Could Macartney’s Mission to China in 1793 Have Succeeded?


the debate around the question of why no Macartney in 1793 can easily become reductive over-emphasizing the absence of Macartney homage to Chinese standards of ritual. However this explores just a bias of the debate focusing solely on the event and Mr Macartney; that in turn becomes a perspective Westernized with no deep understanding of the Chinese geo-political context during the 18th century. The argument must take into account Western goals and objectives surrounding the Macartney Embassy China company, and why that was in conflict with the values and principles of Chinese Confucianism and the conformity of traditional Chinese culture by the Celestial Empire. As Byng and Levere assumptions (1981), ‘ failure of the Embassy is shown to reveal fundamental differences in the responses of the 18th century British and Chinese science; and it has large cultural implications. The article tries to tackle the Macartney Embassy debate from the scientific context of cultural analysis, rather than mere historical importance of the event that creates a transitional character of Macartney and negative debate to make the tribute.

scientific and cultural understanding will be the focus of the proposed debate. As Attwell, ‘ on the surface of this failure appeared to activate the rejection of Macartney follow Chinese Protocol… in Imperial terms Chinese, the preeminent position of the Emperor in the Celestial hierarchy ‘. Attwell argument shows the importance of identifying point of view Celestial of the Qing Empire, China culture of traditionality and disinterest and ambivalence towards the «barbarians of the Western Ocean ‘.» This develops the argument that the mission due to the cultural conflictions of two Empires was doomed from the start. But importantly, maintain a holistic view of the contexts of both Empires will be essential to understand whether the mission was capable of success or not. The argument takes the position that Macartney was condemned to failure from the start, not because of lack of tribute of Protocol, or his character, but because at this point during the 18th century, the two empires were polar opposite of geo-political and firmly rooted in there different and conflicting visions of the world. The ‘ Embassy, in fact, was rejected before it became ‘.

first, the rise of the British Empire during the 18th century explains the mentality coinciding lighting that Britons increasingly more adopted and applied nationally as part of their culture; and the measure to cope with foreign powers to determine how civilised were compared with British achievements. The values and principles of the Enlightenment were those of rationality and observation; as a result the scientific method emerged from the period of the enlightenment and spreading the use of State and fields as historical research. The vision of the British world became increasingly more scientific, and the ‘scientific explosion’ of knowledge during the 18th century contributed to the growing faith of Britain in the sciences. Illustration and promoting the continual development and science was a concept totally alien to China; deeply rooted in the worldview of Confucianism and Heavenly predominance. As feared Attwell, ‘ Qing China… people were evaluated according to their level of civilization in connection with the perfection of the Celestial Empire.

for the British, this position had to do with their level of scientific achievement ‘. The mere concept of the enlightenment was the awakening of new ideas and methods, new rules of study progress, which resulted in Great Britain, adopting the method of industrialization that would make the largest empire Great Britain during the 18th century. On the other hand the Chinese were not aware of the progress of Britain and Europe scientifically and economically as powers, this lack of awareness and concern, is what makes the debate of Macartney historically significant and interesting for research because it marks the contrast between the two civilizations, particularly as the context of the times. The Chinese did not believe that those outside their celestial borders would contribute to the greatness of the celestial Empire, with the son of the sky as the ruler. The Chinese expressed by Gregory “were secure and confident in their world.” These issues of cultural division and cultural priorities, are issues that are directly based on the lack of Macartney to ensure the objectives of the Embassy of Great Britain in 1792. These cultural differences and cultural conflict rules is the root and essence after the failure of the Macartney Embassy, and is due to these, that Macartney could not achieve a successful Embassy regardless of a successful tribute or not tribute.

