How Napoleon Bonaparte Predicted the Rise of China in the 19th Century

How Napoleon Bonaparte Predicted the Rise of China in the 19th Century

The China we see today was once a nation of pity and humiliation. Her failure was her complacency and lack of exposure. Though her underdevelopment was evident, the French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, saw her as a future world power and warned the world about it.

Who was Napoleon Bonaparte?

Napoléon Bonaparte original Italian name was Napoleone Buonaparte. He was born at Ajaccio, in Corsica, on August 15, 1769, as the fourth and second surviving child of Carlo Buonaparte, a lawyer, and his wife, Letizia Romalino Buonaparte. His father was highly respected by the French.

Napoleon became the emperor of the French (1804–1814/15) and one of the most celebrated notables in the antiquity of the West. He transformed military organization and training; sponsored the Napoleonic Code, the prototype of later civil-law codes; reorganized education; and established the long-lived Concordat with the papacy. He was educated at three schools: at Autun, the military college of Brienne, and the military academy in Paris.

Forbidden City, Beijing, China
Forbidden City, Beijing, China

During Napoleon’s year in Paris, his father died of cancer in February 1785, leaving his household in pinched situations. He became the head of the family before he was 16 even though he was not the oldest son. He attended a military school where he graduated with a rank of 42nd in a class of 58.

Napoleon Bonaparte was outstanding in his military career: he was a French military leader and emperor who conquered and dominated much of Europe in the early 19th century. He rapidly rose through the positions of the military during the French Revolution (1789-1799).

In 1804, he crowned himself emperor after clutching political control in France in a 1799 coup d’état. He waged war against various European nations and succeeded, a credit to his military intelligence and strategy. He led the French army to invade Russia in 1812; it was a tragic invasion where he lost more than 500,000 thousand soldiers out of 600,000 soldiers. Napoleon abandoned his rulership two years later and was exiled to the island of Elba.

In 1815, he temporarily returned to power in his Hundred Days Campaign. After an overwhelming defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, he abdicated once again and was exiled to an isolated island of Saint Helena, where he died at the age of 51 in 1821. In spite of his tragic defeat, Napoleon Bonaparte still goes down in history as one of the greatest military leaders and war strategists.

Let China Sleep

About 200 years ago, Napoleon Bonaparte warned the world about China when he said, “China is a sleeping giant, let her sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world.”

This statement is opined by some people to be a prophetic utterance about the future of china, but it is also a manifestation of the emperor’s political desire. China suffered through wars, societal mayhems, and the revolutions of the 20th century. The world’s most populous country appeared to be plummeting ever deeper into turmoil.

History scholars became more enlightened about the reason why Napoleon warned about China.

China’s existentialism posed a global threat to other nations; a threat not only foresaw in her population but in her potential to rise to global power and recognition when her resources are annexed. This was what the French emperor saw that made him say, “…let China sleep…”

This statement means let China remain unconscious towards her social, political, and economic development; let her remain blinded by her complacency; let China never have the knowledge to realize her global potential; let China never become the envy of other nations; let China never know the value in her population; let China be enslaved and be highly dependent on other nations.

The Challenge of a Sleeping Giant

During the time of Napoleon Bonaparte, China was under an ideology that seemed to have enslaved her. It was the Qing Dynasty, a Chinese cultural ideology that seemed to have blinded her against leveraging her potentials for national success and global recognition.

As a strategist military leader, Napoleon understood what would surface if China had discovered herself and woken up during his time. She would have been his greatest threat to his global conquest. The emperor did see the future of China, yet it does not quibble the fact that if China had woken up during the time of Napoleon Bonaparte, she would have been his doom.

China had spent less than 70 years in isolation before becoming a major global economic influencer. Her self-sufficient ideology was a disaster to millions of her citizens.

Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte of France, (August 15, 1769 – May 5, 1821).

During the 1950s, she experienced one of the biggest human cataclysms of the 20th Century: Mao Zedong’s effort to hastily industrialize China’s peasant economy failed which led to the death of 10 to 40 million people. During the 1960s Mao launched the Cultural Revolution: an attempt to discourage foreign ideologies from thwarting her communist dream, which landed the nation in social turmoil.

China endured a century of social, political, and economic subjugation and humiliation at the hands of imperialists.

In spite of these challenges, China woke up to her vision; she woke up to realize her potential; she woke up to annex her population to her advantage; she woke up never to be enslaved by other nations; she woke up to be socially, politically, economically and culturally independent.

The fear of Napoleon Bonaparte has become a reality: China has woken up; she is no more sleeping. Instead of China to sleep, she has woken up to be a major global hegemon.

The Economic and Political Rise of China

China suffered some political and economic crucibles for several decades before the prophetic colossus could rise from her complacency and stagnation.

Deng Xiaoping began the reformation of China after the death of Mao in 1976. The reform gave an opportunity to peasants to own plots of land to farm, reduce food shortages, and alleviate poverty. It also gave an opportunity for an open market for foreign nations to take advantage of their cheap labor, which encourage the inflow of investment to China.

She re-established diplomatic ties with the United States of America in 1979, which further promoted international trade between the two parties. Since then, China has experienced rapid economic growth which gave her the opportunity to join the World Trade Organization in 2001.

Today, Chinese goods are everywhere and the economic lives of millions of Chinese people have improved. 

According to the World Bank, more than 850 million people have been liberated from poverty, and the country is working to eradicate absolute poverty by 2020.

The world is experiencing the implications of the awakened giant that realized her economic power by leveraging on the capacity of her population.

Their factories and labor power produce items that could meet the demands of many nations. China’s labor-intensive economy spreads a message to the world that man is an asset when the resources within are utilized; and that a high population is a strength, not a weakness.

Products such as toys, home appliances, tools, electronics, clothes, shoes, and other manufactured goods are highly demanded by nations, especially the African ones. Chinese construction companies are in high demand in Africa and some other developing and developed countries.

The world is warning Africa to be careful of China’s strategic neo-colonialism through her economic relationship with Africa. Her relationship with the continent in terms of trade in goods and services is capable of undermining Africa’s development, promoting dependency.

China is seen as a major competitor to the United States and other developed countries because of her labor power to produce “substandard goods” that is affordable to developing nations.

A Portrait of Mao Zedong at the Tian'anmen Square, Beijing, China
A Portrait of Mao Zedong at the Tian’anmen Square, Beijing, China.

It’s a strategy to reduce the influence of American and European products from African or developing nations’ markets.

The prophetic statement of Napoleon Bonaparte is fast becoming a reality to the world with Chinese experts, products, and services spreading all over the world without guns and without force.

With the use of innovative technology, lending to poor nations, and producing cheap and affordable goods and services, China is shaking the world as a major economic power competing with the likes of the United States of America.

China’s economic power has become the instrument of her global political power. The strength of her political influence manifests as a result of the economic resources she has been able to control within and without.

Her influential economic relationship with other nations is fast making her a more powerful political nation. China now contributes to the political decision of nations because of her productive economic resources. China has woken up and she is shaking the world.

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Godechot, J. (2020). Napoleon I.

Harrison, V and Palumbo, D. (2019). China anniversary: How the country became the world’s ‘economic miracle. Editors (2009). Napoleon Bonaparte.

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