may be unknown to many people. The emperor and the first president of the United States were people of the same era. Qianlong was 21 years older than Washington, but both died in 1799. But we always feel that Qianlong is an ancient man, while Washington is more like a modern man. Why? It was mainly because after the western industrial revolution, the process of modernization had left a large part of the Qing Dynasty at that time, and Qianlong adopted the policy of closing the country, so there was no progress in these hundreds of years. There was no big gap between the Qing Dynasty and the United States at that time, but the development speed of the two was very different.

“Qianlong and Washington both died in 1799”, which is a very popular “new knowledge point” recently.

Qianlong was born in 1711 and Washington was born in 1732. They are indeed people of the same era. But they give the impression that the former is still an ancient emperor and the latter is a modern politician.

this is really a very touching thing.

comparison of events between China and Europe and the United States during the prosperous period of Emperor Qianlong.

Hongli ascended the throne in 1735, became the supreme emperor for three years after he took the throne in 1796, and died in 1799. He was in power for 63 years.

for more than half a century, some people call it “Qianlong prosperous age”.

the foreign monarchs in the same period with him mainly included Frederick the great of Prussia (1740-1786), George III of England (1760-1820), Louis XVI of France (1774-1791), etc. they either led the country to prosperity or were overthrown by the people. Li Jiannong, a scholar of




, once summarized the characteristics of Europe and America in the second half of the 18th century.

“this period is the most prosperous period of the Qing Dynasty in China (but it has been declining), and it is a period of great changes in politics, economic thought and international situation in the west,” he said

in Europe and America, “with the continuous new development of steam engine and other ideas and academia as the propeller, the power of civil rights and freedom will soon spread all over Europe…”

in China, on the one hand, science is backward, on the other hand, the “most complete autocratic monarchy” has been established.

specifically, the major events that occurred in China, Europe and the United States during the so-called “Qianlong heyday” can be roughly divided into several categories:

from the above table, it can be seen that China’s military achievements are no less than those of Britain, and China’s military achievements are no less than those of Britain, such as calming Junggar, big and small Jinchuan in the so-called “ten complete martial arts”, It greatly increased the territory actually controlled by the central dynasty and laid the territory of modern China. During this period, Britain also defeated France through a series of wars, won Canada, India and other places, and began to become a sunless empire.

China has embarked on a path completely different from the modern powers in three aspects: politics, economy (Science and Technology) and culture.




politically, China maintains an autocratic monarchy. The revised laws and regulations of the imperial Qing Dynasty is still an ancient criminal law, with more refined and cruel charges and penalties (736 charges involving the death penalty alone). Among the European and American powers, not only the constitutional monarchy appeared, but also the Republic was born. After the revolution, the United States and France established a modern state system by formulating a modern constitution. In terms of




economy (Science and Technology), China inherited the existing scientific and technological achievements in ancient times and continued to use the water to large spinning wheel, which failed to make further progress on this basis ③. In Europe and America, Jenny’s invention of textile machine and steam engine has changed the face of the whole society.

China is proud of its advanced culture. However, famous scholars in the Qianlong period, such as Dai Zhen, only applied the scientific spirit to textual research and failed to produce any new ideas. At the same time, Europe is experiencing the enlightenment, and the ideological influence of works such as the wealth of nations and the spirit of law has been so far.

that is to say, China under Hongli’s rule still maintained the traditional political order and social and cultural style. During the same period, great changes are taking place in Europe and the United States.

Hongli’s response to the drastic changes in Europe and America

what did the Qing government think of the great changes in Europe and America at that time?

during Hongli’s reign, there were three most important events in Europe and America: the British Industrial Revolution, the American independence and the French Revolution.

in 1793, the British magarney mission visited, which gave Hongli monarchs and ministers the opportunity to intuitively feel the industrial revolution for the first time.

magarni came for trade and brought gifts (regarded by Hongli as “tribute”) to show “the progress of European science and art”. Among them, the most important is a set of planetarium and related astronomical instruments. Through them, we can accurately describe and observe the known universe.

gifts also include pottery, porcelain, carpets, cloth, carriages, chandeliers, muskets, pistols, artillery, and a model warship with 100 cannons, etc.

these gifts are intensively displayed in the Old Summer Palace. Magarni once lamented:

“nowhere else in the world has such a large number of exquisite, practical and beautiful products been gathered.” It’s a pity that there are many things in the Western clock box, such as “magni”, “spkds” and “spekds”. It’s a pity that he doesn’t believe in the Western clock box “.

he once blamed Zheng Rui, who was responsible for receiving the mission, and criticized him for not seeing the world:

“Zheng Rui has only worked in Zhejiang and Tianjin, so he is naive”, “he has never seen Western clocks and other mechanical devices in Guangzhou and Australia.”

