The edicts were a proclamation from the Celestial Empire’s ruler, which was addressed to King George ||| on the occasion of Lord Macartney’s mission to China. It was written in September of 1793 due to an alleged disrespect on behalf of the British to the established order in Chinese trade. The edict said that the Emperor rejected all the requests from Macartney; it also explained his decision in great detail. This document can give a lot of information about the person who wrote it and the particular time in history when those actions took place.
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To start with, the Emperor was offended by the number and the nature of the aforementioned demands. He was strongly against the British ambassador living in Beijing; that was, according to Qianlong, “not consistent with the Customs of… Empire, and cannot, therefore, be allowed” (“Two edicts from”, 1793). He believed that the existing trade between the two countries was already working at its best and there was no need for any adjustments.
Another request from the British that was met with an immediate rejection was the reduction of the restrictions concerning the trade between Great Britain and China. Qianlong was not willing to open new ports, having stated that Macao was “… near the sea, and therefore an important gathering place for the ships… sailing to and from” (“Two edicts from”, 1793). The British were also denied in using an island near Chusan for the storage of their goods, along with several other demands. However, despite the Emperor’s dissatisfaction with the ambassador’s actions and the requests from the King, he allowed the embassy to keep the plenty of gifts that he had given them. That was done as a mere gesture of generosity and mercy.
The tone and the language of the edicts very distinctly describe the Emperor. He strongly believed China was far superior to Great Britain or any other country for that matter. The way he wrote about the abundance of products his Empire had and the lack of necessity to do trade with other countries whatsoever was very arrogant. Be it because of obedience to traditions and strict dictation of foreign policy, or a strong will to compete with another empire, Qianlong refused to yield in negotiations.
One more indicator of his superiority before Great Britain was the fact that he called British merchants “barbarians” several times throughout the edict. The language that he used was very sophisticated and polite to the extreme. His over the top sympathy for isolated Britain and its people, so unfortunate to live far away and therefore, ignorant of the civilization of China, highlights his arrogance even more.
The analysis of the edicts shows that Celestial Empire took pride in what they had achieved and created, their dominance above other countries in many spheres and valued their security. Hence the unwillingness to negotiate any changes in the existing order, loosen the rules of trade, open new ports to foreign merchants and establish the British Embassy. Even though, according to Harris (2018), “the Macartney mission failed in its larger goals”, Britain was able to keep its privileges in trade with China.
They also understood that the Celestial Empire would not accept pressure from another country in this situation, so the best solution to the problem for the British was to remain patient. Being respectful to the traditions and customs of China, following their strict rules could bring more benefits in the future than aggression and possible war.
Harris, L. J. (2018). The Macartney Audience, 1793. In The Peking Gazette (pp. 18-21). Brill.
Two edicts from the Qianlong Emperor, On The Occasion of Lord Macartney’s Mission To China, (1793). Web.