To what extent was China's failure to effectively deal with the West up to 1842 a consequence of its traditional attitude to foreign states?

Essay by chocchick23High School, 12th gradeA+, June 2003

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China's failure to effectively deal with the West up to1842 is largely attributed to its traditional attitude of foreign inferiority. The Chinese had an innate and a deeply ingrained belief that they were the superior nation. For over two thousand years, China was consumed by their own self-importance in the world, fueled essentially by their early philosophy of being at the centre of the world, their self-imposed isolation and their economic and social success during the Tang Dynasty (687-907 A.D). In contrast, the rest of the world was not in the same league which only re-enforced China's traditional attitude. This traditional attitude towards foreign states, in addition to their differing trade, diplomatic and jurisdictional systems resulted in their failure to deal effectively deal with each other.

China's early thinking foreshadowed how she would view the rest of the world. According to the Chinese, the emperor was the "Son of heaven" who ruled with the mandate and authority of Heaven.

Traditional Chinese cosmology assumed that mankind on earth should be organized by the same pattern found in the heavens: humans revolving around the emperor in a hierarchal manner. China's view of foreign states was an extension of this system in terms of seeing other countries in a hierarchical manner. Countries could only be superior or inferior to China. Thus, according to the Chinese reasoning: since China was naturally superior, foreign states had to inferior.

China's self-imposed isolation from the rest of the world produced a Chinese ethnocentrism and a powerful feeling of superiority. Many foreign states saw China as at the end of the world. Many clichés such as "from China to Peru" reiterate the idea that China was thought of as the most distant of lands. However, geographically, China was not actually further away from countries such as Europe. China's...