China Only Yesterday, 1850-1950: A Century of Change

By Emily Hahn | Go to book overview
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Chapter Three

Ch'i-ying had assumed an impossible task, of pleasing everybody, which in the end proved too much for him. But that end was a long way in the future. In the meantime his methods seemed to be successful in the extreme. The barbarians were behaving better than the administration had expected, and in Peking face was saved. The necessity of saving face and keeping the Emperor reassured was the greatest weakness of the Manchu Dynasty, and for that matter of other dynasties as well. It meant that the Emperor heard only watered down versions of events when his reign was in jeopardy. It may seem to foreign eyes, reading Ch'i-ying's memorials today, that the Imperial Commissioner was tactful with his sovereign to the degree of deceit, but as a matter of fact he was by far the most outspoken of the Emperor's officials. They were all victims of an occupational hazard: if they sent unfavorable reports they were likely to be reprimanded and degraded, if not put to death. Naturally, therefore, those men who had dealings with the British during the latter days of the war and in the postwar period of the discussions on the supplementary treaty were very careful indeed when writing memorials to the throne. The actual, bitter fact of defeat was played down, and the language of the Imperial edicts in reply continued in the old strain of hauteur: nothing had yet occurred, according to the Court's attitude, to change the basic situation. The Son of Heaven was still ruler of the world. Though China had surrendered, the British were still referred to as "rebel barbarians."

Nevertheless, the Chinese admitted that a thing or two might be learned from these despised outlanders. (This suppleness in Oriental mentality has always been the despair of Western logic-choppers.) An official who knew his facts might safely venture to criticize the prowess of Imperial troops if he made it clear that by so doing


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China Only Yesterday, 1850-1950: A Century of Change


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