Lin Zexu’s proposition of “beating foreigners by learning from their advantages”

In the First Opium War, Lin Zexu was the first one who raised the idea of “building ships and casting cannons......learning from the enemy’s advantages to beat them”. When he was leading the anti-Britain fight in Guangdong, he bought a western-style merchant ship of more than 1,000 tons from an American businessman. And then, he equipped the ship with British artillery and refitted it into a warship. In addition, he widely looked for a variety of drawings of ships, and sent people to study the drawings and imitate ships according to which. Thus a number of new ships, which were “strong, long and large”, were completed. However, it was apparent that Lin Zexu has realized that the ships he bought and imitated were sailing ships with no modern or contemporary significance, which were about to fulfill their historical missions. This is understandable, as during the First Opium War, the revolution of warships in capitalist countries has just begun, with only a few auxiliary ships used for communication, detection, towing and so on. However, the styles of ships he bought or imitated is of no importance, but the truth that he has opened his eyes to look at the whole world and put forward the new concept of learning from enemies, which has enlightened the people, is of great and far-reaching significance.

The proposition of “beating foreigners by learning from their advantages” was proposed by Lin Zexu and summarized by Wei Yuan. Wei believes that the foreigners have three main advantages: warships, firearms and methods of raising and training soldiers. As for the specific ways to learn from the foreigners, he suggested to build shipyards and establish bureaus of firearms in Shajiao and Dajiao outside Humen in Guangdong, and hire western artisans and masters to teach the Chinese skilled craftsmen and picked troops to study how to build ships, manufacture weapons, drive ships and fire cannons, to completely get the skills the foreigners have. Though Wei Yuan’s idea on learning from the foreigners was too simplistic, but his knowledge about “foreigner’s advantages” and proposition of “learning from foreigners and learning by doing“ have undoubtedly taken a step further from Lin Zexu’s thought. However, as a scholar, Weiyuan neither had the power to carry out the idea nor the status to influence the government, with respect to the issue of “learning from the foreigners”. His main contribution was his exploration and summary of “learning from the foreigners”, and his thoughts and propositions have made great impacts on his descendants.