Clashing With The Foreign Devils


19th-century China
Feb 17th 2011 | from PRINT EDITION
The Scramble For China: Foreign Devils in the Qing Empire, 1832-1914. By Robert Bickers. Allen Lane; 496 pages
; £30. Buy from Amazon.com

AS NUMEROUS museums across China testify, the country dwells on itspast in order to justify the present. A common theme is that of the "national humiliation" China says it suffered from the mid-19th century until the Communist Party came to power in 1949. To help prove that the party created a "new China" and has the right to rule it,schoolchildren are made to tramp around exhibits showing how foreigners scrambled to dismember China, how they poisoned it with opium, bullied (and sometimes butchered) its people and looted its treasures.
As far as it goes, this outline of what happened is true enough,though opium was commonly used by the Chinese elite before the British started peddling their own produce from India. But the party forbids exploration of anything that might blur this picture. One taboo area is what Chinese nationalists at the time saw as the foreign nature of the last imperial dynasty, the Qing, which collapsed in 1911. Sun Yat-sen, the revolutionary who helped topple it, held the ethnic Manchus who controlled the dynasty in more contempt than the Westerners who had forcibly set up colonial enclaves, the Russians who had carved off part of Manchuria, or the Japanese who had taken Taiwan after a war in 1895. To keep the story simple, the party prefers to view the Manchus as Chinese.
In his history of the foreign scramble for China, Robert Bickers of Bristol University looks mainly at the story of west European and, to a lesser extent, American interaction with the country. The Japanese and Russian strands of this hugely complex tale of an evolving nation -state are picked out in less detail. The anglophone actors take centre stage—rightly, perhaps, at first, given the pioneering role played by the British in China's history of humiliation. Mr Bickerstakes 1832 as his starting point, the year when British ships sailed north from the Canton delta, carrying pamphlets, textiles and opium.As the 1800s unfold, the stage becomes more crowded and Mr Bickers sometimes appears to wander in the detail. His story ends well short of the communist victory that the party claims sent foreign intruders scuttling, although China's ever-pragmatic nationalism allowed Britain to rule over Hong Kong and Portugal to control Macau until the end of the 20th century.
Mr Bickers specifies 1914 as his cut-off date (three years after theQing's demise), but he describes 1913 as the turning point when "asa multinational enterprise, the scramble for China started to unravel". With the outbreak of the first world war, "the European concertin China was broken", he writes. The story, however, did not reachits climax until the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, which lasted from1931 to the end of the second world war.
"The Scramble for China" is based largely on English-languagesources, which leaves the reader sometimes yearning for more insightfrom other actors: the Germans and Russians, for example, whoseresponse to the anti-foreign Boxer rebellion in 1900 was particularlybrutal. British accounts provide rich illustrations of the clashbetween two civilisations whose early interactions were dogged bytheir respective convictions of their own superiority and the barbarity of the other.
Described now as a humiliation, the establishment of foreignsettlements was not always seen this way by the Chinese. Mr Bickerssays the arrangement was "simply a variant of the long-establishedpractice of allowing sojourning communities to organise their ownaffairs". The term "unequal treaties", now routinely used in Chinato describe the agreements reached between foreign powers and the Qinggovernment after several military defeats, was unknown until 1923.Chinese nationalism, portrayed by the party in terms suggesting it hadalways been a force, was slow and fitful in its 19th-centuryawakening.
British nationalism, by contrast, was at its height. The author noteshow "humiliation" narratives fortified the minds of the British asthey made inroads into China in the 1840s (among them the tale of howChina had curtly rejected the request for trade made by Britain'sfirst envoy to China, Lord Macartney, at the end of the 18th century)."They often talked, wrote and taught, as the Chinese came to talk,write and teach, about the lessons of history," he says. This mightnot bode well for China's future behaviour. As the West's scramblefor China showed, rising nations, eager to extend their global reachand easily riled by the slights of other powers, have a habit ofbehaving badly.


mrvitamin wrote:
Feb 17th 2011 5:52 GMT
James Legge is one of my literary heroes, for his translation of the Chinese classics into English. In doing this, he gave great honor to Chinese civilization. Yet the publication of his work was financed by the Jardine corporation, which made much of their profits from opium. As Jardine put it (more or less), "We make our profits in China and are glad to return some of them to the benefit of the Chinese."

