For centuries, the Chinese exchanged knowledge with other people including Arabs, Persians and Indians. Especially from the late Ming dynasty onwards, they encountered a new group of foreigners, Europeans. Some Europeans were missionaries while others came as armed merchants. Jesuits, members of the Catholic Society of Jesus, were among the first arrivals.
When the Qing came to power, they kept the Jesuits at court for their knowledge of astronomy and science. Trade was crucial too, as traded artefacts revealed information about production techniques. Exports to Europe increased during the Qing era, particularly of highly sought-after Chinese porcelain.
European and Chinese astronomers studied the skies and shared their knowledge. These hand-drawn star maps combine East Asian and European understanding by complementing Chinese names with transcriptions in French.
Ref. Chinese Crawford 68
China experienced an intense boost in global trade during Emperor Qianlong’s reign. From 1757, the Qing allowed Europeans to trade through the port of Guangzhou (Canton). In this petition, a European merchant makes several complaints including perceived unhelpfulness of Qing interpreters.