another obstacle to the success of the enterprise of Macartney was Confucianism roots deep in China; These principles had existed in China for hundreds of years and were inherently part of the cultural life and the Chinese national identity. Illustration contradicted the principles and virtues of Confucianism, particularly power reinforced, as Byng and underscore Levere Emperor that Confucianism Celestial ‘according to the theory of Confucius, the virtue of the Emperor, as son of heaven and the universal rule, inevitably attract the barbarians to his court… see for themselves superiority of China’. The Chinese believed that through exposure to his country and Court bids to the Emperor, foreigners were therefore accept submission to the Celestial Empire and accept the hierarchy of the universal leader. Reasons for the Chang-Ku letter ts’ung-Pien I, BP cited for Byng, provides an in-depth understanding in the Chinese mentality of Western interpretation. The letter is from the “termination Grand’ Governors from China, reads the letter, ‘naturally we should grant his request that they can satisfy their sincerity in navigation across the seas in his yearning for civilization’.” The position is assumed through the Declaration of ‘longing for civilization’ than the Chinese are those who possess this civilization and that foreigners are seeking through the culture of the Celestial Empire. The British however did not see China in this way, appreciating China with curiosity, but not as a superior power. Coincidentally Macartney would not accept this proposal implied subordinate their sovereign King to a foreign Emperor. A conflict of visions of the British and Chinese world became a conflict of ego, each believing in his own superiority, however the British wanted to open the Chinese diplomatic acceptance of British power.

Chinese remained introverted, in his world of Center, neither willing nor interested in accepting the scientific advances of Britain. Two separate worlds, and Macartney event shows the disappointment of the two continents, as Gillingham quoted Alain Peyrefitte, ‘ a collision of two planets… one celestial and Lunar; the other with their feet firmly on the ground, commercial, scientific and industrial’. Observation is one of the patronizing sentiment on behalf of the Chinese statement attributes, but it accurately reflects the extensive nature of the cultural gap between the two powers. In addition, the importance of identifying “Eurocentrism accounts» the culture of China is important for historical conclusions because it is implied by the citation from Gillingham that scientific method adopted by the West was successful or higher compared with virtues speech apparently negative of China at that time. Another example of a statement of Gillingham, ‘surprising case of a clash between an advanced, dynamic society and one traditional and unchanging’, shows the accounts Westernized change according to the measure of success based on the principles of industrialization such as trade and economy. The Chinese description of a successful nation and culture were completely differently from the British; the scientific method represents a foreigner methodology and quantification to the hierarchy China, as Pritchard points out there were ‘problems of early relations with the West arising from divergent practices and ideas’. The Chinese had different and alternative methods of dealing with foreigners; the embrace of extended celestial borders was not an interest of the Qing dynasty.

the issue of trade became a common problem which resulted in the failure of the Macartney Embassy. The British conducted trade in economic power and free trade, the Chinese do not however trade with foreigners for financial gain but rather by compassion for dependent foreign trader on tea and silk trades of China; that Britain was becoming increasingly more dependent because of the growing demand. The Chinese had an alternative belief in trade; trade was meant for the self-sufficiency of the country does not have, this approach was based on the values of Confucianism; an approach described by Landes cited by Attwell as a result ‘cultural triumphalism combined with petty tyranny down made China a reluctant promoter and bad student’. The statement does not reflect however a understanding of the context of 18th-century Chinese cultural values, as he argued, China refused to change or adapt to the British paradigm of scientific methodology and social progression. A more accurate account of Chinese culture would emphasize the geopolitical landscape of selfishness and introversion d(e) the relationship of China with foreigners. As it identifies Cramner – Byng, ‘ the Macartney Embassy did not succeed in piercing the armor of cultural superiority as characterized by the system of tribute to the Chinese Empire’. The argument reflects the conviction that Macartney not could have been successful regardless the procedure tribute performed according to Chinese official standards and cultural division. But the motivations and objectives of Britain only one facet of the reasons why Macartney was inconceivably condemned from the moment that came out of Britain.

the East India Trading Company is particularly concerned with the success of the Embassy of China, want to set new standards that would benefit Britain by giving access to potentially desirable ports of trade speculation; Gillingham abbreviated ‘there was however frustrations in the rigid controls imposed at a port in China, which was opened to foreign trade’. The company took such interest and pursued the dedication to the Embassy which established a Commission to oversee the mission, the secret and the Superintendency Committee. However the Committee did not have a grasp of Chinese traders Hong and aspirations of the leaders of the elite. Therefore the Macartney Embassy did not have full preparation of ceremonial concepts within Chinese culture and the effect on the State involved towards the emperor. Macartney, in applying their sovereign to be the recipient of your tribute did not understand, or more probably underestimated, the hierarchical supremacy of the Emperor; Zewei says, ‘under the whole heaven, there is no land that is not the Emperor, and exist within the boundaries of land sea, who is not a subject of the Emperor’. Confucianism served as a doctrine to support energy Celestial Emperor on Chinese society and the world around China, but keep served as a means of social control over the Chinese and foreigners who visit the Celestial Empire to pay tribute to the world of the Center. The idea was one of conversion, as Byng and Levere cite, ‘ could see for themselves Chinese superiority… barbarians would naturally be anxious to come to transform ‘.

