17 April 2009

Qianlong, Emperor of China: Tremble at my orders and obey

To the king of England (1793):

"You, O king, live far away across many seas. Yet, driven by the humble desire to share in the blessings of our culture, you have sent a delegation, which respectfully submitted your letter. [...]

Ruling over the vast world, I have but one end in view, and it is this: to govern to perfection and to fulfill the duties of the state. Rare and costly objects are of no interest to me. I have no use for your country's goods. Our Celestial Kingdom possesses all things in abundance and wants for nothing within its frontiers. Hence there is no need to bring in the wares of foreign barbarians to exchange for our own products. But since tea, silk and porcelain, products of the Celestial Kingdom, are absolute necessities for the peoples of Europe and for you yourself, the limited trade hitherto permitted in my province of Canton will continue. Mindful of the distance loneliness of your island, separated from the world by desert wastes of sea, I pardon your understandable ignorance of the customs of the Celestial Kingdom. Tremble at my orders and obey."

(From E. H. Gombrich, A Little History of the World)

1 comment:

  1. The King told me: “You, for my honour, I have greatly rejoiced yesterday!”
    Shall God please Your Majesty, - I replied – what was the reason of Your Majesty rejoicing?
    “They told me you are a chevalier (i.e. knight but also rider), and I would not believe you were a chevalier”.
    Your Majesty – I replied – I am a chevalier of my race and of my people.

    Usama ibn Munqidh, 48 - Arab Historians of the Crusades, Einaudi, Milano, 1987, p. 74
    (translation mine)