“The sails of their ships are like spider webs”

The English-French fleet in the bay of Hong Kong during the 2. Opium War (1860). Image: Wellcome Collection Gallery / CC-BY-SA-4.0

The decline of China as hegemonic power in the mirror of contemporary traveler and intellectual – also a teaching piece of civilization and barbarism

Chinese travelers were surprised on the horns as they "Land of the barbarians" around the middle of the 19. Century to an impression of imposing signs of civilization – the speech is from the Kolner Cathedral. In their travel descriptions they called Koln "Keluns" or "Qulun" and recognized in the dombing, which – after quite a forced break – went between 1842 and 1880 in the final phase, a huge temple pagoda.

The Kolner Cathedral – the tourism industry is now celebrating him as "Giant" Among the Germans seeing seven million visitors (2018), the cathedral nationwide is the most popular and most frequented landmarks and provides himself Castle Neuschwanstein in the shadows. And also art lovers are attracted, the colossom is paying to the European pre-prescription gothic architecture.

To the lovers numbers nowadays, in the 21. Century, the Chinese tourists at the forefront. Not a few are spitting in front of the cathedral in the knee or place themselves on the busy Domgasse without rucklich on body and life ruckling on the pavement (really observed!) To catch the ultimate souvenir photo. The enthusiasm is phanomenally. But she has collectively as far as China and his ratio to the West are concerned, ambiguous shares. China’s wide compression "Exit to the West" happened, carefully formulated, not quite voluntary, and as Chinese around 1850 around the living seats of the "Barbarian" Curious visits, they first came with tangible expectations and secondly with mixed cumbers.

The East India Company, coasted drug handler of your time

One understands the conflict, in which visitor from the kingdom of the center (with its millennia-old culture) at that time, if you consider the following: just had a new age, and not with good signs. In the first opium war (1839 to 1842), China got to do with the concentrated dominance of the West; The second opium war (1856 to 1860) sealed the submission of China among the juccipless interests of the Western Imperialists.

The actual goal of knowledge hungry visitors and diplomatic delegations from the Far East were therefore around the middle of the 19. For centuries less the cultural taste, but the steamboats and cannons of the Western "Barbarian", who had added them in the first and second opium war with their war technique – that was to be explored. The Chinese historian Monlin Chiang (1886 to 1964) wrote challenging:

Since we have been carefully battled by cannonballs, we’ve been interested in this, because we hoped if we could imitate them, to reply the attack (…To)

Montrin Chiang

Mistning life and culture against it – they had barely added to the western cannon farmers. What remained in the collective memory of the Chinese (and incurred by other Volker in the similar location) to this day, the technological means of the European were made with which the "Chinese opening" forced. The opium imports forced with superior weapons violence, which were the experiences, ultimately only the enforcement of colonial economic interests.

What rarely is mentioned: In the decade between 1830 and 1840, the British East India Company (BeC) worldwide was the largest drug handle worldwide and had expanded its influence not only on China, but also on the Philippines and Java on various occasions. The BeC financed the acquisition of tea, silk and porcelain with the Tons of Indian Opium to China.

As a result of opium wars and subsequent dubious "Peacock" When China de facto was degraded to a half colony, the country fortan with Western commercial goods all kinds flooded.

"Da Tong Shu" or: the world as a slave house

The Chinese Kang Youwei (1858 to 1927), a society reformer in the spade of Empire (Qing Dynasty), hindlave some very interesting writings, including his "Travel views from eleven European countries" (1904). There you can read: "But what is the most famous in Qulun [= Koln] on the most familiar and tourists from all countries, this is not the pomp this city – they all come for the temple pagoda." It’s meant, of course, the Kolner Cathedral, and in the words Kang already indicates a rethink (from the wait of 1904), namely the insight that the barbarian people had something like culture to show.

Kang was actually a degree and philosopher, he came from prestigious ratios, a family of high state official. Kang is considered a protagonist of the spiritual examination of China with the Occident on the way to 20. Century; His reform suggestions brought pretty much living areas. He dreamed of a united humanity; The ease with which the British troops forced China into the knees had also sustainably pushed him. In his utopia "Da Tong Shu" ("The Book of Great Unity") he described the earth as a coarse slaughterhouse and prison, in which people are imprisoned as enslaved earthling.

the "Barbarians with the red hair"

Book printing, compass and sliding powder, often referred to as the three roughcomes of the Middle Ages, had their roots in China. But now it was different, in the west, in the countries of the barbarians, boomed the technical progress. Already since the beginning of the 16. Century busted western ships in Asia. A text from the 18th. Century, who relies on early sources, leave the demolition, which after China, the self-assessment "The bigland land of the earth", There is:

The people we call as barbarians with the red hairs are the Hollander. You hear Po Hu (…). The sails of their ships are like spider webs that can be moved in search of wind in all the desired directions.


