Thursday, October 25, 2007


Now that I have your attention, here's a post about non-communist China.

Over at Andrew Leonard's "How the World Works", on Salon, there was a nice discussion of the threat that COMMUNIST CHINA! might or might not pose to the United States. This was prompted by a Nation piece by John Feffer that made the comparison between the United States' arrogance and lack of understanding of coming threats (which will cause its fall) and Imperial China's arrogance and lack of understanding of coming threats (which caused its fall.)

One problem: bad history.

Yes, as the Qing historian at Jottings from the Granite Studio describes in exquisite detail, Imperial China did not, in fact, ignore the British threat. They were dismissive of that threat, but they were dismissive of that threat when it wasn't one; in the late 18th century when the Brits were doing all they could to try to hang on to those blasted rebel colonies in North America, and in the early 19th when the Napoleonic Wars were absorbing rather a lot of Britannia's time and energy.

The Chinese were also fully aware of British technological innovation throughout the 18th century too. They were doing just fine, thank you, on the whole "using gunpowder to make metal go through people's insides" thing. What really screwed things up was British gunboats, and those came pretty much came out of nowhere long after England and China met and had all their little "issues".

But even that wasn't necessarily what won the day for England. The other little factoid that often gets overlooked, though not by Jottings: the British Empire hooked China on opium. Yes, yes it did. That's why you subconsciously associate opium with China: because the British put it there. That sucked silver and other goods out of China as everybody and his dog tried to pay for his opium fix, and played merry hell with Chinese society and economics. It was "The Wire" times about a million or so.

The British probably didn't even need the gunboats to begin with. The opium smugglers won the day for 'em.

Anyway, for anybody who cares about Chinese history prior to the creation of COMMUNIST CHINA! I'd highly recommend the post at Jottings. The Feffer piece isn't that bad either. Just, apparently, a little ahistorical.

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