The Amherst embassy
in Creating the Opium War
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The Amherst embassy to China has long been viewed as a major diplomatic failure in Britain’s early relations with China. This chapter concentrates on the greatly overlooked aspect of the Amherst mission – the delegation’s discoveries in China after the official proceedings were concluded. Since the embassy was given unprecedented freedom of movement during its four-month return journey from Beijing to Canton, British observers were able to explore the interior of China and to communicate more fully with the Chinese government and people than ever before. As a consequence, the Amherst embassy not only provided valuable first-hand observations which increased and improved Britain’s knowledge of China, but developed the view that the Qing government was the chief obstacle to the progress of Chinese civilisation and to the general welfare of the Chinese people. These important perceptions laid the foundation for future changes in Sino-British relations and led, indirectly, to the outbreak of the Opium War.

Creating the Opium War

British imperial attitudes towards China, 1792–1840


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