The gentlemen of the seas had that, and that were no Asians. It was the Konigin Victoria cannon boats that cost the Chinese attempt to stop the unwanted opium imports.

Looking back: Just a few years after the appearance of European ships in the Indian Ocean, non-European ships had to be exhibited from the Europe’s free letters if they did not want to be sunk by cannon balls, the economic historian Carlo Cipolla noticed. Between Ca. 1600 and 1700, militar technically began a new phase, because of the time, the Europeans, in addition to the superior shipholders, also has also covered an effective field artillery; this together with improvements in shipbuilding leaked to overpower, which did not held itself alone on the rule to sea.1

As geographic maps show, the European possibilities passed up to 18. Century essentially from fleet control points and custodians (A.a.O.163). Soon the territorial expansion began.

"Why are we roughly and weak?"

The bitter experience of its own inferiority describes another reformer, Feng Kuei-Fen (1809 to 1874). Feng was openly discontinued technological questions, but kept against the western values and the western society scan ("Essays of Protest"To). Center of 19. For centuries he described the advance of the Western Barbarians (he called them "small barbarians") So:

The most terrible anger since the creation of the sky and the earth lose in all among us (…); Her hairs are so criticated in rage so much that the headgear raises. Because the bigland of the earth [he said, of course, China] with a surface of ten thousand Li is dominated by small barbarians (…). Why are you small and strong? Why are we roughly and weak? (…) We have nothing else had to learn from the barbarians to build ships and cannons.

Feng Kuei-Fen

The certainty of his own (the Asian) consideration of the evening country "small barbarians" Was pressed silently. Chinese, Turken and Indians, it shows the studies of Cipolla, recognizing the possibilities in shipbuilding, the potential of the on-board cannons and the mandatory new tactics of maritime management only when it was already spat.

Most of the Confucian scholars of this epoch of upheaval were of the view, one should only take the technology of barbarian people to defend themselves against them. This item also sounds at Feng Kuei-Fen. Not so mentioned Kang Youwei. He was the view that the Western technological lead could one day be helped to design the project Humanitat. In his utopia "Da Tong Shu" He therefore stressed not only the deficits and departure of humanity, but also showed enthusiasm – for a better world, thanks to technical achievements.

Kang thought technology was able to make human work easier and pladged – highest modern, one might mean – for a working time of three to four hours daily. In addition, he already ahead of the worldwide networking of humanity, which it was allowed to encourage everyone to contact anyone.

Resumee: "Technically advanced" = "Civilized"?

The history of this transition time is also a teaching club from the chapter Imperialism. The first Opium War led the decline of China – by Asia’s once terrified hegemonial power to an informal West colony. The Atlantic anrainers with their sailing ships and cannons were those who increased worldwats in the crucial centuries of modern times.

Once again in the year 1866: The Student Hang Deyi makes in Koln station. He is a group of Chinese who want to find out more about the barbarian people. However, a small stairway of history – he shows more interest for the air water, with which the inhabitants of "Keluns" their body wet; For the cathedral Hang 1866 hardly had an eye. That should change soon. The Kolner Dom won in the years of his perfection (and that until today so) from the Asian perspective a very special reputation as an outstanding symbol of a foreign culture, the traveler from the Far East deselected a respectful interest.

To the resumee but still something else. "Civilized" and "technically advanced" will be pleased. The economic historian Carlo Cipolla points to this short circuit and takes the historical correctness for his theses (what "historically" is) when he reminds that the technologically advanced Volker (SiC!), and this independently of how civilized they are – which is difficult to determine anyway.2

In order to take over the technology of the West, the non-European volkers had to undergo a process of cushioning and in the fight against the West paradoxically in thinking and acting.

Carlo Cipolla

And in it he recognizes the story of the magic teacher.

Sources and literature

Chang, Tien Tse: Sino-Portuguese Trade from 1514 to 1644, Leyden 1934

Chiang, Monlin: Tides from the West: A Chinese Autobiography, New Haven 1947

Cipolla, Carlo M.: Sails and cannons. European expansion to the lake, Berlin (Klaus Wagenbach) 1999 (Ital. Original edition: Bologna 1983)

Kang Youwei: Ta Tung Shu ("Da Tong Shu"To). The book of the gross community. Hrsg. D. DT. Outrage.: Wolfgang Bauer. M. e. Foreword v. W. Bauer, Dusseldorf, Koln (Diederichs) 1974 (= Diederich’s Yellow Series, BD. 3 China)

Teng, -Yu, Fairbank, John K.: China’s Response To The West: A Documentary Survey, 1839-1923, Harvard University Press 1954

Xuetao, Li: Contribution via the city of Koln and the Cathedral from the point of view Traveler scholars of Spades Qingzeit (1842-1911), in: Yearbook of the Central Cathedral Construction Association (ZDV), HRSG. by Peter Fussenich and Klaus Hardering, 83. Follow, Koln 2018

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