- Odd Arne Westad
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Justice, rules, and centrality—these three crucial concepts should always be borne in mind when considering the past, present, and future of Chinese foreign policy.
Hong’s message was based on a revisionist version of the Bible in which he himself played a primary role.
Unlike most foreign military officers, diplomats, and traders, the missionaries often learned Chinese, and so they became translators and interpreters of China to the West and the West to China. Some of them retired to fill the first positions for the study of China in Western universities.
The Chinese eye saw Europe, the Americas, Western Asia, and Africa with as much exoticism, cultural bias, guesswork, and misunderstanding as foreigners saw China.
Besides the puzzlement over foreign languages, food, customs, and hygiene, Chinese travelers wondered constantly about the preference of people in the Western empires for material progress over moral self-betterment.
There was a sense in the 1870s—both among leading Chinese and foreigners—that China would find a way forward that was uniquely its own, that it was too big and too set in its ways to fail. The leading men of the Tongzhi era, such as Prince Gong and Li Hongzhang, believed that neo-Confucian self-strengthening would save China. The term implied making use of Western technology to protect and preserve Confucian China. The catchphrase for modernizers became “Chinese essence, Western form.” The Confucian core of Chinese learning remained valid. As the Confucian scholar Feng Guifen argued, “What we then have to learn from the barbarians is only one thing: solid ships and effective guns.”2