Engagement and Status Conflict

Christopher A. Ford

in The Mind of Empire

Published by University Press of Kentucky

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780813192635
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780813135519 | DOI:
Engagement and Status Conflict

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During the first Sino-British conflict, also known as the Opium War, there existed an ideological competition between Sinic universalism and a European-derived diplomatic worldview that continued to flare on multiple fronts long after specific opium-related trade disputes had been resolved by force of English arms. The British, well aware of the degree to which China sought to demand symbolic tokens of subjection from foreign barbarians, sought to achieve a resolution of the disputes at issue using its naval and military forces. After the British made quick work of the resistance offered by the Qing dynasty, China in 1842 agreed to sign the Treaty of Nanking, marking the first treaty unequivocally to place China on equal footing, formally speaking, with another kingdom. Taking their lead from the British, other Western powers, including the US, France, Sweden, and Norway, quickly lined up for their own treaties with China. Through their treaties, these Western powers insisted on a permanent representation in China, something that the Chinese strongly resisted because it “ran counter to the whole political and social system of Imperial China.” For them, such diplomatic relations directly threatened the authority of the emperor. In an effort to preserve what it could of its ancient symbolic supremacy, China's policy after 1860 became one of fending off actual imperial audiences while seeking to revise the treaties to remove the offending provisions that required such encounters.

Keywords: Sino-British conflict; Opium War; Sinic universalism; imperal supremacy; Treaty of Nanking; diplomatic relations; international order; trade agreements; equality of status

Chapter.  7548 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

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