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A few thoughts on the British Empire
The British Empire was once the biggest and most powerful empire in the world. At its peak, the British Empire ruled over 1/4 of the world, it had the strongest navy in the world, it was the factory of the world as well as its most creative innovator. A British man could go anywhere in the world feeling proud about his country, and he could see the unx Jack waving in the most remote corners of the globe.

大英帝国曾经是世界上疆域最大、实力最强的帝国。在鼎盛时期,大英帝国统治了世界上1/4的领土,拥有世界上最强大的海军,既是世界工厂,也是最具创造力的创新者。
在当时,一个英国人可以到世界上任何一个地方去,在为自己国家感到自豪的同时,他可以看到英国国旗在世界上最遥远的角落里飘扬。

Yet, the Empire was unlike any empire as we commonly understand.When we talk about empire, we usually think of its vast territory, its vast army and its arrogant viceroys. But the British Empire was different. In fact, the Empire the British built was not a product of design, but rather of a series of spontaneous actions which culminated in forming a complex web of interests. Even the thirteen colonies in North America were a product of private enterprise. And the most notorious private enterprise was none other than the East India Company.

然而,大英帝国不同于我们通常所理解的任何帝国。当我们谈到帝国时,我们通常会想到它辽阔的领土、庞大的军队和傲慢的总督。但是大英帝国不同。事实上,英国人建立的帝国体制,并没有经过预先设计的,而是通过一系列商业的自发行为,最终形成了一个支撑帝国运行的错综复杂的利益网络。
在当时,就连英国在北美的13个殖民地,都是私人公司的产物。
而在这些私营公司中,最声名狼藉的要属东印度公司。

The East India Company had the authority to administer, to commerce, and to wage war in its own domain. It practically acted as a sovereign country but its primary interest was profit, not glory. It was independent from the British crown insofar as its management was concerned. Wealthy people across England who bought shares from the company could earn handsome dividends without going to India themselves.

东印度公司有权管理、经营自己的领地,并且有权发动战争,所以东印度公司实际上就是一个主权国家。但与传统国家不同,东印度公司并不靠荣誉维持自己的统治,他靠的是领地内源源不断产生的商业利润。就其管理而言,东印度公司是独立于英国王室的。英国各地购买东印度公司股票的富人,无需亲自前往印度就能获得可观的股息。而每个加入东印度公司的人都想(尽快地)挣一大笔钱,以便回家后在农村过上舒适的生活。

As already mentioned, the Company and its merchants vied for profit, not for honor nor prestige. They embarked on a long and dangerous expedition to unknown lands where climate and language were completely different. They wanted to make large sums of money (as quickly as possible) in order to get back home and live a comfortable life in the countryside. However, if that was their obxtive, they had to understand local customs and build an extensive network of reliable partners. Thus, British merchants had to earn the trust of local feudal lords, they had to learn their language, they had to form alliances with local merchants.

所以,无关荣誉或声望,在纯粹商业利益的驱使下,东印度公司开始一场又一场漫长而危险的远征,前往一个又一个气候和语言完全不同的未知之地。
每到一个地方,东印度公司都会解当地的习俗,并建立一个广泛的可靠的合作伙伴网络。
因此,英国商人都会想办法赢得当地封建领主的信任,他们还会学习当地的语言,与当地商人结成联盟。

As a result, a network involving Armenian merchants, Persian merchants, Indian merchants and Chinese merchants was formed and all of them were united with a common goal which was of course "profit." This international network was lixed with the British thus giving birth to a trade system encompassing the whole globe.

于是,一个由英国商人、亚美尼亚商人、波斯商人、印度商人和中国商人组成的国际化贸易网络形成了,所有这些人都为了一个共同的目标而团结在一起,这个目标就是“利润”。这个国际化的贸易网络也由此与英国绑定在一起,由此产生了一个覆盖全球的贸易体系。

An account from a British traveler in the 19th century gives a vivid illustration of the essence of what the British Empire was about:

19世纪一位英国旅行家的见闻记述,生动地说明了大英帝国建立的商业体系:

"The island of Singapore... the government, the garrison and the chief merchants are English but the great mass of the population is Chinese, including some of the wealthiest merchants, the agriculturists of the interior, and most of the mechanics and laborers. the native Malays are usually fishermen and boatmen, and they form the main body of the police. The Portuguese of Malacca supply a large number of clerks and smaller merchants. The Klings of Western India are a numerous body of Mohammedans, and, with many Arabs, are petty merchants and shopkeepers. The grooms and washermen are all Bengalese, and there is a small but highly respectable class of Parsee merchants. Besides these there numbers of Javanese sailors and domestic servants, as well as traders from Celebes, Bali, and many other islands of the Archipelago. The harbour is crowded with men-of-war and trading vessels of many European nations, and hundreds of Malay praus and Chinese Junks...little fishing-boats and passenger smapands; and the town comprises handsome public buildings and churches, Mohammedan mosques, Hindoo temples, Chinese joss-houses, good European houses, massive warehouses, queer of old Kling and Chinese bazaars, and long sburbs of Chinese and Malay cottages."

