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Late Qing Catastrophes: The West and the Second Opium War

Hendryk

Nothing ever ends
Published by SLP
Location
France
Another good article overall, but if I may split a few hairs, the choice of language feels a little problematic to me--the Qing are called "belligerent" and "anti-foreigner" simply because they don't want parts of their territory carved up by colonial invaders.

Also a little jarring is the blend of transliterations. On the one hand Pinyin is used for Beijing, Nanjing, Tianjin, the Xianfeng Emperor, etc.; on the other we have Taku, Peiho, Yangtze, Canton, etc. In cases like these, while making the occasional concession to common usage, I tend to err on the side of using Pinyin across the board.
 
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Hendryk

Nothing ever ends
Published by SLP
Location
France
I'd be remiss not to quote in extenso the letter that Victor Hugo wrote on the occasion of the Second Opium War:

To Captain Butler
Hauteville House,

25 November, 1861

You ask my opinion, Sir, about the China expedition. You consider this expedition to be honourable and glorious, and you have the kindness to attach some consideration to my feelings; according to you, the China expedition, carried out jointly under the flags of Queen Victoria and the Emperor Napoleon, is a glory to be shared between France and England, and you wish to know how much approval I feel I can give to this English and French victory.

Since you wish to know my opinion, here it is:

There was, in a corner of the world, a wonder of the world; this wonder was called the Summer Palace. Art has two principles, the Idea, which produces European art, and the Chimera, which produces oriental art. The Summer Palace was to chimerical art what the Parthenon is to ideal art. All that can be begotten of the imagination of an almost extra-human people was there. It was not a single, unique work like the Parthenon. It was a kind of enormous model of the chimera, if the chimera can have a model. Imagine some inexpressible construction, something like a lunar building, and you will have the Summer Palace. Build a dream with marble, jade, bronze and porcelain, frame it with cedar wood, cover it with precious stones, drape it with silk, make it here a sanctuary, there a harem, elsewhere a citadel, put gods there, and monsters, varnish it, enamel it, gild it, paint it, have architects who are poets build the thousand and one dreams of the thousand and one nights, add gardens, basins, gushing water and foam, swans, ibis, peacocks, suppose in a word a sort of dazzling cavern of human fantasy with the face of a temple and palace, such was this building. The slow work of generations had been necessary to create it. This edifice, as enormous as a city, had been built by the centuries, for whom? For the peoples. For the work of time belongs to man. Artists, poets and philosophers knew the Summer Palace; Voltaire talks of it. People spoke of the Parthenon in Greece, the pyramids in Egypt, the Coliseum in Rome, Notre-Dame in Paris, the Summer Palace in the Orient. If people did not see it they imagined it. It was a kind of tremendous unknown masterpiece, glimpsed from the distance in a kind of twilight, like a silhouette of the civilization of Asia on the horizon of the civilization of Europe.

This wonder has disappeared.

One day two bandits entered the Summer Palace. One plundered, the other burned. Victory can be a thieving woman, or so it seems. The devastation of the Summer Palace was accomplished by the two victors acting jointly. Mixed up in all this is the name of Elgin, which inevitably calls to mind the Parthenon. What was done to the Parthenon was done to the Summer Palace, more thoroughly and better, so that nothing of it should be left. All the treasures of all our cathedrals put together could not equal this formidable and splendid museum of the Orient. It contained not only masterpieces of art, but masses of jewelry. What a great exploit, what a windfall! One of the two victors filled his pockets; when the other saw this he filled his coffers. And back they came to Europe, arm in arm, laughing away. Such is the story of the two bandits.

We Europeans are the civilized ones, and for us the Chinese are the barbarians. This is what civilization has done to barbarism.

Before history, one of the two bandits will be called France; the other will be called England. But I protest, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity! the crimes of those who lead are not the fault of those who are led; Governments are sometimes bandits, peoples never.

The French empire has pocketed half of this victory, and today with a kind of proprietorial naivety it displays the splendid bric-a-brac of the Summer Palace. I hope that a day will come when France, delivered and cleansed, will return this booty to despoiled China.

Meanwhile, there is a theft and two thieves.

I take note.

This, Sir, is how much approval I give to the China expedition.
 

