Elsa Zhou Stacie Hanneman from the Qing empire to a Chinese nation-state 3 May 2012 Rationality Eighteenth

century Enlightenment period Europe was a time of great progress, many changes, and numerous innovations. Characterized by a shift away from superstition, religion, and the restraints of custom, the enlightenment age turned to scientific inquiry and the power of reason as guides in human affairs. It was during this time that the Western concept of rationality entered into the consciousness, presented as a sort of inherent logic that all individuals possess. In examining what this idea of rationality entails, placed within the context of European dealings with Qing dynasty China, I will argue that use of the term rationality has strong ties with very western ideas of economics. For the Western framework of thinking, we will see that notions of market economy, division of labor, accumulation of capital, individualism etc., come to represent the rational and logical. But beyond what these concepts meant for the European mindset of the time, understanding this western economic rationality is important because it questions assumptions made about the Qing and reveals certain notions within the historiographical discourse on Qing Dynasty China. To historically specify the meaning of this term rationality, we come to James Matheson’s text Present Positions and prospects of the British Trade With China, In his attempt to persuade the British government to open up trade with China, Matheson complains that the Chinese are arbitrary – imposing unfair laws upon the British subjects, manipulative – forcing the British to pay bribes, and insolent – treating the British without respect in general. However, what seems to bother him most is that the Chinese threaten to simply end trade with the British if

”2 Thus we see that for Matheson. 2 Matheson. rises out of his lack of comprehension of their priorities. it seems the reason why this is so frustrating is not simply because he is angered that the Chinese do not care about trade with Britain. “If the foreigners dislike our restrictions. It is this idea that a rational human being must want to maximize profit and engage in free trade that becomes in opposition to the Chinese mindset. In one instance. the Chinese who are not so inclined are irrational. we see that the entire structure of his analysis is founded upon an exchange relationship between ______________ 1 James Matheson. The dread of not making money is that which alone influences them. indeed even has an obligation to trade with other nations for their mutual benefit. 1836). whom reason cannot rule. what Matheson sees as rational. Present Position and Prospects of the British Trade with China: together with an outline of some leading occurrences in its past history (London: Smith. .they are unsatisfied. it is perfectly competent to them not to take the trouble to come so great a distance. they simply reply. Elder & Co. On the other hand.”1 For Matheson. increased accumulation of capital is logical. the irrationality of the Chinese. For him. Rather. John Fairbank’s analysis shows that this economic rationality has a hand in structuring the historiographical discourse since then as well. But moving beyond the use of the term rationality in regards to the dealings between two nations during the Qing dynasty. is Vattel’s theory of natural law. in return. in response to the complaints of the British merchants. Ironically. 18. “They are a mercenary gain-scheming set of adventurers. in part. Present Position and Prospects of the British Trade with China. labeled as backwards and cultural. 11. it is because he cannot understand why the Chinese would reject profit when the opportunity presents itself. the Viceroy of Canton’s judgment of the British is that. as difficult to be endured. based on the idea that all nations should want to participate in commerce. Thus we see the beginnings of the western economic rationality. In Fairbanks’ analysis of the tribute system.

2 (1993): 493. could logically only be for trade – is the cause of their downfall. he uses the same western economic rationality seen in Matheson’s critique. In fact he even says. It is interesting to note that for Fairbank. his analysis is completely opposite of Fairbanks. The kow-tow is in exchange for the emperor’s benevolence. and increasing profit. we also see something similar happening in James Polacheck’s analysis in his text. for him. China allows these smaller neighboring states to trade on her shores. In his critique of China. “Culture and Postwar American Historiography of China” in positions 1 no. The paying of tribute is in exchange for the material benefits of this process. 2 (February 1942): 138. 4 Judith B.” 4 In Fairbank’s analysis of the tribute system. Yet as Polacheck presents this history in terms of how China brought the opium wars upon themselves. 1 no. attributing their willingness to pay tribute to the profit motive of trading with China. Furthermore. the entire motivating factor the neighboring states to come to China is for trade and profit. Hevia. “That tribute was a cloak for trade has been axiomatic ever since merchants from the Roman orient reached Cattigara in 166 A. Farquhar and James L. In one sense. In this we see that Fairbank’s analysis is structured around a very western economic framework of exchange. and attributes the things that don’t fit into what is rational as an “ignorance of foreign realities and a willful refusal to take them into account. Fairbank’s entire analysis becomes based upon this system of exchange values. . In return for ordering foreign relationships and the acknowledgement of the Emperor as the mandate of heaven.China and her tributaries. presenting a history completely from the standpoint of Chinese motivations. incentives.D…” 3 Here we see that Fairbank makes assumptions about why neighboring states come to China. the blindness of the Chinese to the motivations of the tribute states – which . we can _____________ 3 John Fairbank. The Inner Opium War. To some extent.” The Far Eastern Quarterly. “Tributary Trade and China’s Relations with the West.

but also about the Qing’s considerations of governance. and endorses the more “practical” view of regulating the opium trade to turn it into a mutually beneficial enterprise for the Qing as well as the British. Polacheck creates a certain framework that not only makes assumptions about trade and the market economy.also see echoes of this western economic rationality in the way Polacheck interprets the actions of the Qing.5 In these lines Polacheck states outright that trying to end foreign trade with Britain was not the resolution to the problems of the Chinese state. Thus from these articles. there is pervading sense that trying to restrict commerce. In his discussion of the different parties of the Qing government involved in the start of the opium war. 103. these different actors… nevertheless had reached agreement by the late 1830s that interrupting foreign trade with Britain did not hold the real answer to the fiscal woes [of China]. Polacheck states. In fact. practical path to follow can only be to allow the free flow of commerce. If their views had prevailed. throughout Polacheck’s analysis. placing his interpretation of Qing motivations within certain categories that may not have truly applied to them at the time. we can see how the idea of European economic rationality has impacted not only the actors directly involved. but also the structures used to understand and analyze history. there probably never would have been an opium war”. “Though disagreeing among themselves. In the end. ____________ 5 James Polachek. Polacheck seems to ground his analysis based upon certain assumptions about the way commerce should work. MA: Council on East Asian Studies Harvard University. like the Chinese attempted. . creating an opposition wherein he dismisses the “ideological” view of banishing opium for moral reasons. 1992). we see that Polacheck assumes that certain ideas of western economic rationality must be apparent and within the considerations of the Qing. Through presenting the situation in this way. is not feasible or reasonable and that the rational. “The Politics of Opium Suppression” in The Inner Opium War (Cambridge. In this way.