On January 10th, 1795, a very tired caravan arrives in Beijing. The travelers have journeyed from Canton on an accelerated schedule through harsh terrain in order to make it to the capital in time for the Qianlong Emperor’s sixtieth anniversary of his reign. The group is led by two Dutchmen: Isaac Titsingh and Andreas Everardus van Braam Houckgeest, who are there to represent the interests of the Dutch Republic at the imperial court. It’s a momentous occasion, especially after the disastrous British Embassy from George Macartney two years earlier.
Little did they know that their embassy would be the last by Westerners in the traditional Chinese court. Their journey is the subject of Professor Tonio Andrade’s The Last Embassy: The Dutch Mission of 1795 and the Forgotten History of Western Encounters with China (Princeton University Press), published earlier this year: a rich and readable volume that tells the story of an event long-neglected by history and historians.
In this interview, Tonio and I talk about the Dutch Embassy, its protagonists and the nature of the imperial court. We discuss the perilous and rushed journey the ambassadors made to Beijing, and what their experience tells us about the nature of diplomacy.
Tonio Andrade is professor of Chinese and global history at Emory University. His books include The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History (Princeton University Press), Lost Colony: The Untold Story of China’s First Great Victory over the West (Princeton University Press, 2011), and How Taiwan Became Chinese: Dutch, Spanish, and Han Colonization in the Seventeenth Century (Columbia University Press).