In the late 18th century, the King of England sent representatives to China to increase trade. What did the Qing Emperor Qinglong's response say about the Qing Dynasty's opinion of European goods?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Your question refers to the Macartney Embassy, which was led by George Macartney. This embassy went to China in 1793. It was meant to increase trade with China as well as to open a British embassy in Peking. It failed on all counts. The emperor’s response clearly shows that the Qing Dynasty felt that European goods were unnecessary and inferior.

Most of Emperor Qinglong’s response to King George III is about his reasons for rejecting the idea of a permanent British embassy in Peking. However, toward the end of the response, he gives his reasons for rejecting increased trade. The most important line comes when he says:

...we possess all things. I set no value on objects strange or ingenious, and have no use for your country's manufactures. 

A little later in the document, he insists that China has never needed imports from foreign countries. He says:

…our Celestial Empire possesses all things in prolific abundance and lacks no product within its own borders. There was therefore no need to import the manufactures of outside barbarians in exchange for our own produce.

From these passages, we can see that the Qing Dynasty felt that there was no need for European goods. Since China already had “all things in prolific abundance,” there was nothing that it could want from Europe. The emperor dismisses the English goods that Macartney brought as “objects strange or ingenious.” He seems to be saying that they are mere curiosities, not things that would actually be useful. From these lines, we can see that the Qing Dynasty did not think that European goods were useful or necessary.

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