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The Mind of EmpireChina's History and Modern Foreign Relations$
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Christopher A. Ford

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780813192635

Published to Kentucky Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813192635.001.0001

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Imperial Denouement

Imperial Denouement

(p.165) 11 Imperial Denouement
The Mind of Empire

Christopher A. Ford

University Press of Kentucky

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the political legitimacy of China's imperial system would be challenged simultaneously by popular uprisings, collectively called the Boxer movement, against encroachment by Western powers and the Qing dynasty's perceived loss of the Mandate of Heaven. Although the Boxer movement caught many legations in Peking off-guard, a multinational invasion force quickly drove the imperial court off into the hinterlands, leaving China with no other option but to surrender. The post-Boxer settlement heavily emphasized ostentatious symbols of China's guilt and contrition for wrongs done to the allies during the uprising. It wasn't a coincidence that the settlement's symbolic laden terms were imposed on an empire whose domestic political legitimacy depended on its unassailable adherence to Confucian notions of virtue and unquestioned superiority over all foreign peoples. From all the defeats and humiliation they suffered during this period, China did learn that familiarity with Western international law could protect them in their dealings with the Europeans on foreign affairs, national standing, and proper diplomatic methods. After the assaults on its traditional bases of politico-moral legitimacy and subjected to forced immersion in an international world dominated by Western-derived notions of coordinate, coequal identities, China began to develop a sense of nationalism. Realizing how weak and vulnerable China had become during this period, Western powers became open to the idea of revising some of the most notorious provisions of their unequal treaties with China. Nevertheless, foreign diplomatic relations did not always go China's way despite the Westerners' more conciliatory approach.

Keywords:   Imperial China, Qing dynasty, political legitimacy, Boxer movement, international treaties, foreign diplomatic relations, international laws, nationalism

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