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History/Historic

China III: China's decline and awakening

(Published in GralsWelt 7/1998).

In Beijing, an “Atlas of Shame” was drawn up in which “Hundreds of years of shame and humiliation by the colonial masters” are recorded.

"Whatever happens, we have the Maxim rifle and they don't."
Hilaire BELLOC (1870-1953).

Unfortunately, Europeans and Americans in East Asia have distinguished themselves less through practicing Christianity than through ruthless egoism. In the third part of the GRALSWELT series on “Wisdom of Asia”, the focus is once again on China's relationship to the West. This is about the decline and awakening of the gigantic empire.

In 1793 the British envoy Lord Macartney traveled to the Chinese imperial court with many gifts in order to obtain trade facilitation for British merchants. He tried in vain, but received an imperial handwritten letter that Emperor Ch'ien-lung gave him for King George III. handed over:
“You, O King, who lives across the shores of many seas, have nevertheless, spurred on by your humble desire to share the benefits of our civilization (which is the oldest and most venerable in the world), sent your messengers as respectful petitioners. To testify of your devotion you have also sent gifts such as your country produces. I swing my scepter over the whole wide world and have only one goal in mind, namely that of perfect government and the fulfillment of the duties of the state; I am not interested in strange and valuable objects. The majestic power of our dynasty has penetrated every land under heaven, kings and peoples on land and sea have paid us precious tributes. As your Messenger himself can see, we have everything.
It is fitting for you, O faraway King, to respect my feelings and to develop even greater devotion and loyalty in the future, so that from now on you can secure peace and prosperity for your country through constant submission under our throne. "
(Taken from Otto Zierer: "The Manchu Emperors", Verlag Sebastian Lux, Murnau 1960).

From the 18th century onwards, the huge Chinese empire was a sick and barely governable giant with a broken economy, frozen structures, an unloved government and dignitaries who were hostile to reform.
The only thing in which rich and poor, farmers and mandarins could agree, was the rejection of the "red-bristled devils", that is, the hateful hostility towards Europeans and Americans. Because they shamelessly exploited the weakness of the once powerful empire.
The Chinese, in their pride in three millennia of glorious history and culture, were deeply humiliated as they were unable to repel outside attacks in their torn country.

TRADE BRINGS CHANGE
In Marco Polo's time there was brisk maritime trade between China, India, the Arab countries and the islands of the South Pacific. In Guangzhou (Canton) and Quanzhou there were colonies of Muslims who got along well with the Chinese and even managed to win over Chinese dignitaries to accept the teachings of the Prophet.

The encounter between China and Europe, on the other hand, had an "unfortunate star" from the start.
When the first Portuguese seafarers appeared off the Chinese coast, they made the worst possible impression and in one case even had to be treated like pirates - by no means wrongly. Nevertheless, they were allowed to settle in Macau against payment of rent.
The French, Danes, Spaniards and Swedes followed the Portuguese with the aim of participating in the lucrative trade with China. In the 17th century, representatives of the two most important sea powers at the time - England and Holland - became the dominant trading partners until, in the course of the Napoleonic wars, the English dominated trade with China almost alone.

Profit-seeking traders are not ideal ambassadors for culture. With more success, learned Jesuits sought to improve relationships. But then the Jesuit order was dissolved by a papal decree in 1773. Other monks - especially the Dominicans - who did not adjust to the Chinese mentality, believed they should do missionary work in China; with the result that all Christian missionary activity within China was banned by the emperor.

According to the Chinese court, nothing good could be expected from the “Western barbarians”. The trading conditions granted to the Europeans were correspondingly restrictive. Europeans (and later also Americans) were only allowed to trade in one port (Guangzhou) from October to January with people authorized by the Chinese government. The freedom of movement of the Europeans was limited to some islands in the mouth of the Pearl River off Guangzhou.

Despite all trade barriers, sales of Chinese products - especially silk and tea - increased steadily in Europe and America. European products, on the other hand, hardly found their market in China, so that the vast majority of Chinese exports had to be paid for in precious metals. This one-sided trade balance began to weigh on the western economy.

