In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, European nations like Britain increased their navigational skills and geographical knowledge leading to the expansion and increased relationship with other nations and empires. During this time, the superiority of various European countries grew allowing countries to expand their operations beyond their earlier borders. While their superiority and power gave them trespass into various territories, they did not manage to succeed everywhere. For example, the Asian intellectuals and statesmen had to think seriously about the expansion and the future cooperation with the European nations before they allowed themselves to indulge in any relationship. The skepticism that was evident in these nations was driven by different reasons. For example, some were afraid of the European power. Others were envious of it while others admired and still feared some European giants like Britain. To discover the feelings of these Asian intellectuals and statesmen, a study of various documents written by different counterparts is needed.
One of the records details the reaction of Emperor Qianlong to the Great Britain. The Chinese emperor restricted Britain’s trade by allowing the country to do business in one city only. It is worth noting that Great Britain was not the only European country trading with China. This means that the Chinese position was not inferior, but superior since all European nations sought to do business with the empire.
According to the restrictions imposed by the empire on the European merchants, it is clear that the Chinese considered their civilization superior. For example, one of the requirements for European nations was to address the emperor in a superior way. This means that the emperor was superior and not an equal person to the European merchants who were revered in other civilizations. The superiority was also evident in the way the Chinese empire organized its activities. Before contacting the emperor, European merchants had to face other subordinates with the required respect.
The answers given by the emperor about the prohibition of the Chinese empire to allow British merchants to trade in all parts of the country reveals mixed feelings of the Asian empires. First of all, the emperor revealed his feelings of superiority over the European powers. This way, the emperor stated, “…nor do I overlook your excusable ignorance of the usable of our terrestrial power” (Andrea & Overfield, p. 237).
In addition, the emperor’s feelings of contempt over the way that the British treated the Chinese tradition with disrespect are evident. The emperor felt that the Chinese religion was superior being the ‘worship of the Lord of Heaven’ (Andrea & Overfield, p. 237). The emperor felt that European nations were supposed to give Chinese citizens in their countries full freedom in order to disseminate their religion.
The other document that illustrates the relationship of Chinese Civilization and European nations was the letter by Lin Zexu to Queen Victoria. In this letter, it is clear that the Chinese emperor at this time considered himself superior to the British Empire. When the British failed to prevent its merchants from trading on the dangerous opium, the emperor took matters in his own hands and arrested the British merchants.
The other document is a work by the Honda Toshiaki, a Japanese critic of the late Japanese society. From this document, it is evident that the Japanese were envious of some European nations. Therefore, they were most encouraged and engaged in the study of European languages, botany, medicine, gunnery, and cartography. In fact, the Japanese empire rejected the Chinese culture, which was closer to its own one than the European culture (Andrea & Overfield, p. 241). Japan had passed through a period of economic inequality with the poor suffering more than the rich. Many people in the Japanese empire were indebted to the merchants; this lead to an outcry by the concerned parties. Because of this situation, the farmers were starving since they could not engage in production due to large debts and lack of resources to cultivate the land on their own (Andrea & Overfield, p. 243). Consequently, the benevolence act was preached in the Japanese empire whereby the government was supposed to issue this act.
The poor state of the Japanese economy made the empire increase its admiration on everything about European nations. One statement that illustrates this says, “… European kings are well versed in celestial and terrestrial principles”. The Japanese critic admired the way, in which European empires were able to manage their poor and succeed in industrial development. He noted that the entire world treasures were gathered in Europe, and their ships could sail to almost all parts of the world. He also admired the prosperity and the strength of the European nations. These observations were used by the leader in encouraging the Japanese government to adopt a governmental system similar to the systems used by the countries in Europe. Toshiaki hated the internal conflict that had lasted in Japan for a long period. Through these encouragements, Japan was able to move towards modernization by discarding conflict and overcoming imperialism.
The other civilization discussed in the documents is the Indian civilization, which is presented in the letter to Lord Amherst by Rammohun Roy. Its relationship with the European countries was a mutual admiration. European orientalists admired the Indian culture and language. At first, Indians were protective of their culture; they demanded the use of their language at schools. However, continued admiration led them to accept reality of the English teaching schools. Apart from the Indian language, some Indian cultures were treated with contempt and reject as they did not fit all individuals. For example, the widow burning was discouraged by Rammohun Roy, an Indian intellectual who studied the western culture and language. The Indians also accepted the western Christian religion to be incorporated in some Indian ethical teachings. Consequently, the Indian culture turned to a subordinate culture in relation to the European culture. It became the second option to the European language and culture. Eventually, the English culture and language was used at Indian schools and the English style of education was adopted (Andrea & Overfield, p. 335). Various statements issued by the Indians proved that the English language and culture were superior to the Indian language and culture. For example, one English partisan claimed that he and others were hopeful and happy that Europeans were employing, “European gentlemen of talent and education to instruct the natives of India” (Overfield, p. 336). They were also happy that the government was establishing schools that would help in educating Indian youths in “grammatical niceties and metaphysical distinctions” (Overfield, p. 336).
The English partisans also directly rejected their own language and religion. For example, Roy said that the Sanskrit language was very difficult. Because of this, the language needed a lifetime effort to be learnt. As a result, time and efforts spent on learning the language were not rewarding.
The same person continued to argue that the Vedantic doctrines, which taught youths to believe in things that did not have real existence, were not worthy. Because of this, it was necessary for Indians to drop such doctrines as fast as possible and escape from that world. The partisan considered using the Sanskrit system as a way of keeping the country in darkness and failing to improve the Indian mentality.
The documents presented by Andrea in his book reveals controversial relationships that existed between the Asian nations and European empires. Various writers differed in their views on the relationship that should have existed between the two sides. For example, the first letter by the Chinese emperor was written when China had a high influence on European nations. Every other nation was on its knees begging China to accept it in its numerous trade undertakings. This placed China in a superior position that could not be compromised by any nation since it could cause distorted trading position with the country.
The second document by another Chinese emperor was written when Chinese civilization demanded the British Empire to stop the opium trade. Because of this, at this time, the emperor had to use his knowledge to achieve his desires. However, failure by the British prompted the emperor to use force in stopping British merchants from trading in the empire.
The other letter, which was written by another Japanese intellectual, showed admiration of European civilizations because of the state of the Japanese empire. The Japanese civilization needed quick upgrading, which was only possible by learning the European ways of governance and trade. The Chinese empire, however, was self sufficient and superior to other empires in the region.
Lastly, the letter by the Indian intellectual admired the British education system, culture, and religion because of the discriminative nature of the Indian culture. For example, the culture leads to discrimination of widows by allowing the society to burn them. The author felt that adopting the British system would have upgraded the Indian culture to include compassion and other vital characteristics. In addition, one of the languages used in the education system is hard to learn and also takes time and efforts. Thus, a simpler language than the Indian language was needed to be adopted to ease the difficulties experienced when learning.
In conclusion, numerous documents written by various intellectuals and leaders in the Asian region during the eighteens and nineteenth centuries show different sides of these societies. The documents also show the controversial relationships that existed between different Asian societies and European powers. For example, the document that shows the reaction of one of the Chinese emperors reveals the superiority of the Chinese empire during this period. The other document written by the Indian intellectual reveals the admiration of Indians on the western culture, language, and religion. A comparison of these documents shows the different states of Asian civilizations like poverty, superiority, and low education levels.
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