Hongli believed that his imperial officials and missionaries had enough knowledge of astronomy and clock machinery to frustrate the spirit of Macartney and others:

“Now the tribute envoy sees that there are people who are familiar with astronomy and geography and repair clocks and watches in the heavenly Dynasty. They can’t be proud of their unique secrets. They used to exaggerate language and think it has gradually converged.”

in fact, Hongli doesn’t understand the difference between clocks and astronomical instruments. He also doesn’t know that his imperial celestial supervisor officials are completely laymen in astronomy.

magarni mission tried to show Hongli modern industrial products and scientific knowledge, while Hongli showed disdain. This disdain is also reflected in his credentials to King George III.

he claimed in his National Certificate:

“King Er has entered all things this time. He wants to offer them sincerely and far away, and hereby instructs the government to accept them. In fact, the virtue and prestige of the Chinese dynasty are far from being accepted by the kings of all countries. All kinds of valuable things, such as ladders and navigation, can be found everywhere. You are making people see them personally, but they are not expensive and ingenious, and there is no need for your country to make things.”

when he wrote his credentials to King George III in the tone of teaching his vassal, Hongli didn’t know that Britain was already ahead of the world and its industrial products had irreplaceable value.

as for American independence, Hongli monarchs and ministers know nothing.

when the United States became independent in 1776, China did not know that there was such a country in the world. Eight years later, the US “Empress of China” came to Guangzhou, and there was the first contact between China and the United States.

the introduction of the American political system did not appear in the report of the governors of Guangdong and Guangxi until 18 years after Hongli’s death (1817):

“the barbarians had no lord and only had leaders. They were several people elected by the public in the tribe. They were filled by lot once every four years. In trade affairs, they were allowed to run their own business, and the leaders were not in charge of the mission.”




tribes, lotteries and leaders. The American political system constructed by these words seems to have been ignorant and uncivilized.

later, missionaries in China often mentioned Washington and American independence in their books, which were highly praised. In 1849, Xu Jiyu, governor of Fujian Province, published a brief history of Yinghuan, which was the first time that the Chinese intellectual community had an understanding of the political system of the United States,

“Wu Xingteng (i.e. Washington) has won the land of Millikan. It is private to inherit the country and pass it on to future generations. It is advisable to choose the one with virtue as the task of herdsmen… If the term of office expires after four years, and everyone agrees that it is virtuous, then he will stay for another four years (after eight years, he is not allowed to stay) … the heads of the towns and townships each vote in the re-entry with the name of the book they pushed, and when they finish, they will open the re-entry, depending on the independence of the people they pushed, or officials, or ordinary people, regardless of their qualifications…

Xu Jishe highly praised the American political system, and his understanding was generally good. Unfortunately, in his view, Washington is just a reappearance of the ancient sage Yao and Shun, and the United States is only “almost public in the world and VV is the legacy of three generations”. He can’t see the impact of American independence on the world.

shortly after the outbreak of the French Revolution, China never knew anything about Chinese businessmen and missionaries.

according to the memory of madandong, deputy envoy of magarney, when he came to China, he found that

“the news of French civil strife in recent two or three years has been heard in Beijing, where the various ideas of undermining order and subverting the government have forced the Beijing government to take precautions.”

“there is nothing more abhorrent to the recent French theories than the Chinese government. The mission comes from the west, and China does not want to be close to this part of the earth…”

the French Revolution overthrew the monarch. In the era of Hongli with a tight literary network, even businessmen and missionaries who came to China did not have room to widely spread the matter, let alone let the people know.

it was not until half a century later that the French Revolution had a repercussion in China’s intellectual circles.

in 1842, Wei Yuan mentioned the French Revolution in his atlas of the state of the sea:

“King (referring to Louis XVI) helped americana (i.e. the United States) win the war, but his pay and silver gradually decreased, so he called the three grades of nobility, monk and people (i.e. the” three-level meeting “) to find a way to collect money. The people abandoned the king and killed him. During the seven years of chaos in the state and government, there were officials who were familiar with (i.e.) Napoli, and their martial arts subdued the public…

during this period, Chinese intellectuals mostly quoted the theories in the book and regarded the execution of Louis XVI by the French Revolution as a just act to kill the “only husband”. Of course, the intellectual circles stop at introducing the French Revolution in order to let readers understand French history without advocating revolution.




to sum up, during the “Qianlong heyday”, the Chinese intellectual community heard more or less about several major events in the world, but Hongli monarchs and officials did not intend to have an in-depth understanding. After the Opium War, Chinese people really began to pay attention to the history of the industrial revolution, American independence and the French Revolution.

“China lags behind the West in an all-round way and began in the prosperous era of Qianlong”, which is not too much.