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 1840)

  1. No foreign warships may sail inside the Bogue [i.e., the harbor approach to Canton city]
  2. 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 city walls]
  3. . . . foreign ships must not enter into direct communication with the Chinese people and merchants without the immediate supervision (of a native Chinese)
  4. Each factory[ each trading nation had its own 'factory'] is restricted for its service to 8 Chinese (irrespective of the number of its occupants) . . .
  5. 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 at Canton]
  6. 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
    . . . .
  7. 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 . . .
  8. 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]
    . . .
  9. Foreigners may neither buy Chinese books, nor learn Chinese [difficult to accept that this restriction could be enforced!]
  10. The hong merchants shall not go into debt to foreigners
Ref.: I. Hsu, The Rise of Modern China, p.201

ITEM B By 1840 the relations 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 them.

Advice of Imperial Commissioner Ch'i-ying on how to treat the foreigners (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]