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The Emergence of China as a World Power Report (Assessment)

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Updated: May 1st, 2020


World power is a term used to refer to a powerful country in the world. Power is exhibited in the form of an increased presence of the country in global affairs. The affairs are mainly economic, political, and social in nature. A world power holds a commanding position in international relations, both regionally and globally. According to Mungello (1999), a rising power is a country that is emerging as a major power and can play a major role in the international system.

Military, economic, political, and diplomatic advancements in relation to other countries are the commonest indicators of a country’s movement towards becoming a global power. There are no special criteria for deciding which countries are emerging world powers, but one of the most imperative elements is a rapidly growing economy: one that can sustain the advancement in areas listed above.

Rising world powers cause worries and uncertainty among other global powers due to their unpredictability. Understanding China’s changing role as an emerging world power in the international environment requires a study of its history. China has faced extensive humiliation from Western countries in its quest to reclaim its lost glory as a world superpower.

Nonetheless, it has remained determined to reclaim its position at the top through nationalistic assertiveness and a harmonious rise (Mungello, 1999). A study of China’s history reveals that it was the world’s superpower between 1400 and1600, but declined in the subsequent years due to Western influence.

Cultural Borrowing and Assimilation between 1500 and 1800

Cultural borrowing and assimilation in the period between 1500 and1800 were some of the factors that caused the fall of China (Mungello, 1999). The borrowing went both directions, to the east and to the west. During this period, the use of the terms West and East was as pronounced as it is today. The Chinese referred to Europe as either “Far West,” “Western Land,” or “Western Sea” (Mungello, 1999). On the other hand, the term “Eastern Sea” referred to China.

“Western scholars” were those scholars from Europe, while Chinese scholars were called “Eastern scholars” (Mungello, 1999). These scholars, together with traders and missionaries, aided the mutual exchange between the East and the West. This period witnessed massive intercultural exchanges between the Ming and Manchu China and the West (European countries) (Mungello, 1999). Religious and intellectual interchange had a massive impact on China and European countries in the Enlightenment age as well.

The Chinese Christian literati borrowed ideas on how to separate Buddhism and Christianity. In Neo-Confucianism, Western countries adopted ideas from Confucianism in their quest to replace Christianity with a natural religion (Mungello, 1999).

The flow of influence between the East and West was not constant. The first three centuries witnessed an extensive flow of influence from China to Europe. This trend reversed in the two subsequent decades. Precisely, the flow of influence from Europe to China increased. The Europeans used their knowledge about China in the first three centuries to weaken the Chinese empire between1800-2000 (Mungello, 1999).

The Two Images Representing China in 1500-1800

The Europeans had a positive view of the Chinese in the first centuries of the period between1500 and1800 (Mungello, 1999). It was a period when there was extensive mutual cultural borrowing and assimilation between China and Europe. During this period, the flow of influence was Western-bound, implying that the Europeans had the chance to learn from the Chinese culture (Mungello, 1999). A drawing of Confucius made during this period demonstrates that Europeans had a positive perception of China.

The image shows Confucius, who was a Chinese philosopher, standing in a library filled with books. Its first publication was in Paris in 1687 (Mungello, 1999). It was then reduplicated all over Europe in the years that followed. This image was an indication of respect and admiration. However, this perception changed between1800 and 2000, where the flow of influence had reversed and was more east-bound (Mungello, 1999).

Another depiction of this negative perception was a second drawing, the “miracle pot” of John Chinaman. It portrayed him as having a pigtail, a ferocious face, and long nails. He stood in front of a pot containing European soldiers. As a cook, he looked less civilized and brutal, unlike Confucius, who was depicted as calm and relaxed. This shows a tremendous change in the manner in which the west viewed China in the two centuries (Mungello, 1999).

The Shift in the Way West Perceived China

A good indication of this shift is the drawing of John Chinaman as a cannibal standing before a pot of European soldiers. It became a significant change of attitude among the Westerners, who previously viewed China positively. This shift in perception can be traced to the historians, novelists, and philosophers of this period. They tried to portray the west and east as fundamentally different (Mungello, 1999). The world’s perception of China changed in 1949 after the death of John Chinaman but remained negative in tone.

