CHINA: To What Extent Did The Three Missions (Macartney, Amherst and Naipier) Fail?

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10/05/2007 Isabel Marden

To What Extent Did The Three Missions (Macartney, Amherst and Naipier) Fail?

         The Orthodox view of the Macartney (1793), Amherst (1816) and Napier (1834) missions to China is that the missions ended in failure. And indeed, if failure is defined by the success of the missions to reach their goals, then they were. However, this essay will argue that stipulate that, if failure of the missions is defined as the total absence of any benefit to the British occurring, then the missions can not be said to have failed to the full extent. The lessons that the British learned about the Chinese from their respective missions were beneficial to them as they helped to demonstrate the course of action required to rectify their grievances with the state of trade in China.

        The Maccartney mission in China had goals which were to be reflected in the other missions to bei jing. They were to change the framework of trade in china from the inhospitable Canton system to something more suitable to British interests, and to establish some form of treaty defining the changes. In particular, requests were made for more ports to be opened to the British, territory conceded for British residence, a British ambassador stationed in court at Bei jing and allowance for the dissemination of Christianity.  However, the view of Emperor Qianlong on the mission was that it was merely a tributary one, no different from the multitude of others he received from states wishing to benefit from the sovereign nation of China. Indeed, the requests made by Maccartney were seen to be ‘completely unreasonable’ and in the Imperial edict sent back to the King upon the refutation of all of the British requests, Qian Long referred to them as ‘wild hopes and dreams.’ Therefore, it can be seen very clearly that none of the British goals were achieved in this instance.

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        However, while the mission did not achieve its goals, it cannot be said to have been a failure to the full extent. The insight into the political workings and machinations that this mission to Bei Jing gave Britain were invaluable. Emperors Qianlong’s specific rebuke of the request to establish embassies in Bei Jing, for example, must have given them an example of the extent to which China as a country was closed. Qianlong asked, how was the British government to provide for an embassy in Beijing in china, a ‘country so tightly organised that a foreigner could not hire a ...

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