Friday, 20 December 2013

High level British export promotion trips to China - 2013 and 1793

The Emperor of China receives Lord Macartney, the leader of the British export
promotion "trip" to Peking in 1793. (source: wiki)

High level export promotion trips to China are nowadays a common sight in Peking (Beijing). The visiting dignitaries always bring presents in order to impress their Chinese hosts.

When David Cameron a couple of weeks ago visited China together with 131 top business people and other delegates, his choice of presents was criticized by a writer in the Guardian:

Cameron in China: why does he always give foreign leaders rubbish presents?

The prime minister gave the Chinese premier Le Keqiang some books, a pair of gloves and a tennis racket, among other things. Then again, he's never been the most imaginative gift giver.

Maybe Cameron should have studied the gift list of a previous (1793) high level export promotion trip to China:

Here is the list of presents to the His Imperial Majesty, published in the book "The Historical Accound of The Embassy to the Emperor of China undertaken by order of the King of Great Britain", written by Sir Georg Staunton, "Secretary of Embassy to the Emperor of China, and Minister Plenipotentiary in the absence of the Ambassador":

"The presents consisted of an orrery (mechanical model of the solar system), a reflecting telescope, a celestial and a terrestrial globe, several chronometers or time pieces, an air pump, a machine exhibiting the mechanic powers, five pieces of brass ordnance, muskets, pistols, sword blades, a complete model of a first rate man of war of a hundred an ten guns, ornamental vases, various kinds of earthen ware, a large burning glass, a pair magnificent glass lustres, specimens of the  productions of the manufactures of Great Britain in wool, cotton, steel and other metals, representations of several cities, towns, churches, seats, gardens, cattles, bridges, lakes, volcanos, and antiquities, of battles by sea and land, dock yards or places for building ships, horce races, bull fighting, and of most other objects curious or remarkable in the dominions of his Britannic Majesty, and other parts of Europe; also of some of the most eminent persons, including the Royal family of Great Britain; the representations themselves being monuments of the arts by which they are made in their present advanced state."

The transportation of the British presents was no easy task. Here is Sir George's account:

"The presents and baggage, which hitherto had come by water, were now to be conveyed by land to the Emperor's autumnal palace. Such as were liable to receive damages by jolting of vehicles without springs, were destined to be carried by men; and from a pretty nice calculation it was found, that about ninety waggons, forty hand barrows, two hundred horses, and nearly three thousand labouring men would be wanted for this business."

This is how the British presents were transported.
(Illustration from the book by Sir George Staunton, published in London 1797)

"In China, bulky and heavy packages are carried by men. To each side of the load are fixed two strong bamboos. If four men (two to each bamboo) be not equal to its weight, two other bamboos, shorter than the first, are fastened to the extremities of each of the original long ones. These eight extremities are brought to rest on the shoulders of eight men, as described in the annexed plate. More bamboos being affixed to these, in a geometrical proportion, each of who would sustain an equal degree of pressure on raising or carrying ponderous packages."

The delegation itself had other means of transportation:

"The Ambassador and three gentlemen of his suite travelled in sedan chairs; the other gentlemen, and all the Mandarins, on horseback."

The type of "Sedan chair" in which Lord Macartney and "three other gentlemen of
his suite travelled".

The presents appear to have been well received:

"In the interim very flattering messages were conveyed to his Excellency, expressive of the great satisfaction which the presents gave to his Imperial Majesty."


In spite of all the efforts, the 1793 mission, led by Lord Macartney, was apparently not quite as successful as the British had hoped for:

"The embassy was ultimately not successful in its primary objectives, although the circumstances surrounding it provided ample opportunity for both British and Chinese parties not to feel totally disgruntled about the compromises and concessions they had made. The failure of the primary objectives was not due to Macartney's refusal to kowtow in the presence of the Qianlong Emperor, as is sometimes believed. It was also not a result of the Chinese reliance on tradition in dictating foreign policy, but rather a result of competing world views which were uncomprehending and to some extent incompatible. After the conclusion of the embassy, Qianlong sent a letter to King George III, explaining in greater depth the reasons for his refusal to grant the several requests presented to the Chinese emperor by Macartney." --

"Emperor Qianlong's letter's continuing reference to all Europeans as "Barbarians", his assumption of all nations of the earth as being tributary to China, and his final words commanding King George III to "...Tremblingly obey and show no negligence!"[10] can be interpreted as a challenge or as a imperious dismissal."

(bolding by NNoN)

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