in them. On the 8th, 18th, and 28th days of the moon
these foreign barbarians may visit the Flower Gardens and the Honam Joss-house, but not
in droves of over ten at one time. . . If the ten should presume to enter villages, public
places, or bazaars, punishment will be inflicted upon the (interpreter) who accompanies them
. . . .
- Foreign trade must be conducted through the hong merchants. Foreigners
living in the factories must not move in and out too frequently, although they may walk
freely within a hundred yards of their factories . . .
- Foreign traders must not remain in Canton after the trading season [which
lasted from October to May each year] . . . they should return home or go to Macao [the
Portuguese enclave at the mouth of the harbor]
. . .
- Foreigners may neither buy Chinese books, nor learn Chinese [difficult to
accept that this restriction could be enforced!]
- The hong merchants shall not go into debt to foreigners
ITEM B By 1840
between China and the West had been transformed.
Hitherto all trade was conducted according to the strict regulations enforced by the Chinese government.
With the advent of the Opium war, however, China was to discover that her vaunted superiority over the
Western ‘barbarians’ was a sham when it came to the military challenge presented by British arms.
Thereafter all Chinese were forced to swallow their pride in relations with the aggressive foreigners as
Chinese officials strove to formulate new tactics for dealing with
Advice of Imperial Commissioner Ch'i-ying on how to treat the
(Memorial of 1844)
. . . Throughout this period of three years [i.e., since the opening of the Opium
war] the barbarian [the common epithet to describe the foreigner; one mainly designating one
so uncultured as not to be able to speak Chinese] has undergone
deceptive changes in many rspects and has not produced a unified development. The
methods by which to conciliate the barbarians and get them under control similarly could
not but shift about and change their form. certainly we have to curb them by skillful
methods. There are times when it is possible to have them follow our directions but not let
them understand the reasons. Sometimes we expose everything so that they will not be
suspicious, whereupon we can dissipate their rebellious restlessness. Sometimes we have
given them receptions and entertainment, after which they have had a feeling of
appreciation. And at still other times we have shown trust in them in a broad-minded way
and deemed it necessary to go deeply into discussions with them, whereupon we have
been able to get their help in the business at hand.
This is because the barbarians are born and grow up outside the frontiers of China,
so that there are many things in the institutional system of the Celestial Dynasty [i.e.,
Imperial China] with which they are not fully acquainted. Moreover, they are constantly
making arbitrary interpretations of things. and it is difficult to enlighten them by means of
reason . . .
Moreover, the barbarians commonly lay great stress on their women. Whenever
they have a distinguished guest, the wife is certain to come out to meet him . . . Your slave
[a form adopted by even high officials when addressing the emperor] was confounded and
ill at ease, while they on the other hand were deeply honored and delighted. Thus in actual
fact the customs of the various Western countries cannot be regulated according to the
ceremonies of the Middle
Kingdom [i.e., China]. If we should abruptly rebuke them, it would be no way of
shattering their stupidity and might give rise to their suspicion and dislike . . .
With this type of people from outside the bounds of civilization, who are blind and
unawakened in styles of address and forms of ceremony, if we adhered to the proper forms
in official documents and let them be weighed according to the status of superior and
inferior, even though our tongues were dry and our throats parched, still they could not
avoid closing their ears and acting as if deaf. Not only would there be no way to bring
them to their senses, but also it would immediately cause friction. Truly it would be of no
advantage in the essential business of subduing and conciliating them. To fight with them
over empty names and get no substantial result would not be so good as to pass over these
small matters and achieve our larger scheme [i.e., to avoid quarrels and generate trust]
[Ref.: I.C.Y. Hsu, The Rise of Modern China, pp. 252-3]