Prof. Menegon at Berkeley-Cambridge ‘Maritime Asia’ Workshop
Professor Eugenio Menegon is presenting on May 14th, 2018 a paper entitled “Foreign Agents at the Qing Court and Franco-British Maritime Rivalry: The French Mission to China in 1787” at the workshop “Maritime Asia: Securitization of the China Seas” , organized by the Institute of East Asian Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, in collaboration with the Centre for Rising Powers at the University of Cambridge (UK). As China aspires to become a major Asian maritime power in the 21st century, the workshop explores the country’s role in terms of relevance and use of history in contemporary international relations problems today. What can we learn from China’s modern history about the nation’s long-term aspirations as a maritime power? How does Beijing pursue naval preeminence in a post-Cold War political economy of globalizing connections and multilateral agreements?
Prof. Menegon’s paper is part of his book project on Europeans at the Qing court, and focuses on a specific maritime incident in the late phase of the Age of Sail. By order of King Louis XVI, the Chevalier d’Entrecasteaux, a famous naval officer and explorer, was entrusted in 1787 with an inspection of the official operations of the French consulate and the commercial activities of the Compagnie des Indes in Canton. This expedition was part of an effort to offset British supremacy in Asia and establish an alliance with the Qing government. The French government attempted to warn Qianlong about the British threat through Jean-Baptiste-Joseph de Grammont (1736-1812?), a French ex-Jesuit (the order had been disbanded in 1773) stationed in Canton as procurator of the remaining French missionaries in Beijing, and previously employed at the Qing court as mathematician and musician (1768-1785). On behalf of d’Entrecasteaux, de Grammont offered French naval assistance to the Qing government in quelling the Lin Shuangwen rebellion, then raging in Taiwan, an offer that was politely turned down, shelving further French plans for an alliance. In 1791, after the French Revolution, de Grammont returned to Beijing, and in 1793 he secretly offered his services to Ambassador Macartney during the famous British mission in the Qing capital. De Grammont’s figure not only shows the role of missionary intermediaries between foreign maritime powers and the Qing, but also raises issues of maritime geopolitics and political loyalty. What kind of “securitization” was France proposing to the Qing through de Grammont? Whose empire was de Grammont, simultaneously a Qing and French subject, serving? Why did the Chinese government reject French assistance and anti-British intelligence? By examining this example of intensifying maritime rivalries in East Asia in the waning decades of the Age of Sail, the paper casts light on the beginnings of foreign maritime hegemony over the Chinese coast that lasted into the 1950s.