Sunday, January 13, 2013

Having noted Chinese immobility, they gained a clearer sense of their own motion.  Their appreciation of individual initiative was enhanced as they noted that individuals in China could undertake only what society expected of them.  They grasped more sharply the strength of the human personality in the West by observing that the only recognized human entity in China was the collective.  They took the measure of the role of competition in their own country when they saw that no one in China could escape his assigned place, for to do so would offend against the established hierarchy.  They saw more clearly how important merchants were in Britain by observing how deeply they were scorned in China.  They became aware of their own devotion to the new by discovering the cult of the immutable.  In short, they gained a clearer insight into the fact that individualism, competition, and innovation were the wellsprings of their own wealth and power.

Alain Peyrefitte's observation, on the "failed" Macartney expedition to China 1792-94, in his masterful The Collision of Two Civilisations

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