China: Foreign Policy
China is one of the cradles of civilization. For centuries China had been the dominant political, ideological, and economic force in East Asia. Chinese language heavily influenced its neighbors, Chinese ideas and culture crossed numerous borders, and two of the most important inventions in the history of man, the printing press and gunpowder, originated in China. But the most important factor was the land itself, the Chinese had been gifted with a land of numerous and abundant resources from which they benefitted greatly. But many Chinese held a dislike for overseas trade and maritime activity in general, by the time of the Qing Dynasty it was especially hard for foreigners to conduct trade with China. (Fairbank) This was a problem for European traders who had discovered that there was a great deal of profit to be made from the trading of goods in China.
Direct maritime trade between Europe and China began with the Portuguese in the 16th century; other European nations soon followed. European traders inserted themselves into the existing Asian trade network, competing with Arab, Chinese, Indian, and Japanese traders in regional trade. After the Spanish acquisition of the Philippines, the exchange of goods between China and Europe increased dramatically. By the Qing period, with European traders pushing to gain more access to China, Qing authorities denied requests for trade from European embassies; this became increasingly unacceptable to European nations. Increasing sales of Indian opium to China by British traders culminated in the Opium Wars. Superior British military technology forced China to open trade with the West on Western terms. A series of “unequal treaties” were signed that forced the Qing to open new ports and give foreigners even greater access to China, since the 1920s, they have been a centerpiece of grievances against the West. (Fairbank)
During the latter half of the 19th century China lost a series of wars against...