Though China came in contact with the western world in an indirect manner in the nineteenth century when the Mongols subjugated most of Eurasian continent, but the direct contact with the western world was established only in the sixteenth century with the arrival of the Portuguese in Canton.
However, the Chinese proud of their ancient and superior culture, avoided mixing up with the foreigners and did not permit them to reside or carry on business inside the country.
In short, up to the eighteenth century very few westerners were permitted to visit China and still fewer were allowed to settle there. The British and the Portuguese who first reached China by sea were permitted to visit China and still fewer were allowed to settle there.
The British and Portuguese who first reached China by sea were permitted only small footholds in the specially earmarked areas on the coast. Under the rules, the western traders were expected to deal only with the licensed traders and reside in narrow ghetto outside the city.
To prevent the foreigners from getting closer to the Chinese they were permitted to settle their disputes among themselves. Whatever trade existed between China and the Western world up to the end of the eighteenth century was as one-sided affair. Chinese goods, such as silk, porcelain, tea etc. were exported against payment in silver.
The manufactured goods of the western countries did not have any market in China. Advances were made by Britain for promotion of trade between the two countries but the Chinese did not respond favorably.
The Chinese also refused to recognize or receive diplomatic representatives of foreign powers. For example in 1793 when the British made request to the imperial court to accept a permanent British Trade representative in Peking, the same was turned down on the plea that it was not ‘in harmony with the state system of our dynasty’.