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China and the West, 1858-1861

January 29, 2010

Masataka Banno. China and the West, 1858-1861: The Origins of the Tsungli Yamen. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964.

Ji Hee Jung (2004)

Through exhaustive examination of comprehensive sources, Masataka Banno analyzes Chinese diplomatic history from the Arrow War to the creation of the Tsungli Yamen, a modernized central office for foreign affairs. According to Banno’s main argument, it was not the Treaty of Tientsin that made an institutional change in the Chinese conduct of foreign affairs, but the establishment of the Tsungli Yamen that ended the traditional principle of inequality between the Chinese empire and all other states under the tribute system.

Banno regards the Arrow War as an expression of dissatisfaction by Westerners with lack of changes in the Chinese legal system and tributary mind-set even after the Treaty of Tientsin and during the process of negotiation. The Tsungli Yamen symbolized a change in this old system. The emergence of the Tsungli Yamen was a turning point in China’s foreign relations. It is for the reasons that Banno emphasizes the significance of Tsungli Yamen in spite of its short history.

Tracing the process of negotiation and the rise of an organ for the conduct of foreign affairs under the leadership of Prince Kung, Kuei-liang, and Wen-hsiang, Banno focuses on conflicts between China and the four major foreign powers on the one hand, and between the war party and the peace party within the Chinese government on the other hand. As for the role that foreign powers played in the competition between the peace party and the war party, Banno’s evaluation is positive. Both parties wanted an “equal,” in other words, “modern,” diplomatic system. The stability of empire was thought to be desirable as long as the Chinese government would remain favorable toward foreign powers. That is why Westerners tried to cooperate with the peace parties. Banno assumes that the friendly relationship with the foreign legation was crucial for the rise and consolidation of the Tsungli Yamen. For instance, Banno explains the reason that Westerners postponed establishing legation in Peking in November 1860 was they feared for Prince Kung’s overthrow at the hands of the emperor’s warlike entourage. The presence of foreign troops in Tientsin and Taku also served as “a pillar of support to Prince Kung against his political opponents” (241).

Banno also effectively illuminates the struggles among factions within the Chinese government. While investigating the emergence of the peace party as an essential leading group of the Chinese government, Banno offers a different interpretation from the stereotyped one that assumes clear splits between the war party and the peace party, or between the Chinese and Manchus. By examining various cases, Banno suggests that whether one was in the war party or in the peace party was not decided by ethnic factors. Rather, individual attitude toward the negotiations with foreign powers depended on personal experience in foreign affairs.

Most of reviews of this book from contemporary scholars were favorable and positive. Lloyd Eastman indicates that “China and the West will surely remain the authoritative work” (The Journal of Asian Studies, 24.1) and Mary Wright praises it as “a model of dispassionate diplomatic history, prejudging no issue in a complex maze of events” (Journal of the American Oriental Society, 84.3). But even if Banno tried to maintain impartial views, it seems that Banno would not be free from the academic trends of his age. Overly optimistic views on friendly relationships between China and the West and a high estimation of the relationships make invisible the fundamental conflicts underlying the relationship. Nevertheless, the thoroughness of this book by its use of extensive sources written in five languages deserves credit. It is a greatly informative and painstaking work worthy of a careful reading.

© Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

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