Excerpts from a letter from Chinese scholar officer Lin Zuxu to Queen Victoria asking that the opium trade be stopped:
“I heard that smoking opium is strictly forbidden in your country. Why do you allow it to harm other countries? Suppose there was someone from another country who brought opium to England and seduced your people into buying it and smoking it - surely your honorable ruler would be deeply abhorred and bitter about it ...
Of course, you wouldn't want to do something to others that you don't want to do yourself ...
May you, O Queen, root out the rogue people in your land and examine the insidious before they come to China. This is the only way to guarantee the peace of your people and show that your submission and devotion are serious. "
(Taken from John Merson "Streets to Xanadu", Hoffmann and Campe, Hamburg 1989).

THE OPIUM WAR
However, as early as the 18th century, clever business people found a product that could be sold at great profit in China: opium.
It is true that the importation of opium into China was strictly prohibited; But cheeky smugglers, unscrupulous traders, found in the crumbling Chinese empire with its corrupt bureaucracy always new ways to smuggle this dangerous product (tax-free, on top of that) into the country.
Drug addiction took hold in China. With devastating consequences. Governors reported from the coastal provinces that the appetite for work of coolies, craftsmen, seafarers, and even farmers who indulged in opium, was sinking to a frightening degree. When the Tatar regiments were alerted to suppress an uprising in Kansu, barely a fifth of the soldiers were operational. Something had to be done if the whole country wasn't in danger.
The emperor sent his best man to Guangzhou; the highly educated Lin Zuxu (or Tschun Lin), who had already reached the highest rank at the age of 37. He not only mastered classical Chinese knowledge perfectly, but was also able to speak English and had studied Western books, maps, and war technology.
After consulting books on European international law, Lin wrote a letter to Queen Victoria asking that the opium trade be stopped.
It is uncertain whether the letter reached the queen. What is certain is that public opinion in England advocated "free trade" - in this case in opium of all things - on which England's wealth rested. Moral reproaches from distant China could hope for little reciprocity.
When Lin received no response, he had to act: in March 1839, he cracked down on it. The trade with foreigners was stopped, 350 western merchants interned on the premises of their factories and their supplies cut off until they had delivered their entire supply of opium. The confiscated drug was publicly destroyed in a spectacular action.

The strongest sea power could not accept this attack on the "freedom of trade". English warships blocked Chinese ports, occupied Xianggang (Hong Kong) in 1841 and declared it a British colony.

For almost two years the British tried in vain to get China to give in. Then they got serious and in the spring of 1842 drove up the Yangzi with 39 ships, 724 cannons and 10,000 soldiers. After Guangzhou had already gone up in flames, Wusong, Shanghai and Jinjiang were conquered and supplies to the capital via the Imperial Canal were cut off.

The resistance of the Chinese army had collapsed. Even hastily bought lower quality western war equipment could not change the fortunes of war: a poorly trained, anciently armed army has no chance against modern war technology ...

In the end, China had to accept the first of the “unequal treaties”: It apologized for Lin Zuxu's actions, paid war indemnity, paid “compensation”, ceded Xianggang to England, opened further ports for trade and allowed the importation of opium!

This “opium war”, which raged between China and England from 1840 to 1842, was staged for the big screen last year by director Xie Jin: With 50,000 extras and more than 10 million dollars, it was the most expensive film China has ever produced. The cinematic work saw its premiere on July 1, 1997, the day Hong Kong came to power - and was a deliberate reminder of the humiliations China once suffered.

THE INEQUAL CONTRACTS
The "Treaty of Nanking" in 1842 brought the end of the Opium War, but at the same time it called other powers on the scene who wanted to take this opportunity to secure a piece of China.

France, Russia, Japan, Germany even wanted to get a piece of land and access to trade with China. They forced a series of unfair agreements on the yellow giant, paralyzed by civil unrest, which are notorious in China as the “unequal treaties”, as an expression of the wickedness of the “foreign devils”.

