Detailed map of the Macartney's Route across China during his Embassy of 1792-1794.
The Macartney Embassy, also called the Macartney Mission, was a British embassy to China in 1793. The Mission ran from 1792-94 . It is named for the first envoy of Great Britain to China, George Macartney, who led the embassy.
The goal of the embassy was to convince Emperor Qianlong of China to ease restrictions on trade between Great Britain and China by allowing Great Britain to have a permanent embassy in Beijing, possession of "a small unfortified island near Chusan for the residence of British traders, storage of goods, and outfitting of ships", and reduced tariffs on traders in Guangzhou.
The embassy was ultimately not successful in its primary objectives. After the conclusion of the embassy, Qianlong sent a letter to King George III, explaining in greater depth the reasons for his refusal to grant the several requests presented to the Chinese emperor by Macartney. The requests had included a call for the relaxation of the restrictions on trade between Britain and China, the acquisition by Britain of "a small unfortified island near Chusan for the residence of British traders, storage of goods, and outfitting of ships"; and the establishment of a permanent British embassy in Beijing. However, Emperor Qianlong's letter's continuing reference to all Europeans as "Barbarians", his assumption of all nations of the earth as being tributary to China, and his final words commanding King George III to "...Tremblingly obey and show no negligence!" can be interpreted as a challenge or as a imperious dismissal.
The Macartney Embassy is historically significant because it marked a missed opportunity by the Chinese to move toward some kind of accommodation with the West. This failure would continue to plague the Qing Dynasty as it encountered increasing foreign pressures and internal unrest during the 19th century.
Although the Macartney Embassy returned to London without obtaining any concession from China, the mission could have been termed a success because it brought back detailed observations. Sir George Staunton was charged with producing the official account of the expedition after their return. This multi-volume work was taken chiefly from the papers of Lord Macartney and from the papers of Sir Erasmus Gower, who was Commander of the expedition. Sir Joseph Banks was responsible for selecting and arranging engraving of the illustrations in this official record.