Western Enterprise in Far Eastern Economic Development: China and Japan

By G. C. Allen; Audrey G. Donnithorne | Go to book overview
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THE industrial revolution of the West and the expansionist phase that accompanied it coincided with an era of decadence in China. The authority of the Ching dynasty, a Manchurian line which had ruled since the seventeenth century, was waning. The later emperors had fallen far behind their vigorous predecessors in administrative capacity, and by the early nineteenth century the dynasty seemed, in the traditional language of China, to have lost the Mandate of Heaven. Yet the Chinese were still confident of the superiority of their civilisation to all others and they saw no reason to doubt its distinctive excellence even in the industrial arts. For several millenniums their emperor had been the suzerain of a very large part of the human race and the Empire's prestige was still immense. The foundations of its power, however, had been sapped by weakness at the centre during a period when the strength of the West was rapidly increasing. As the Chinese Government became conscious of these trends, its hostility to foreign intruders was sharpened. A deep-seated belief in the superiority of Chinese to aliens was contradicted in every encounter by demonstrations of China's weakness, and the resentment which resulted did not conduce to harmonious relations with foreigners. The West, in accordance with its traditions, claimed that peaceful intercourse and trade between nations were rights which no country should refuse to acknowledge, while China regarded them as favours to be conferred, as far as concerned Chinese territory, under conditions laid down by herself. In Europe--or at least in Great Britain which was in the forefront of economic development--the expansion of trade was considered a praiseworthy purpose to be pursued with vigour. China was proud of her economic self-sufficiency, and her Government never regarded 'the fostering of foreign commerce as an important affair of state'.1

In consequence, the first impact of the new types of economic activity came entirely from Western initiative. European commerce was the active agent, while China lay passive. It was not that the Chinese people lacked economic initiative and acumen; these qualities they had long possessed in abundance. But political unrest, arbitrary taxation and the general lack of security of persons and property had inhibited the exercise of Chinese business abilities or had directed them

G. B. Sansom, The Western World and Japan, p. 107.


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