Macartney Embassy although a failure marked an important period for China, the realization of its forces from the external world and the changing balance of power transfer to Western colonizers. As Byng declares, ‘the Macartney Embassy was the writing on the wall, a warning that Chinese exclusivity may not be forever.’

However, the homage of Macartney implications are of relevance to the issue of the perceived lack of Macartney. The Chinese perspective is essential for understanding by which refusal of Macartney to Chinese customs ceremonial undermined key objectives of the Embassy. The Chinese believed the Embassy British was a standard procedure of ‘ceremonial homage of the Court’ and they held up signs saying that Lord Macartney had come to pay the Court with respect to the emperor. However, the British had several objectives, including the opening of several commercial ports and an officer of the British in the Chinese capital. These goals were against the Chinese, the Chinese Hanshen arguing they had not established any such ‘unprecedented’ with any of the other countries of the Western Ocean. The Embassy was a tribute, and treated as such, Mungello States, ‘the Chinese placed a banner in Macartney barge which clearly identifies it as an Envoy of homenaje-rodamiento of Great Britain’. The British wanted to stand out as an Embassy of their European counterparts, but the Chinese could not accept a distinction of Great Britain as different; so it would be to admit Britain from superior standards of treatment and precedent of reconciliations between the other branches of the Western Ocean. Lack of Macartney strongly can be attributed to the reluctance of China to separate Britain as different from the other powers, as Mungello concludes, ‘attempts to British to receive special treatment from the Chinese were sentenced by guest ritual obligations to treat equally all nations’.

‘ in many ways when the Embassy could hardly have been worse.’ Macartney expedition was a failure, but nevertheless proved to be insightful for the British, the Chinese Romance of the Jesuit era was far and exposed flaws and self-centered concept of themselves and the world from China. Macartney hoped a diplomatic solution, but the opium wars were an indictment of lost patience with the Celestial presence by the British. The context of two different cultures, cultures of conflict is what causes lack of Macartney. China was not ready to embrace the scientific and commercial values of the West, a move that would be destructive to China in the opium wars. But China, stable, now through the lands of the European continent. As Byng, ‘ Ch lung ‘ien and its officials seemed quite unaware that it was being questioned the position of Chinese supremacy in the world.’ The fact that the tribute was simply a response to the cultural divisions and strong convictions of both empires of its supremacy of values around the world, similar to an ideological struggle of culture. Tribute, represents the facet or face cultural apprehension and incompatibility between China and Great Britain as Hevia identifies, ‘ the contingency of ceremonial performance is important to note because in the 19th century and more later, it was claimed by diplomats and academics that the rigidity of the rites and the Chinese rejection to make alterations, in the heart of Sino-Western conflict ‘. The implications to the Macartney Embassy are evident in his failure.

Attwell, William bibliography. ‘Macartney failed trade delegation to China, 1792-1794’, quarterly newsletter of the National Library of Africa South, vol. 66. No. 1, (2012): 25-34.

Cranmer Byng, J.L and Trevor. H. Levere. ‘ a case study in cultural collision: scientific apparatus in the Macartney Embassy to China, 1793’, Annals of science, 38. (1981): 503-525.

Byng-Cranmer, J.L. ‘of the Lord Macartney Embassy of Beijing in 1793 of Chinese official documents’, the British Library: the University of Hong Kong (1961): 117-183.

Gillingham, Paul. ‘The Macartney Embassy,’ history today (November 1993): 28-34.

Gregory, John S. The West and China since the year 1500, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

Hevia, James L. ‘ the last gesture of deference and vilification: humble in China’, past and present, (2009): 212-234.

Mungello, O.D. The great encounter of China and the West, Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009.

Pritchard, Earl H. “at the Embassy Kotow Macartney to China in 1793”, The Quarterly of far East (1943): 163-202.

Zewi, Yang. ‘ Western international law and Confucianism from China in the 19th century: collision and integration ‘, Journal of the history of international law 13 (2011): 285-306.


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