Mishmael wrote:
Feb 17th 2011 8:56 GMT
To clarify a point in the article, just because the people at the time did not use modern terminology to describe it, or were as aware of it, does not mean that the unequal predatory conditions of Western (and Russian and Japanese) activities in Qing and Republican China did not exist. I am personally sick and tired of historical revisionists who claim that injustices did not exist in the past because the people at the time differed in political consciousness.

Also, while nobody in China today claims similar intrusions (I hope), the historical existence of overbearing foreign influence is a powerful psychological motivator for strong, centralized rule. In other words, what happened in the past can happen again, in more ways than the article hints at. Not only could the Chinese government come to resemble 19th century European ones, so too could the current powers decide upon a path of violence to maintain their power. Taken to the extreme, anti-foreign sentiment in the US could be re imagined as a possible lead up to an event similar to the Boxer rebellion.
The Communist Party now rules China, with very little prospect of change. This is due partly, but not entirely, to repression. For the current generation of Chinese, the historical lessons of China in the bad old days are not simple, clear-cut models to be pasted upon the present. The party is not a new "dynasty," as some may claim, because it does possess an internal mechanism for transferring power to successive leaders based at least partly upon merit. Revolutionary activity in Qing China brought down an empire, but it did not bring about national unity and strength, but weakness and warlords. If anything, Chinese history for the Chinese is more of an instruction in what not to do, rather than a prescription for modern policy. It would be ironic if China ultimately adopted novel policies while western countries emulated Qing or Republican China.

Sensible GaTech Student wrote:
Feb 18th 2011 3:53 GMT
One day, someone should gather up a variety of sources: Chinese accounts by the Boxers, Japanese accounts of Sun Yat-Sen, Russian and German accounts, and British accounts...and write an objective history of the region.
I'm not sure who to trust on this. Obviously, the Chinese view of history is biased, but then again, so is the British view.

bismarck111 wrote:
Feb 18th 2011 9:02 GMT
The notion of providing foreign enclaves only really extended to the Portuguese. Its the only foreign country that the Chinese were not "coerced" into providing a foreign enclave. The Chinese willing allowed to them to settle in Macau and the Portuguese paid a nominal fee.
While much of the history is revisionism, the point about the Manchus should be noted. The Han Chinese treated the Manchus well after 1911, however that does should not detract from the fact that the Manchus, despite adopting a lot of Chinese customs
1)Were a brutal lot. Having subject China to invasion that wiped out 10% of China's population
2)Adopted an apartheid system of government
3)Made people wear queue on the sign of death. Han Chinese got so used to it that they forgot it was a sign of
racial humiliation.
4) The reason why china could not deal with the Western threat, because of the Manchu's distrust of its Han subjects and ministers.

nkab wrote:
Feb 18th 2011 5:23 GMT
Given the corrupt and inept state of Chinese government of Qing Dynasty at that time, the forced concession of establishment of foreign settlements was nothing but humiliation as seen by the Chinese who is any Chinese. So dont let anyone, especially foreigners, to tell you it wasn't shame and humliation down to the core.
However, despite the serious downside of foreign predacious robbing and pillage of China's resources and pride as a result, the very existence of these foreign settlements did provide a window for China of 18th century modern world and opened the eyes of many Chinese to 18th century Western science and technology and Western liberal arts.
It helped unwittingly to usher a sort of early version of "reform and opening up" movement in the making. Too bad that subsequent internal tumultuous war lording, civil wars and Japs imperialist invasion prevent further progress of the movement.
China does not have a long memory any longer than any other nation as Westerners inclines to claim. They simply suffered more than the most.
Most Chinese today blame no one but themselves for such miseries endured before. That's why they are resolutely and solidly behind their CCP led government no matter what, and no matter what the China bashers would fabricate or blaspheme on the media day in and day out.

