Our First Ambassador to China (Biography, 1908)
Helen H. Robbins, Our First Ambassador to China: An Account if the life of George, Earl of Macartney – With Extracts from His Letters, and the Narrative of His Experiences in China, as Told by Himself (London: John Murray, 1908) (full text)
For it would now seem that the policy and vanity of the Court equally concurred in endeavouring to keep out of sight whatever can manifest our pre-eminence, which they undoubtedly feel, but have not yet learned to make the proper use of. It is, however, in vain to attempt arresting the progress of human knowledge. I am, indeed, very much mistaken if all the authority and address of the Tartar Government will be able much longer to stifle the energies of their Chinese subjects. Scarcely a year now passes without an insurrection in some of their provinces. it is true they are soon suppressed, but their frequency is a strong symptom of the fever within. The paroxysm is repelled, but the disease is not cured.
The Empire of China is an old, crazy, first-rate Man of War, which a fortunate succession of able and vigilant officers have contrived to keep afloat for these hundred and fifty years past, and to overawe their neighbours merely by her bulk and appearance. But whenever an insufficient man happens to have the command on deck, adieu to the discipline and safety of the ship. She may, perhaps, not sink outright; she may drift some time as a wreck, and will then be dashed to pieces on the shore; but she can never be rebuilt on the old bottom.
The breaking-up of the power of China (no very improbable event) would occasion a complete subversion of the commerce, not only of Asia, but a very sensible change in the other quarters of the world. The industry and the ingenuity of the Chinese would be checked and enfeebled, but they would not be annihilated. Her ports would no longer be barricaded; they would be attempted by all the adventures of all trading nations, who would search every channel, creek, and cranny of China for a market, and for some time be the cause of much rivalry and disorder. Nevertheless, as Great Britain, from the weight of her riches and the genius and spirits of her people, is become the first political, marine, and commercial Power on the globe, it is reasonable to think that she would prove the greatest gainer by such a revolution as I have alluded to, and rise superior over every competitor.
It should be never absent from our recollection that there are now two distinct nations in China--the Chinese and the Tartars--whose characters essentially differ, notwithstanding their external appearance be nearly the same. They are both subject to the most absolute authority that can be vested in a Prince(Qianlong), but with this distinction--that to the Chinese it is a foreign tyranny, to the Tartar a domestic despotism. The latter consider themselves as in some degree partakers of their Sovereign's dominions over the former, and that imagination may, perhaps, somewhat console them under the pressure of his power upon themselves--like the house servants and house negroes belonging to a great landlord in Livonia or planter in Jamaica, who, though serfs themselves, look down upon the peasantry and field negroes as much their inferiors.
The Government, as it stands, is properly the tyranny of a handful of Tatars over more than three hundred millions of Chinese.
Yet it cannot be concealed that the nation in general is far from being contented. The frequent insurrections in the distant provinces are ambiguous oracles of the real sentiments of the people. The predominance of the Tartars and the Emperors's partiality for them are the common subjects of conversation among the Chinese whenever they meet together in private. There are certain mysterious societies in every province, who, though narrowly watched by the Government, find means to elude its vigilance, and often hold secret assemblies, where they revive the memory of ancient independence, brood over recent injuries, and meditate revenge