“在新加坡……政府,驻军和大部分商人是英国人,但新加坡大部分人口却是华人,其中包括一些最富有的华人商人,华人农民,新加披大部分的技工和劳工也都是华人。
新加坡的渔民和船夫通常是当地的马来人,新加坡的警察主体也是马来人。居住在马六甲的葡萄牙人则是政府职员和小商人。西印度的克伦族和许多阿拉伯人一样是伊斯兰教徒,他们都是小商人和小店主。

新加坡的马夫和洗衣工是孟加拉人,还有一小部分帕西商人生活在新加坡,虽然人数不多,但却很受人尊敬。除此之外,还有许多来自爪哇的水手和家仆,以及西里伯斯、巴厘岛和许多其他岛屿的商人。

新加坡港口里挤满了来自欧洲国家的军舰和商船,以及数百艘马来帆船和中国帆船……小渔船和乘船更是不计其数。新加坡城里有漂亮的公共建筑和教堂、伊斯兰教的清真寺、印度教的寺庙、中国的佛教寺庙、欧式建筑、巨大的仓库、各种异国风情的集市,还有中国和马来西亚风格的村舍。”

In short, Singapore harbored the essence of the British Empire in miniature.

简而言之,新加坡就是大英帝国的缩影。

The Empire was not a product of conquest but of trade (which included violence). It acted like a multinational company and involved many stakeholders. The main engines of the Empire were the Royal Navy, investors in London and across Europe, Sepoys from India, Parsee merchants and the Chinese market.

大英帝国不是征服的产物,而是贸易的产物(当然,在贸易过程中也伴随着暴力)。它就像一家跨国公司,有很多利益相关者。帝国的主要发动机是皇家海军、伦敦和欧洲各地的投资者、印度雇佣兵、帕西商人和中国市场。

Blue blooded Englishmen thought of the Empire as the victor of Trafalgar and as an extension of England involving Canada and Australia. However, the real actors who made and pushed the Empire were merchants like Jardine & Matheson and their partners. Indian (Parsee) merchants also stood to gain from the opportunities created by the Empire. They were active during the Opium War and formed long lasting partnerships with their British counterparts. Some of them even survive today. One of the largest conglomerates in India, the Tata Group, is one of them.

英国贵族认为是特拉法加海战缔造了大英帝国,英国得以借此战拓展势力范围,占据加拿大和澳大利亚。然而,真正缔造和推动帝国的是怡和洋行(Jardine & Matheson)等商人及其合作伙伴。印度(帕西)商人也从帝国创造的机会中获益。他们在鸦片战争期间很活跃,并与英国同行建立了长期的伙伴关系。这些印度(帕西)商人的影响力甚至一直延续到了今天。印度最大的企业集团,塔塔集团就是其中之一。

(怡和洋行(英语:Jardine Matheson)在1832年7月1日成立,由两名苏格兰裔英国人威廉·渣甸(William Jardine,1784年~1843年)及詹姆士·马地臣(James Matheson,一译“孖地臣”,1796年~1878年)在中国广州创办。
怡和洋行是最著名的一家老牌英资洋行,远东最大的英资财团,清朝时即从事与中国贸易。洋行对香港早年发展有举足轻重的作用,亦是首家在上海开设的欧洲公司,和首家在日本成立的外国公司。)

If the navy and the merchants pushed for Empire, Intelligence was in charge of maintaining it. Since the British Empire was not a continental empire like the US or Russia, it was inherently unstable and vulnerable. Therefore, they had to assess risks and threats accurately and quickly. To that end, they gathered intelligence on a massive scale with advanced communications technology and a vast pool of experts of humanities (history, politics, culture, etc...).

综上所述,皇家海军和商人推动着帝国的发展,情报部门负责维护帝国的运行。
由于大英帝国不像美国或俄罗斯那样是一个大陆帝国,所以天生就存在着不稳定性和脆弱性。因此,他们必须准确、快速地评估每一个面临的风险和威胁。他们会利用先进的通信技术和大量的人文(历史、政治、文化等)专家大规模收集情报。

Consequently, the British were aware of the intrigues and interests of local potentates and made use of them to their own benefit. They knew who to contact when and how. The British were also well aware of the division between the Han Chinese and the Manchus and they produced lots of books narrating in detail the history and institutions of the Chinese.

除此以外,英国人总会了解掌握每个地方统治者的统治手段和核心利益,并利用这些统治手段和核心利益为自己谋取利益。他们知道在正确的时间,以正确的方式拉拢不同派系的人。英国人也很清楚汉人和满人之间的分歧,他们出版了许多书籍,详细叙述了中国人的历史和制度。

Now the British Empire is gone, but some of its legacies still remain. For example, the main beneficiary of the Opium war, the HSBC (Hong Kong Shanghai Bank) is still the largest corporation in the UK, and a number of British big companies are still active in Singapore and Hong Kong. Probably this is the reason why the UK joined the Chinese led AIIB despite obxtions from the US. More than that, last year the British Chancellor of the Exchequer participated in the Chinese forum of Belt and Road Initiative raising more eyebrows. Perhaps, interests rooted from the times of Empire are still active in British policy.

现在大英帝国已经不复存在,但它的一些遗产仍然存在。例如,鸦片战争的主要受益者是汇丰银行,汇丰银行仍然是英国最大的公司,多家英国大公司仍然活跃在新加坡和香港。这可能也是英国不顾美国反对,坚持加入中国主导的亚投行的原因。不仅如此,去年英国财政大臣参加了中国举办的一带一路论坛,引起了更多关注。也许,源于帝国时代的追逐利益的本能天性,仍然活跃在英国的政策当中。

What was exactly the British Empire and how does it affect the UK post-Brexit? I think we are going to witness interesting times ahead.

所以如何解释大英帝国的本质?退欧后会对英国产生什么影响?我认为我们未来即将见证有趣的历史事件。