top of page
  • Gordon Dumoulin

The 1793 'Kowtow incident' in another light.....

History fabricated to the convenience of the presence....

Any student who has taken a Chinese history course is familiar with the Kowtow incident between Lord Macartney and Chinese Emperor Qianlong in 1793, along with the Emperor’s rejection to a letter from King George III. These perspectives are concluded in Western history books as a backward and outmoded Qing empire failing to recognize the rising power of the West, followed by the ‘century of humiliation’ (in other words the period of subjugation and atrocities by Western powers).

First of all, other historical records (mostly ignored) show that the Qing Court had special protocol for foreign envoys, not expecting (and certainly not enforcing) them to kowtow rituals. The obsessive kowtow narrative was mainly sparked by a disappointed Macartney after the rejection, exclusively becoming a historical fact.

Also the Emperor did not ‘just’ reject the King’s letter out of contempt or delusion. The Qing Court rejected by content every point in detail the outrageous UK demands, being well aware of the serious consequences.

"Remember that history is never a self-evident truth, but something that is always understood in the context of the present, mediated through the sources at hand. Let us be ever mindful of the biases we bring to our accounting of the past."

Quote by James Carter : Professor of History and part of the Nealis Program in Asian Studies at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

Sources and inspiration :

41 views0 comments
bottom of page