井底之蛙

1/22/2014

American contempt for China

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:41 am Print

As it is the beginning of the semester, I went to dig up the famous quotes from Emerson and Adams on what is wrong with China. If you find yourself needing these, well, here they are.

 From Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Journal & Miscellaneous Notebooks, an entry from 1824:

The closer contemplation we condescend to bestow, the more disgustful is that booby nation. The Chinese Empire enjoys precisely a Mummy’s reputation, that of having preserved to a hair for 3 or 4,000 years the ugliest features in the world. I have no gift to see a meaning in the venerable vegetation of this extraordinary people. They are tools for other nations to use. Even miserable Africa can say I have hewn the wood and drawn the water to promote the civilization of other lands. But China, reverend dullness! hoary ideot! all she can say to the convocation of nations must be –”I made the tea.”

John Quincy Adams, addressing the Massachusetts Historical Society, 184i

The fundamental principle of the Chinese Empire is anticommercial. It utterly denies the equality of other nations with itself, and even their independence. It holds itself to be the center of the terraqueous globe, equal to the heavenly host, and all other nations with whom it has any relations, political or commercial, as outside tributary barbarians reverently submissive to the will of its despotic chief. It is upon this principle, openly avowed and inflexibly maintained, that the principal maritime nations of Europe for several centuries, and the United States of America from the time of their acknowledged independence, have been content to hold commercial intercourse with the Empire of China. It is time that this enormous outrage upon the rights of human nature, and upon the first principle of the rights of nations should cease .

This is the truth, and, I apprehend, the only question at issue between the governments and nations of Great Britain and China. It is a general, but I believe altogether mistaken opinion that the quarrel is merely for certain chests of opium imported by British merchants into China, and seized by the Chinese Government for having been imported contrary to law. This is a mere incident to the dispute ; but no more the cause of war, than the throwing overboard of the tea in the Boston harbor was the cause of the North American Revolution

The cause of the war is the kotow!- the arrogant and unsupportable pretensions of China, that she will hold commercial intercourse with the rest of mankind, not upon terms of equal reciprocity, but upon the insulting and degrading forms of relation between lord and vassal. From Grayson, Benson Lee ed. The American Image of China New York: Frederick Ungar, 1979

The point of using these quotes, of course, is to help students get beyond the pretty standard American view that before being awakened by the West China was a stagnant unchanging place that was the opposite of everything a good society should be. If you want to hear me unpack everything that is wrong with these two quotes you should drop by 232 Keith Hall at 12:20 this afternoon.

From here (and also here) I found this great image of how Americans use  China to stand for backwardness. Would it not indeed be awful if Cincinnati became like China?

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