BYU Asian Studies Journal


Kiner Kwok


BYU Asian Studies, politics, Amherst


In the late 18th century and early 19th century, European embassies eagerly interacted with Qing China (1644–1912). In 1792, Lord George Macartney (1737–1806) led the first British mission to Qing China. During this mission, even though Lord Macartney met with the Qianlong emperor (r. 1735–1796), his goal of establishing free trade and diplomatic relations with the Qing court was rejected. A few years later, in 1795, a mission, sent out by the Dutch East India Company (VOC), arrived at the Qing court to congratulate the Qianlong emperor’s 60th anniversary of his governance. Then again, in 1805, a Russian mission, led by Count Yury Golovkin (1762–1846), was sent to Qing China to establish more significant commercial trade. Unlike the previous two, Golovkin’s mission was cut short on its way to Beijing because he refused to perform the kowtow ritual in front of a representation of the Jiaqing emperor (r. 1796–1820) (Stevenson 2021, 100). Finally, Lord William Pitt Amherst (1773–1857) led the second British mission to China in 1816. The Amherst mission shared similar goals as the Macartney mission: to establish free trade and diplomatic relations with China. Similar to its predecessor, the Amherst mission did not achieve its goals, and to make matters even worse, the emperor never granted an audience with the Amherst mission. While all four of these missions received different outcomes, the uniting feature was the kowtow ritual. Three of the four missions refused to perform the kowtow ritual, and one complied with it. The kowtow ritual was an essential but delicate matter in Chinese diplomatic transactions.