“A View near the City of Lin-Tsin on the Banks of the Grand Canal.” Copper engraving by W. Bryne after a drawing by William Alexander (1767-1816 ) from the “Authentic account of an embassy from the King of Great Britain to the Emperor of China; including cursory observations made, and information obtained, in travelling through that ancient empire” written by Sir George Leonard Staunton and published April 12, 1796 in London by G. Nicol. Coloured by a later hand. Size (image): 28,5 x 44 cm.
The embassy was headed by Earl George Macartney (1737-1806), who was dispatched to Beijing in 1792. He was accompanied by Staunton a medical doctor as his secretary, and a retinue of suitably impressive size, including Staunton’s 11-year-old son who was nominally the ambassador’s page. On the embassy’s arrival in China it emerged that the 11-year-old was the only European member of the embassy able to speak Mandarin, and thus the only one able to converse with the Emperor.
Lord Macartney’s embassy was unsuccessful, the Chinese resisting British overtures to establish diplomatic relations in view of opening the vast Chinese realms to free trade, but it opened the way for future British missions, which would eventually lead to the first Opium War and the cession of Hong Kong to Britain in 1842. It also resulted in this invaluable account, prepared at government expense, largely from Lord Macartney’s notes, by Staunton, of Chinese manners, customs and artifacts at the height of the Qing dynasty.
The engravings are of special interest because of their depiction of subjects that very few Europeans had heard of or seen, showing how advanced Chinese civilisation was on a technical, artistic and organizational level.
On 22 October 1793, watercolourist Alexander noted in his journal, “At noon we passed the Pagoda of Linsing of 9 stories, about 120 ft. in height. Tis a striking object being detached from any town and stands about 20 yards from the waters edge”. The pagoda at Lin-Ching-Shih stood at the point where the Eu-Ho River intersects with the Grand Canal. Alexander saw and sketched it from the junk in which he travelled up the Eu-Ho and along the entire length of the Grand Canal, from Beijing to Hangchow. Although he had little opportunity for excursions beyond the riverbanks, the month-long voyage provided him with plentiful opportunity to observe waterside life.