Divergent culture was the obstacle to an opportune welcome by the Chinese. The diplomatic introduction went poorly. A letter was sent to King George saying, “You, O King, live beyond the confines of many seas, nevertheless, impelled by your humble desire to partake of the benefits of our civilization, you have dispatched a mission respectfully bearing your memorial.” At the time, China’s GDP had far surpassed Britain’s, its military prowess incongruent to such a lead, however. The emperor failed to recognize Britain’s naval fortitude and capability of clearing China of any agriculture, economy, or industry, to leave it in its ancient state eternally. Macartney’s request to become ambassador in Bejiing was a campaign, not a request. Thus began laborious negotiations—Sino-style. The game Wei-Oi began.
Later, a new Chinese ambassador was appointed. Li Hongzhang was an ambassador whose role was to balance the encroachment—the Chinese would say arrogation—of Chinese territory with the culture of Chinese superiority as a nation. This would lead to a challenging career, though a markedly successful one. Li was known for his dexterity in negotiations, which served him well and led the wake of fame reputing him. Li stood as a marker for a savior in front of a large puzzle, aligned for disintegration. As Kissinger says, he was positioned in a classic dilemma of the defeated: can a society maintain coheision while seeming to adapt to the conqueror—and how to build up the capacity to reverse the unfavorable balance of forces?
His credentials are most illuminated by his role in China’s midcentury insurrections. Jiangsu, one of the wealthy provinces in China (eastern), was being assaulted and assimilated by Taiping rebels: Western armies however, proving the historical grip of the Europeans on China, had secured the city to manage and control their commercial goods. Li worked with the Western armies to cogently eliminate a mutual threat. This was the cover under which Li actually controlled the Western armies to quell the rebellions and restore order to the region. In 1864, the fighting ended, marking the commencement of Li’s career.
The nature of China’s governance is unsustainable. It relies solely on the patience of its people in conflict. It harnesses its people to help guide its policy. It is a game of attrition that is alleged for external threats, but actually affects the internal polities of the nation. The sovereignty of China was progressively, and recessively, allegedly controlled, not by concise, clear governmental action and industrial fortitude, but by the whims of culture and the capricious nature of the general citizenry of China. It used manipulation in lack of power. China manipulated the chessboard of the balance of powers, vaguely conscious of the tinder they would build. The objective question was if they saw the fire it brewed, or if the fire was accepted as present, not as a looming threat.