Two British Embassies to China: 1793 and 1816

Chinese Governments are notoriously difficult in their relations with Europe. G.H.L. LeMay gives a chastening account of two early British attempts to get into diplomatic touch with Pekin.

“Habit,” ran an East India Company’s memorandum of 1815, “has rendered the principal export from China almost a necessary of life in Great Britain.”1 But, while China tea was becoming increasingly popular in Britain, and increasingly profitable to import, there was little which the Chinese desired from Europe—least of all the presence of the Europeans themselves. As Sir George Staunton wrote:

“The Court of Pekin was understood to be guided by maxims peculiar to itself, little fond of a promiscuous intercourse with foreign states, and inclined, in some measure, to consider its subjects as placed in the vale of happiness, where it was wise to seclude them from a profane admixture with other men.”2

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