Biblical literacy and Khoesan national renewal in the Cape Colony
The rapid growth in popularity of the Protestant, Nonconformist missionary movement among the Cape Colony’s indigenous population, the Khoesan, coincided with Britain’s efforts to remould the Cape into a territory which exhibited British characteristics. Cape society had already been structured according to a racial hierarchy, though race was not yet the sole determinant of belonging as it was to become from the 1840s onwards. Christian identity held important sway in the Cape Colony during the early nineteenth century and was an important marker of social status and inclusion. For Khoesan descended from distinct, precolonial ethnic lineages, biblical literacy offered a language through which a new, Christian ‘nation’ could be imagined and articulated, and which could challenge settler–colonial hierarchies of power. This chapter explores how the Bible became a site of contestation in the struggle over the ownership of Protestant Christianity in the Cape Colony during the early nineteenth century. Khoesan acceptance of the Bible did not simply amount to submission to Western domination. Rather, Khoesan interpretations of scripture positioned the Bible as a disruptive, anti-colonial text. By confirming the Bible as a potent repository of symbolism and imagery, Khoesan sought to challenge racially based notions of Christian identity.
While historians of early modern Britain have long noted the ubiquity of Old Testament typology in religious-political discourse, its enduring potency thereafter has received much less attention. In part this is because of the flexibility of such rhetoric, for while posing as a ‘new Israel’ worked for embattled states like sixteenth-century England, this was not the only rhetorical option available; nor was it always the most apposite comparison, especially in the era of British global hegemony. This chapter argues that maritime imperial expansion lent particular weight to one set of passages, those concerning ancient seagoing Tyre and Tarshish. What they stood for was seldom stable: they were read prophetically, as literally presaging Britain’s current greatness; typologically, as warnings against the besetting sins of commercial greed and pride; and moralistically, as examples of the problems caused by imperial overstretch. I seek to show that British people in the nineteenth century continued to map the world and their place in it in biblical terms, to an extent that has sometimes been underplayed. What that meant, however, was increasingly open to interpretation.
Chapter 5 examines court cases in Xinjiang (1912–25). Consular officials worked a compromise between administering consular law, carrying out imperial objectives and allowing the jurisdiction of local custom over British subjects. Consuls were aided by aqsaqals, senior merchants who resolved minor disputes of the British communities in various towns. Consuls not only incorporated this indigenous administrative practice into British administration, but also arranged the aqsaqal system that had clear influences from Indian community organisation. The chapter therefore shows how Indian communities and Indian influences shaped British administration in Xinjiang.
The Amherst embassy to China has long been viewed as a major diplomatic
failure in Britain’s early relations with China. This chapter concentrates
on the greatly overlooked aspect of the Amherst mission – the delegation’s
discoveries in China after the official proceedings were concluded. Since
the embassy was given unprecedented freedom of movement during its
four-month return journey from Beijing to Canton, British observers were
able to explore the interior of China and to communicate more fully with the
Chinese government and people than ever before. As a consequence, the
Amherst embassy not only provided valuable first-hand observations which
increased and improved Britain’s knowledge of China, but developed the view
that the Qing government was the chief obstacle to the progress of Chinese
civilisation and to the general welfare of the Chinese people. These
important perceptions laid the foundation for future changes in Sino-British
relations and led, indirectly, to the outbreak of the Opium War.
The sixth chapter traces the decline of British jurisdiction in the province (1917–39). The Chinese authorities in Xinjiang challenged British consular rights and consuls responded by managing this erosion of their powers. Consuls based their approach to managing this decline on the needs of the British community living in Xinjiang, as well as on practical and political considerations. The chapter ends by showing how the trading community that moved between India and Xinjiang declined rapidly and thereafter ended consular rights in the province.
The book makes three arguments. First, it argues that frontier consuls played a key role in creating forms of transfrontier legal authority. Second, it demonstrates that the impetus behind these legal adaptations was the perceived challenges brought by the movement of British subjects and goods across frontiers. Local and transfrontier mobility therefore defined and shaped British jurisdiction across the frontier. Finally, British authority in the frontiers embraced and worked alongside other local norms and legal structures. This book is therefore the story of British consuls at the edge of the British and Chinese Empires and the nature of their legal powers.
The third chapter explores how Tengyue consuls worked in a court to resolve Sino-British cases involving local populations (1909–35). The court was a reflection of the coming together of local laws and British and Chinese jurisdiction. The consular role was to work alongside Chinese officials and act as linguistic and cultural mediators between these officials and their Burmese counterparts. They therefore balanced British imperial objectives – such as furthering colonial claims to land – with efforts to ensure Chinese cooperation in the resolution of transfrontier cases.
This book examines British imperial attitudes towards China during their early
encounters from 1792 to 1840. It makes the first attempt to bring together the
political history of Sino-Western relations and cultural studies of British
representations of China, as a new way of understanding the origins of the Opium
War – a deeply consequential event which arguably reshaped relations between
China and the West for the next hundred years. The book focuses on the crucial
half-century before the war, a medium-term (moyenne durée) period which scholars
such as Kitson and Markley have recently compared in importance to that of the
American and French Revolutions. This study investigates a range of
Sino-British political moments of connection, from the Macartney embassy
(1792–94), through the Amherst embassy (1816–17) to the Napier incident (1834)
and the lead-up to the opium crisis (1839–40). It examines a wealth of primary
materials, some of which have not received sufficient attention before, focusing
on the perceptions formed by those who had first-hand experience of China or
possessed political influence in Britain. The book shows that through this
period Britain produced increasingly hostile feelings towards China, but at the
same time British opinion formers and decision-makers disagreed with each other
on fundamental matters such as whether to adopt a pacific or aggressive policy
towards the Qing and the disposition of the Chinese emperor. This study, in the
end, reveals how the idea of war against the Chinese empire was created on the
basis of these developing imperial attitudes.
This chapter examines a significant debate on China and the Chinese market
held within the British mercantile community in the early 1830s. Occurring
in the years before the East India Company’s monopoly over China trade was
abolished in 1834, this debate has received much less attention than the
Macartney embassy and the rise of the opium trade. This chapter shows that,
in order to suit their own economic interests, supporters of the EIC and the
‘free traders’ presented rival images of China and the China trade to lead
the governing authorities and the wider public to understand the country and
its people in a way most favourable to themselves. Compared to the earlier
European accounts of China, which examined different aspects of Chinese
civilisation and were at least to some degree academic, this debate within
the British mercantile community was clearly aimed at influencing the
country’s commercial policy in China. Although neither side was genuinely
interested in discovering the ‘real’ China, this competition in
image-building was crucial to Britain’s relations with China in the era
leading to the First Opium War.