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Interaction with the West and the Decline of the Imperial System
By the end of the 19th century, the situation would be completely reversed. Assorted Western powers had taken various pieces of Chinese territory and relatively free trade was well established through an ever increasing number of treaty ports and spheres of influence. Throughout the century, the Sino-Western relationship continued to be fraught with difficulties. Westerners tended to see China as corrupt and decadent; Chinese often viewed the West as greedy and contemptible. Both were right, at least part of the time.
There was also an enormous difference in world view. To the Chinese court, Western envoys were just a group of new outsiders who should show appropriate respect for the emperor like any other visitors. Of course the kowtow (knocking one's deeply bowing until the head on touches the floor) was a required part of the protocol. For that matter, the kowtow was required in dealing with any official. Some countries, like the Netherlands, were willing to participate. For others, most notably the United Kingdom, treating China's "decadent" regime with any respect at all was being generous. The envoy of Queen Victoria or another monarch might give some courtesies, even pretend the Emperor was the equal of their own ruler. However, they considered the notion that they should kowtow utterly ludicrous.
The greatest contention was opium. For the West, the profitable commodities were "pigs and poison," indentured laborers and opium. Britain's balance of trade — paying for tea and silk in silver and being quite unable to interest Chinese in most British products — would have been disastrous without opium. However, by growing opium in India and exporting vast amounts to China, the British were able to enjoy a healthy trade surplus - selling opium for silver and using the silver (of which they now had a surplus) to buy tea, silk, and other trade goods. Millions of Chinese became addicted to opium; many merchants both foreign and Chinese made fortunes from the trade. But every Chinese government from the Qing to the present has been unalterably opposed to the opium trade and all other forms of drug trafficking.
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