Riots raged inside China.
When nationalist fanatics murdered the German ambassador in the so-called “Boxer Uprising” and besieged European embassies in Beijing, a European aid corps conquered the capital of China.

In a punitive action, the "Summer Palace" north of Beijing (Yeon-mingyeon or yuanmingyuan), one of the most enchanting palace and park complexes of all time, filled with priceless scrolls, pictures and antiques, was burned down on this occasion.
Finally, Japan and Russia fought their territorial disputes on Chinese soil ...

END AND BEGINNING
In this chaos, the foreign rule of the Manchu, which had long been hated by the people, collapsed. Reform efforts by insightful forces failed because of the traditionalist thinking of the Empress-widow Xilan and her court camarilla. Most recently, an uprising broke out in the city of Wuhan in 1911, which reached almost all provinces within a few weeks and forced the establishment of a republic in 1912.

The Republic of China (1912-1949) was not spared wars, riots, civil wars and the occupation of a large part of the country by a foreign power. The Communist People's Republic of China with its charismatic leader Mao Tse-tung emerged from many turmoil in 1949.

But Maoist rule did not end the suffering of the Chinese people.
An aging Mao inflicted incredible torment on his people during the “Cultural Revolution”. It was a government-ordered civil war from "below" against "above", a struggle of immature students and agitated peasants against teachers, academics, scientists, the hateful persecution and discrimination of every educated person, unique in world history. So Mao staged a paranoid struggle against everything intellectual. (A slaughterhouse worker who was ignorant of reading and writing was entrusted with the management of the biochemical institute at the University of Shanghai.

The people of China, so often severely tested during its long history, survived in their incredible ability to suffer even the cultural revolution that broke out over the country like a natural disaster.

Now a new, no less astonishing departure has started: In a “communist” country suddenly “wealth is deserving”, making money and a lot of money becomes a publicly recognized, worthwhile goal. There are already incredibly rich Chinese - who "made" millions of dollars in a few years - in a socialist country. The bureaucracy - now communist - is considered to be no less corrupt than the mandarins of yore; the population in the provinces is as poor and ignorant as ever. However, since Mao's time most of them have
learned to read and write.

One of the most interesting experiments in world history is taking place before our eyes in the world's most populous country: a communist people's democracy with absolute dictatorship by the party is preparing to practice western capitalism in its economy. They want to “square the circle”, the connection, which has always been considered impossible, between a western market economy and a socialist dictatorship.

The Chinese can be trusted that they will also succeed in this "impossible" feat: that they will revive their old Confucian and Taoist traditions in a contemporary form, combine them with communist and capitalist ideas, and finally find a typically Chinese system of balancing out sheer contradictions, which is inconceivable for a European or American.

Then they would only be missing a spiritual breakthrough to the true knowledge of God, which not least the behavior of so-called "Christians" has made the Chinese very difficult. Let us hope that the people of China will find this spiritual path in order to become the cultured people as they have always understood themselves to be. The Chinese cannot rely on role models in Europe or America.
Let us wish you the best for this journey!

You can also read "A proud people reaches for world power"Under" Economy and Social Affairs ".

Addendum 2022:
At the latest since Xi Jinping became general secretary of the CCP in 2012 and president of the People's Republic of China in 2013, China has developed into a hard-headed communist dictatorship that does not allow any deviations and strives for world domination.
The Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang are being brutally suppressed, Hong Kong's liberal constitution is being stifled step by step, and the conquest of the island of Taiwan, inhabited by 23 million Chinese, is an openly expressed state goal.
The "New Silk Road," influence peddling in many countries, especially in Africa, to secure access to important sources of raw materials, and dramatic rearmament are creating the conditions under which China intends to become the dominant power of the 21st century.
Is the struggle between two systems imminent - Western party-democracy and Eastern one-party dictatorship?
Unfortunately, both are based on unethical grounds: party democracy on class egoism, and the dictatorship of the communist party on the ideology-driven lust for power of a clique.
Where can we find a spiritually based form of government that serves the common good?