The Immobile Empire

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A.A. Knopf, 1992 - Political Science - 630 pages
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From Alain Peyrefitte, a historical tour de force: The Immobile Empire recaptures the extraordinary experience of two worlds in collision. Peyrefitte describes in fascinating detail the story of the failed attempt by the British during the 1790s to open the Chinese Empire to Western trade. Led by Lord George Macartney, whose previous diplomatic career had involved successful stints in India and the Caribbean, the enormous British expedition of nearly seven hundred men included diplomats, doctors, scholars, painters, musicians, soldiers, and young members of the British aristocracy. Macartney's refusal to perform the traditional kowtow before the Chinese Emperor was the first signal that the two empires would fail to see eye to eye. The British, fueled by the ideas of Adam Smith, had built an empire on the principle of mutually advantageous trade among nations. But, as Peyrefitte notes dryly, "Confucius never read Adam Smith". The British wanted tea, porcelain, and silk, but had little to offer the Chinese in return, except one shameful commodity - Indian opium. "Everyone thought of it", Peyrefitte remarks, "but no one spoke of it". Making use of extraordinary source materials - including, on the British side, the wonderfully candid diary of twelve-year-old Thomas Staunton, son of Macartney's aide, and the only person in the entire English fleet who had taught himself Chinese, and, on the Chinese side, the newly discovered secret reports of the Emperor's officials, all personally annotated by the Emperor himself - Peyrefitte is able to tell this remarkable story from both sides, and from multiple perspectives on each side. Superbly translated by Jon Rothschild, The Immobile Empire ishistory at its most gripping and entertaining.

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Review: The Immobile Empire

User Review  - raul - Goodreads

Solid history of the ossified state of the Chinese court in the late 18th century and the British attempts to break into China's markets... sets up the disastrous 19th and 20th century history of the country... Read full review


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