Makemakean

Mr Makemean
Pronouns
Logical, unlike those in German
Also a little jarring is the blend of transliterations. On the one hand Pinyin is used for Beijing, Nanjing, Tianjin, the Xiangeng Emperor, etc.; on the other we have Taku, Peiho, Yangtze, Canton, etc. In cases like these, while making the occasional concession to common usage, I tend to err on the side of using Pinyin across the board.
Yangtze and Canton generally are viewed to fall into the same territory as Confucius, Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-chek, Kublai Khan, Manchuria, and the Kuomintang. Yes, were we to be entirely consistent, we should talk about Kong Fuzi, Sun Yixian, Jiang Jieshi, Emperor Shizu of Yuan, Dongbei, and the Guomindang, but we’ve just agreed to continue using the traditional exonyms.
 

TR1996

Well-known member
Another good article overall, but if I may split a few hairs, the choice of language feels a little problematic to me--the Qing are called "belligerent" and "anti-foreigner" simply because they don't want parts of their territory carved up by colonial invaders.
Yeah, I understand this concern. I did wrestle with things a bit- walked myself back from using the term ''xenophobic,'' which I'd definitely agree is problematic in this context.

As to the examples you cite. My intention was to use them in a neutral, descriptive, manner. Sushun and the conservatives at court were literally, factually, belligerent and anti-foreigner- they pushed for war and were opposed to foreign influence. However, as you note, there are certain negative moral connotations that arise from these terms that are unfair in these circumstances- they were opposed to a force absolutely determined to eviscerate China's sovereignty and which had already extracted concessions through a spectacularly immoral war.

For me, the reprehensibility of Britain's 19th-century policy in China is so self-evident as to need no further elaboration, but not driving the point home does perhaps do a disservice to their opponents. I could perhaps have done more to emphasise that the ''belligerence'' and ''anti-foreigner'' stance of the Qing was largely a reactive response to the westerners who had forced their way into China in a violent and uninvited manner, whereas leaving those terms unqualified as I did could potentially (and harmfully) imply that Qing unreasonableness was to blame for the war.

They're also being used in a relative sense. It's trying to emphasise that those driving policy and influencing the emperor were the most belligerent and opposed to foreign influence, as opposed to more moderate/conciliatory/appeasement faction. However, again, more could have be done to highlight this- the conservatives shutting down opposing forces, restricting access to the emperor- and demonstrate that ''belligerent'' is being used in terms of it being a policy position rather than ''the Qing were being unreasonably hostile and that made the war happen.''

This discussion does raise the question of what terminology is more appropriate to use. You could describe the conservatives as stubborn, unpragmatic, fanciful etc, but that can also dip into patronising and demeaning territory- ''silly Chinese courtiers, refusing to accept the superiority of western technology and military might, thus requiring a war to roughly shake them out of their foolishness and force them to accept historical progress and free trade.'' Some of the literature can skew uncomfortably close to this tone.

Finally, I think it's a little reductive to say the Qing are being called ''belligerent'' and ''anti-foreigner'' simply because they don't want parts of their territory carved up by colonial invaders. It extends a bit beyond this- purposefully frustrating diplomatic efforts, denying the respect foreign dignitaries felt they deserved. Even ''open more treaty ports'' doesn't necessarily mean ''let territory be carved up.''

Whether the Qing should have simply rolled over to implicit western threats and granted further concessions is its own issue, but ignoring potential diplomatic solutions (even if they were distasteful, involved further abrogations of your sovereignty, and would have just led to further demands down the line) and choosing instead to fight can legitimately be described as belligerence, can't it? Or, at least, choosing the more belligerent course of action? Semantics is hard. Of course, none of this is to say that western diplomatic approaches were completely innocent or reasonable, or that they had a God-given right to open China to western influence and trade. Imperialism is bad, and this is in no way meant to constitute apologia for it.

As for transliteration, I'll freely admit that I find it quite vexatious. Not particularly helpful is the widespread convention of ''I'm using the modern system, except for an arbitrary number of names that I've decided are so well known from their previous incarnation that it would be confusing to update them,'' as @Makemakean alludes to.

For what its worth, I followed the transliterations adopted by Stephen Platt in Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom. He carves out the four names you noted as well as Hankow (which will be appearing in the next article) as his exceptions to the pinyin system.

Does that all make sense? Hopefully I don't come of as overly defensive- I fully accept that some of the language used has somewhat problematic connotations and could have been qualified a little further in the article. Just wanted to explain my thought process.
 