huhahuha wrote:
Feb 18th 2011 5:42 GMT
The end point of 1914 is rather weird. For many Chinese people, the climax of humiliation was actually 1919, when China was forced in Versailles by the British and French to transfer German possessions in China to the Japanese, even China was actually a victor in WWI.
This event was so pivotal in Chinese history because it is one of the direct causes leading to the founding of the CCP in 1921. It also led to the New Cultural Movement that ended the thousands of years of Confucian norms of the Chinese society.
Oh, besides, the whole western fuss about Tibet is viewed by many Chinese as a continuation of the western imperialist's scramble for China, with good reasons, myself included.

alex65 wrote:
Feb 18th 2011 11:49 GMT
Not every foreign devil is remembered as a devil by Chinese. The Americans have a special place in the hearts of the Chinese. If you read Chinese, the following piece, titled "Americans are the Single Best Friends of the Chinese People in the World", reflects the forever indebtedness the Chinese people feel towards the Americans:
The piece was a personal account from a well-known Chinese poet, 流沙河, on his experience with the Americans. The central theme is that the American people showed tremendous compassion towards the Chinese during their time of hardship.
Chinese language is full of idioms that reflect its culture. Here is a well-known idiom: 受人滴水之恩,当永泉相报。Translated into English, it means that when you are about to die from thirst, and someone let you have a sip of water, you must, when the time comes, repay with a running spring.
I understand completely how the Chinese should feel indebted to the Americans. When all the foreign devils kick you in the guts as you are weak and down only the American people lend a helping hand out their compassion towards a poor and desperate people.
Personally the Americans as a people will always have a special place in my heart.

alex65 wrote:
Feb 19th 2011 12:56 GMT
I truly believe that the Chinese can let bygones be bygones. At least that is my sincere hope. Historically (or just my version of history) the Chinese do not have a take-no-prisoners attitude after they defeat the invading "barbarians". They are capable to let bygones be bygones instead of seeking revenge and getting even. A good example is how the Chinese incorporated the Machu people as truly one of their own after overthrowing the Qing dynasty instead of slaughtering their former oppressors.
Chinese feel humiliated by that period of history? Sure. The Chinese are a proud people and they naturally feel humiliated.
Chinese have a strong sense of nationalism? Sure. They come this far only after they get united as a people instead of being divided and conquered. The nationalism will subside as they no longer have to deal with the same "national humiliation".
Chinese have an evil intention to get even with their former oppressors? Not sure… so far I have not observed any.

Nemesis61 wrote:
Feb 19th 2011 8:00 GMT
Look at the history of the UK and there is acommon theme: self-interest. Our anglo-saxon friends are in for a big suprise: The age of Ayn Rand, Rockefeller and this magazine (The pathetic Voice of hard Capitalism) is over. Why didn't UBS Warburg get a lot of deals in China? Because of their opium trade in the 19th century. Why is Germany well positioned in China? They decided not to leave after the Tiamin square protest in 1989.
Capitalim failed because it enabled crooks to rise to power. The new generation entering the labour market will change all that. Mutinationals will bleed to death - finally. Question is how much time hard Capitalism has left in China.

Gasanwu wrote:
Feb 19th 2011 4:08 GMT
So let me get this straight. The author is saying, because the West, invaded, poisoned, robbed, enslaved, killed, butchered other nations/continents when they were on the rise to power/prosperity, the now rising power(s) will do the same?
WOW!... That's all I have say to the self-centric West-superiority projections, and dooms-day-is-being-brought-here-by-China rhetoric.

L.Y.Z. wrote:
Feb 19th 2011 6:59 GMT
Since the West can not simply delete from history the trail of havoc it left in its passage by China, it's obvious that the Westerners would invoke something able to lessen the spoil: revamp history adding "new" facts trying to make it less "unpleasant", so that it can be deemed more palatable to the insight of people who granted themselves more civilized and more aware than other people.

