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Imperial Mechanisms

STAUNTON, Sir George Leonard.  'An authentic account of an Embassy'

STAUNTON, Sir George Leonard. ‘An authentic account of an Embassy’ (1797)

The rapid acceleration of China’s economy – still on course to overtake the U.S. by 2028 – has prompted us to look back at the initial impressions made of China, and its workforce, when first engaged by English traders.  The Reverend G. N. Wright, a Protestant missionary writing in 1843, describes the working populace thus: ‘Each subject is an automatic piece of imperial mechanism, to which the director assigns a specific duty; and by the performance, such excellence is attained, that Chinese industrial productions have reached the climax of human perfection.’  Even then, the superior ability of China’s economy is clear; the potential is unlimited in a people so assured of their product and so diligent in their efforts to increase production.  Such self-belief is apparently an inherent birth rite.  Staunton highlights the fact that the majority of European trade was considered surplus, a new burden on an otherwise flawless Chinese market:

‘Tho the natives, immediately engaged with foreigners in mercantile transactions, have been very considerable gainers by such an intercourse, the body of the people is taught to attribute the admission of it, entirely, to motives of humanity and benevolence towards other nations standing in need of the produce of China, agreeably to precepts inculcated by the great moralists of the Empire; and not to any occasion or desire of driving reciprocal advantage from it.’

 

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