The Chinese communists led by Rhodes were feared and despised because of their brutality. People feared them because they imposed western influence in China. They forced Chinese people to practice the communist ideas of Karl Marx (Mungello, 1999). They opposed the borrowed western influences, which had by then gained widespread experimentation in Russia (Mungello, 1999). These, among other factors, worsened the westerners’ perception of China.

Missionaries and Jesuits’ Contribution to the Shift in the Perception of China

In the period between 1500 and 1800, missionaries and Jesuits were very few. As a result, they could not have any impact on the Chinese. In addition, they focused more on business as opposed to religion and education (Mungello, 1999). By the late1800 and mid-1900, China had witnessed an influx of missionaries who preached Christianity. One of them was Matteo Ricci, who was the founder of the modern mission.

He praised the positive aspects of China (agriculture and positive culture), but strongly condemned and criticized monks for their personal and sexual immorality (Mungello, 1999). He also had issues with the sensuality and slavery that existed in China. He and his successors also condemned sodomy and stressed the integration of Christianity in the indigenous aspects of Confucianism (Mungello, 1999).

The missionaries and Jesuits tried to combine Christianity and Confucianism to create a Confucian-Christian synthesis, which they argued was more refined and education-oriented. They disregarded the Buddhists and Daoists for their intellectual superstitions, immorality, and social coarseness (Mungello, 1999). The missionaries and Jesuits had a significant impact in China within a decade. They had converted a good number of people and baptized several others.

Early enlightenment scholars played a similar role later in the same period. They criticized the aspects of Chinese culture and portrayed it to the outside world as evil (Mungello, 1999). Their criticism was in the form of books, poems, and philosophies.

Meaning of the Shift in the Perception of China

The shift suggested fundamental differences between China as a country and the west in terms of culture, religion, and education. Despite the mutual exchange of influence between China and the West, European countries changed their perception of China between 1800 and 2000. After the death of John Chinaman, his replacement, Hordes, embraced communism. He was represented either as an army officer of Blue Ants or Red Guards (Mungello, 1999). His practice of oppressive totalitarianism left China with very few allies in the West.

That leadership also restricted trade between China and the West. Hordes tried as much as he could to cut the connection between China and the West after witnessing the erosive impact Christianity was having on the Chinese. Many of them were converting to Christianity and abandoning Buddhism (Mungello, 1999).

Results of the McCartney

The McCartney mission is a famous event rooted deep in the books of history. The focus of McCartney and his delegation was to lure Emperor Qianlong of China to soften his stand and ease trade restrictions between China and Great Britain (Mungello, 1999). He was supposed to accept a proposal to have a permanent British embassy in Beijing, reduce tariffs on goods, and store food, among other things (Mungello, 1999). The mission did not succeed in its attempt to win the trust of Chinese officials.

Instead, the encounter ended on a tense note when McCartney failed to “kowtow” – bowing in front of King Qianlong as a show of respect and honor to him (Mungello, 1999). In return, King Qianlong dismissed the envoy without consenting to their requests and termed McCartney as an arrogant man who failed to give respect and honor to the king. The encounter had several outcomes. Firstly, it wasted the chance for each of the countries to gain more understanding of each other’s culture, education, and diplomacy (Mungello, 1999).

Before the encounter, the relationship between China and Great Britain had not been good, and the encounter was an attempt to mend it. Secondly, the encounter led to an increase in pressure on China (Mungello, 1999). Great Britain wanted to expand its trade networks. Thirdly, the encounter caused an increase in the pressure the western countries put on the Qing Dynasty, which also faced lots of internal pressure and unrest. Eventually, the dynasty yielded to the pressure in the 19th-century.

Lessons from the Rich History in the Book

The Great Encounter of China and the West, 1500-1800, brings forth several lessons about China. It reaffirms that China was once a world power and an icon in terms of leadership, technology, and culture. The rivalry that exists between the West and China is due to its opposition to most of the western ideologies.

In conclusion, it is imperative that China is on its quest to claim its position as a superpower that it once was. It will become a global power, and other countries will look up it as they did in the period between 1500 and 1800 if its upward trend continues.


Mungello, D. (1999). The great encounter of china and the west, 1500-1800. New York: Rowman & Little Field Publishers

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