The Immobile Empire: The First Great Collision of East and West - The Astonishing History of Britains

The Immobile Empire: The First Great Collision of East and West - The Astonishing History of Britains

by Alain Peyrefitte
     
 

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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… See more details below

Overview

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 is history at its most gripping and entertaining.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
French historian Peyrefitte's extraordinary account of the members of the British expedition that tried, unsuccessfully, to open China to Western trade in 1793 is at once a marvelous adventure tale, a dramatic reenactment of a decisive confrontation between East and West and a revealing comparative study of two cultures, each believing itself the world's most civilized. Self-assured Lord George Macartnay, leader of the mission, refused to kowtow before Chinese emperor Qianlong, who viewed the British as barbarian vassals and Macartnay as a common merchant. Members of the British delegation--among them doctors, painters, scholars and technicians--were amazed by China's wheat production methods but appalled by its approval of polygamy, infanticide, the mutilation of women's feet and its resistance to innovation. Peyrefitte sees the Celestial Court's rejection of Britain's gambit as a great missed opportunity for them, one which helps explain China's later decline. Illustrated with color plates and maps, the narrative follows China's ensuing chaos, exacerbated by opium smugglers, British naval assaults and indigenous rebellions. History Book Club alternate. (Nov.)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780394586540
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/20/1992
Pages:
624
Product dimensions:
6.69(w) x 9.45(h) x (d)

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