Hendryk

Nothing ever ends
Published by SLP
Location
France
It's all right, my own comment wasn't intended as an accusation of bias. As you point out, it's just that a lot of the historical literature on this topic was written from a pro-Western perspective and some of the vocabulary tends to be carried over into contemporary discourse.

In the same spirit, I wish to comment a bit further about this:
Finally, I think it's a little reductive to say the Qing are being called ''belligerent'' and ''anti-foreigner'' simply because they don't want parts of their territory carved up by colonial invaders. It extends a bit beyond this- purposefully frustrating diplomatic efforts, denying the respect foreign dignitaries felt they deserved. Even ''open more treaty ports'' doesn't necessarily mean ''let territory be carved up.''
One needs to ask, though, whether the Qing had any duty to treat diplomatic envoys with the degree of courtesy the latter felt entitled to. It's like getting cold-called and having the person at the other end of the line get offended because you won't talk to them, show up in person and batter down your door. Also, treaty ports are very much a carve-up of another country's territory, since the intruding power imposes its sovereignty by force on an unwilling host country.
 

SoldierOfChrist

Jubilee (2021)
Yangtze and Canton generally are viewed to fall into the same territory as Confucius, Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-chek, Kublai Khan, Manchuria, and the Kuomintang. Yes, were we to be entirely consistent, we should talk about Kong Fuzi, Sun Yixian, Jiang Jieshi, Emperor Shizu of Yuan, Dongbei, and the Guomindang, but we’ve just agreed to continue using the traditional exonyms.
Calling the historical region of Manchuria Dongbei would be pretty odd, and I don't know many non-academics who call the current region Manchuria nowadays. Same with Canton, but even as a pinyin fundamentalist I recognize that it will never stop being the Yangtze River in the West.

Don't think it's odd to use old translit when talking about the Qing though, even if consistency would be nice.
 

TR1996

Well-known member
It's all right, my own comment wasn't intended as an accusation of bias. As you point out, it's just that a lot of the historical literature on this topic was written from a pro-Western perspective and some of the vocabulary tends to be carried over into contemporary discourse.
I mean, fundamentally, my viewpoint is undoubtedly affected by the fact that I'm only capable of reading English-language scholarship (and stuff that's been translated), which will inevitably have it's own preoccupations and Anglocentric undercurrents. So, there is bias there- though of a sort that's impossible to avoid.

In any case, historiography is a hell of a creature.

One needs to ask, though, whether the Qing had any duty to treat diplomatic envoys with the degree of courtesy the latter felt entitled to. It's like getting cold-called and having the person at the other end of the line get offended because you won't talk to them, show up in person and batter down your door.
No, it's entirely their prerogative to treat western diplomatic envoys in the manner that they did. I was just suggesting that dismissing diplomatic overtures (albeit ones done in bad faith with threat of force), and doing so in a way designed to demean and frustrate the opposing party, can be characterised as belligerent behaviour. Maybe? You can obviously split further hairs as to whether their intention was mainly to piss off the west or if this arose from genuinely contradictory worldviews that made treating western envoys with respect and equality unthinkable. This line of thinking perhaps also has an element of backprojecting contemporary standards of diplomatic discourse into an era when they did not exist.

As for the Treaty Ports, you're right- they were undoubtedly an imposition of one nation's sovereignty and a violation of another's. I guess the phrase ''territory carved up'' conjures up dramatic images in my mind of gigantic strips of land getting torn off and directly administered by the colonial power, but it's true of the Treaty Ports also.
 

tukarambhakt

Well-known member
even if they were distasteful, involved further abrogations of your sovereignty, and would have just led to further demands down the line) and choosing instead to fight can legitimately be described as belligerence, can't it? Or, at least, choosing the more belligerent course of action? Semantics is hard
Doesn't seem very hard in this case, really.
 

Southpaw

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Gone Fishing
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What I find interesting about Qing China is to what extent its ruling dynasty and court elites clung to their Manchu identity even centuries after the formation of the dynasty, and (IIRC) kept Han Chinese distinctly inferior in terms of higher posts right until the end.

There is perhaps some truth to a statement from the early 20s that the only major achievement up until then during the then-10 years of the ROC had been that "the Manchu has been overthrown".
 
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