Hibro wrote:
Feb 19th 2011 7:04 GMT
Weren't the Manchus considered foreign devils themselves before they conquered China to start the Qing Dynasty?
"The Manchus' identity as a race or nationality has tended to elude both Manchus and non-Manchus alike. In a sense, they invented themselves: People of Jurchen, Mongolian, Han Chinese and Korean descent who lived in the northeast and had developed a distinctive society first identified themselves using the collective term 'Manchu' only in 1635. The fact that they were barbarians who had been kept beyond the empire's north-east border, and were so weak numerically compared with the Han Chinese, must have made the fall of the Ming all the more humiliating to the Hans."

42345678 wrote:
Feb 20th 2011 12:06 GMT
China needs not be dwelling on the "humiliation" narrative. But it needs to change its defensive thinking, or the Great Wall complex.
When China was strong, it spent its resource on the defensive mechanism. Built great wall and sent 100,000 strong fleet for a friendly visit around south-east asia during 15th Century.
Look at what Mongolian still call China today. a country of "Male Castrated Slave".
Defense will get you nowhere.
Even today. the Chinese force is still called by Chinese "the Great Steel Wall" GangTieChangCheng If Chinese continue to use defensive posture, They will still be called "Male Castrated Slave" generations after.

Legio Yow wrote:
Feb 20th 2011 12:40 GMT
I greatly dislike the obsession many writers on China have with the term "foreign devil" and similar ones (It seems that nearly every book on China these days has the phrase in its title somewhere). It perpetuates the completely false portrait of a virulently xenophobic China that even a cursory glance at history shows that isn't the case. During the Ming and early Qing Dynasty, missionaries like Matteo Ricci were given free reign in the country and places of high honor in the imperial court. Giuseppe Castigiolne became a court painter to the Kangxi Emperor and led construction of the Summer Palace, a beautiful fusion of Western and Chinese architecture--until the British and French destroyed it. Many advances in cartography were made by the missionaries. Kangxi didn't restrict the missionaries until the Pope explicitly attempted to interfere in Chinese internal affairs and the mission was closed by the xenophobic Chinese but by Clement the XIV.
Was there anti-foreign sentiment in China during the 19th century? Absolutely, but you might care to note that the West wasn't exactly a bastion of tolerance. As Kangxi said, would any European prince allow him to send monks to evangelize in their country?

Will@Moor wrote:
Feb 20th 2011 4:00 GMT
@Legio Yow
回复Legio Yow
Totally agree with you for the point of Kangxi.
Many people in the West forget how much they have battled to separate politics from religion, but yet still believe that the Pop should be able to interfere China's own business. Even Kangxi, without any experience of how warriors could arrive after missionaries, refused his Holy political influence, I don't see how China in these days would buy the words from Rome again.
A part of China's government rigid altitude towards any kind of political power/pressure from outside may favours to justify its own rule, but the real reason is --- what the West has done towards China -- not always --- is though in fact suspicious.

dmonalon wrote:
Feb 20th 2011 6:10 GMT
Well the chinese gov't. used rather a common approach of reverse psychology to turn their citizen against or to put it in a more light way, disapproving to foreign nationals. By showing children the mutilation, humiliation and all the hardships that previous generations encountered when dealing with outsiders they will be able to capture the young's innocence and be able to instill with them whatever values they wish to bestow to them. Though I must admit it was a clever move to start with children as prospects, for they are easy target of manipulation and them being the future leaders of Chine per se.

AdityaMookerjee wrote:
Feb 20th 2011 8:50 GMT
The perceived phenomenon of 'Colonialism', was disagreeable, first to the ruled, and later, much later, to the powers who colonised. Perhaps, the ideas which led to the phenomen(a)on of Colonialism, were bitter fruit, first to the colonised, and then to the colonisers. After all, Colonialism was a national malaise in Britain, where all the rich folk who had invested in the East India Company, had wanted great returns for their share of investments. Why blame the East India Company, when the 'Liberal' values of Great Britain, saw it correct, first to 'colonise', then to rule in India? I note, however, that this writing is on China's tryst with Colonialism.
Perhaps, just perhaps, undermining any interest, even if you undermine interests of others, to an advantage to yourself, turns out to be a disadvantage in the run, long or short. All nations who seek to undermine other nations to their own advantage, should heed history. It was the dream of colonising China, by Japan, which led to the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.



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