China’s past is Europe’s present

The country known as China today actually has a long and distinguished history, and many gaps as a unified country. Indeed, since the first official unification into what could be considered a modern notion of statehood in 220 BC under the Qin Dynasty, China has gone through nine imperial dynasties as a unified country, and the current regime under the Communist Party of China is essentially the tenth dynasty.

The last imperial dynasty, one where China achieved its apex in terms of both military might and territorial size (note: China was once ruled by the Mongols under the Yuan Dynasty, and of course the Mongols ruled the largest empire in world history under Genghis Khan, but Genghis Khan never conquered all of China in his life time; the task was done by his grandson, Kublai Khan), was the Qing Dynasty, ruled by the Manchus. During the 18th century when the Qing Empire achieved its golden age, China had almost 300 million inhabitants, by far the largest country in the world at the time in terms of population, and had an economy thrice the size of the British Empire. Ultimately, out of sheer arrogance, the Emperor of China rejected Britain’s proposal of establishing trade and thus exposing China to the industrial revolution, and instead sealed their borders. The situation changed a few decades later when the British forced trade upon China in what became known as the Opium Wars. Another few decades later, the Qing suffered a series of humiliating losses at the hands of western powers and were forced to secede territory, then eventually collapsed in 1911.

This part of Chinese history is well documented and well criticized: it is referred to as the “one hundred years of shame”. Much blame is placed on the Qianlong Emperor, the one who decided to snub the British and failed to see the benefits of industrialization, unlike China’s more industrious neighbor: Japan. Indeed around the same time the Meiji Restoration happened in Japan, which allowed the relatively small island nation to become the supreme power in Asia in the first half of the 20th century.

The lesson for modern Chinese is that blind arrogance and the failure to see others’ point of view or their technology ultimately led to our own downfall. Now, observe the following data set: .

Notice anything? The only trade partner of Britain in the top 10 outside of Europe are the USA and China, ranked #1 and #2 respectively in terms of GDP. China is the only place in all of Asia in the top 10. Ireland, ranked 45th in nominal GDP ranking, is ahead of China in terms of trade with Britain.

What is this if not effectively sealing your trade borders, like t he Qing Dynasty in the late 18th century? Much like the Chinese Empire of old, the arrogance of Europeans have prevented them from examining the modern world as it is and to concede that they might no longer have the best ideas. My hope is that they don’t need their own “one hundred years of shame” to learn this.


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