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Arrogant Bastards

In the never-ending drama that is the relationship between China and the rest of the world, both sides have demonstrated any number of times what arrogance is all about.

Perhaps the ultimate display of arrogance was the Chinese Emperor Qian Long’s letter to the King of England in 1793, replying to a request from the English envoy Lord Macartney for an opening of trade: “There is nothing we lack, as your principal envoy and others have themselves observed. We have never set much store on strange or indigenous objects, nor do we need any more of your country’s manufactures.”

This Chinese (Central Kingdom) arrogance towards the rest of the world remained overwhelming, until it became impossible to ignore the might of the European machine. Matteo Ricci, the Jesuit priest pioneer, had this to say of the attitude of Chinese people of his era (the late 18th century) to the outside world:

“Because of their ignorance of the size of the earth and the exaggerated opinion they have of themselves, the Chinese are of the opinion that only China among the nations is deserving of admiration. Relative to the grandeur of empire, of public administration and of reputation for learning, they look upon all other people not only as barbarous but as unreasoning animals. To them there is no other place on earth that can boast of a king, of a dynasty, or of culture. The more their pride is inflated by this ignorance, the more humiliated they become when the truth is revealed.”

But the westerners, who had started out by over-romanticizing the Chinese and their culture, by the mid 19th century were despising it. They became the Arrogant Bastards referred to in the title of this section.

I have taken two books – one by Monsignor Huc, a French priest, and the other by British diplomatist Laurence Opliphant, and summarised them from the “Arrogant Bastard” perspective:

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