China: The Lost Century

Free Free Markets concluded in an article titled China And The Five Baits it was too early for the west to let its guard down about the threat that China posed. If all goes well China will evolve as stated in an article in Foreign Affairs magazine How China Is Ruled, January/February 2014
"But there is also a fourth scenario, in which China’s leaders propel the country forward, establishing the rule of law and regulatory structures that better reflect the country’s diverse interests. Beijing would also have to expand its sources of legitimacy beyond growth, materialism, and global status, by building institutions anchored in genuine popular support. This would not necessarily mean transitioning to a full democracy, but it would mean adopting its features: local political participation, official transparency, more independent judicial and anti-corruption bodies, an engaged civil society, institutional checks on executive power, and legislative and civil institutions to channel the country’s diverse interests."
I am certain China will evolve as described above in Foreign Affairs magazine, however China will not be a wall flower and let the western world push it around. The rest of this essay gives you my rational for reaching this conclusion. China has a lot of pride and history.
China has a long history and long memories. The Chinese are a patient people including their leaders. They remember well the "century of humiliation" dating from the mid-19th century and ending after World War II in the mid 1940's. Much of this humiliation came at the hands of the western powers. They will not forget. The question is can they forgive and become a true trading partner.
In the mid-nineteenth century China decided to crack down on the use of opium while Briton tolerated it. Much of the opium consumed in Briton was obtained from Chinese opium traders. The Chinese, still seeing themselves as the center of power and thought in the world, demanded that Briton take charge of eradicating opium in its' Indian territories. Briton viewed this request to be very condescending. When Briton did nothing China swept in and besieged the British community in China. The result was Briton attacked sections of China with their modern ships, guns and other weaponry and China was forced to accept a humiliating defeat.**
The treaties forced upon the Chinese demanded that Briton and other sovereign nations be looked upon by China as equals , thus shattering the centuries old thought that China was the Middle Kingdom and the rest of the world was lower in culture and tradition. This was very humiliating and distasteful to the Chinese people. Other events that were part of the century of humiliation included unequal treaties where Briton by force imposed one-sided agreements on China, the Taiping Rebellion, which was a civil war from 1850 to 1964 where over 20 million Chinese died, the sacking by the British of the sacred old Summer Palace, the Sino-French War, the First Sino-Japanese War, the Twenty-One Demands by Japan in the early 20th century, and the Second Sino-Japanese War from 1937 to 1945. In this period, China lost all the wars it fought and often forced to give major concessions to the great powers in later treaties.
Mao Zedong declared the end of the "century of humiliation" in the aftermath of World War II, with the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949. It is worthwhile to note that well conducting negotiations with the United States in the 1970's one of the major stumbling blocks was Taiwan, an island that was part of China before the Korean War and China still claims it as its territory. This issue was overcome by Mao saying that Taiwan was probably best left under the care of the Americans for now, but sometime in the future, perhaps 50 or 100 years from then, China will demand its return.
The United States will need to adjust to living in a world of equals.

** Please read the comments from ziwangad below for a different perspective. Make no mistake about it Britain was the country infringing on the sovereignty of China.


  1. You got the cause of the First Opium War backwards - due either to ignorance or bad faith, I don't know. A cursory research on Wikipedia will reveal the true history is that British merchants smuggled opium into China under the auspices of the British government and in defiance of an official Chinese (Qing) ban. The Chinese (Qing) seized and destroyed British merchants' opium stocks and threatened getting serious about the ban. The British government then responded with military aggression for mercantile reasons.

    You need to at least get your history straight if you want to pontificate on such things as the national character of a nation that is foreign to you.

  2. Thanks for the comment

    I put more weight on Kissinger than I do Wikipedia. "In the mid 19th century opium was tolerated in Britain and banned in China.... ....British and American merchants, working in concert with Chinese smugglers did a brisk business." On China page 46.

  3. By the way, I have much respect for Chinese cukture

  4. "In the mid 19th century opium was tolerated in Britain and banned in China.... ....British and American merchants, working in concert with Chinese smugglers did a brisk business."

    This may be true, but whether opium was tolerated in Britain is largely irrelevant to the cause of the war. The best you can say is that the British were not being completely hypocritical.

    China (Qing) was morally and legally justified to institute a ban at home as well as enforce the ban against British merchants in China. The fact that Chinese smugglers participated in the smuggling of opium into China does not justify the British aggression.

    The crux of the matter is that the British government militarily backed its merchants' actions that were illegal under the host country's laws for purely Mercantile reasons. And this is morally and legally indefensible (by today's standards).

    With that in mind, attributing the cause of the First Opium War largely to the unfounded Chinese arrogance (which is regrettable), as you did in your post, is a little bit disingenuous. Don't you agree?

  5. I did not mean to attribute "the cause of the First Opium War largely to the unfounded Chinese arrogance."

    I was trying to point out the difference in the two cultures that led to the war. Make no mistake about it. Britain was the invader.

  6. The "difference" is so salient only when a difference is needed to rationalize certain actions.

    From the same Wikipedia page:

    "The First Opium War was attacked in the House of Commons by a newly elected young member of Parliament, William Ewart Gladstone, who wondered if there had ever been "a war more unjust in its origin, a war more calculated to cover this country with permanent disgrace, I do not know."

    The Foreign Secretary, Lord Palmerston, replied by saying that nobody could "say that he honestly believed the motive of the Chinese Government to have been the promotion of moral habits" and that the war was being fought to stem China's balance of payments deficit."

    In other words, I don't see misunderstanding stemming from the "differences" as the true cause.


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