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Community, culture and colonialism 1900-1949
Author: Robert Bickers

The British community in China was rooted in the diverse cultures of imperial Britain. This book presents a study of Britain's presence in China both at its peak, and during its inter-war dissolution in the face of assertive Chinese nationalism and declining British diplomatic support. Using archival materials from China and records in Britain and the United States, the book presents a portrait of the traders, missionaries, businessmen, diplomats and settlers who constituted "Britain-in-China", challenging people's understanding of British imperialism there. Imperialism is no new subject for scholars of modern Chinese history. The largest settler communities were selfgoverning; even the smallest were still self-replicating. The book focuses on the structure and workings of this establishment in the decades before the Pacific War. The survey presented examines the processes by which Britain in China evolved, how it replicated itself and represented itself (and China). It looks at how it attempted to reform itself in the face of the militant state and mass nationalism it met in China in the mid-1920s and after. The survey also looks at the face of the efforts of the British state to regain control over it and to decolonise the British presence. All Britons in China possessed multiple identities: British, imperial and local. The book also analyzes the formation and maintenance of settler identities, and then investigates how the British state and its allies brought an end to the reign of freelance, settler imperialism on the China coast.

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The British in China and the aftermath of empire
Robert Bickers

On 11 January 1943 Britain and the Republic of China signed a treaty for ‘The Relinquishment of Extra-Territorial Rights in China and the Regulation of Related Matters’ that nullified the position the British had secured in China in treaties and through precedence since the 1842 Treaty of Nanjing. Little provision was made for British subjects in China and their interests. This chapter will outline the shape and reach of this presence, stressing its diverse composition, its practical and rhetorical entanglement in the wider ‘Greater British’ world, and its trajectory after January 1943 in the face of Chinese nationalism and revolution. Its legacies include debates that highlight the narrowing of state understandings of rights to British nationality by the beginning of the twenty-first century.

in The break-up of Greater Britain
Robert Bickers

This chapter explores the problems the British diplomats faced and the resistance they met. It then narrates the slow process of change down to the commencement of the Pacific War in December 1941. The chapter looks at settler resistance and examines the final victory of the diplomats. It also explores the range of tactics employed by British diplomats to reassert control. The Britain in China settler was not a part-time imperialist, but was clearly a part-time member of the British empire. The reform or dismantling of the institutions of British treaty port life was certainly patchily accomplished, but by the end of 1930 the map of Britain in China had been physically and mentally redrawn. While attempting to overhaul its own personnel and their attitudes, the British establishment also attempted to reform its charges.

in Britain in China
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A settler society
Robert Bickers

This chapter examines the communities which operated in China under the British flag in the treaty ports. It then looks at the recruitment and socialisation of recruits into treaty port society. The chapter also looks at the strategies employed to maintain social and sexual distance between Britons and Chinese, as well as the punishments handed out to transgressors. It outlines the 'imagining' of the treaty port community and in particular the identity, practices and beliefs of the settler society. For settlers, more than any other community, their local identity was paramount. Baghdadi Jews who called themselves Sephardic from Bombay in particular, identified themselves as British, but as Jews and as Asians they were doubly excluded by Britons. Britain in China, and Britons in China, swaggered at times as if they were a Raj in China.

in Britain in China
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The localisation of British activity in China
Robert Bickers

Staying on in China was the aim of the settler, the expatriate businessman and the missionary. Many British businesses and mission societies resolutely set out to transform their relationship with their respective Chinese markets. Penetration of the China market had always involved using local intermediaries. The Calico Printers' Association (CPA) printed Japanese-made cloths for the Chinese market via a wholly-owned subsidiary, the China Printing & Finishing Company. Improvements in relations with the Chinese business community also came at the expense of the compradores. Many British businessmen felt that the compradore system needed replacing or modernising. British Protestant missions were forced to attempt to transform themselves from 'foreign missions' to Chinese Christian Church and to compromise with modernising trends in Chinese society, in Chinese Christianity, in education and in medicine.

in Britain in China
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Robert Bickers

This chapter presents two short surveys of later periods: the years after 1938, one year after the onset of the Sino-Japanese War and after 1948, one year before the establishment of the People's Republic of China (PRC). Sino-British relations before the 1930s were hamstrung by a semi-autonomous colonialism which the British state tolerated, but which it was to find reasserting control over somewhat awkward. Modern Britons lived in an empire world, in a world opened up through empire to temporary or permanent migration. British trade with the empire greatly increased in importance at the expense of the areas of informal influence such as Latin America and China. Settlers were often driven by their local interests and loyalties to oppose British China policy, but they had to balance antagonism with a need to demonstrate loyalty and utility to the British empire.

in Britain in China
Robert Bickers

This chapter examines what may have been encountered by those in Britain searching for information about China, or by those merely searching for relaxation. It looks at the fictional works of Sax Rohmer, Louise Jordan Miln and W. Somerset Maugham. Arthur H. Smith's object was to analyse defects in the Chinese that Protestantism would remedy. The discourse of Chinese characteristics offered a dismissive and distancing vocabulary for articulating experience. Rodney Gilbert set out to describe China's faults. Hailed after her death as Pearl Buck's 'nearest literary parallel', Miln specialised in tales of the wealthy and aristocratic in China. Wembley's Hong Kong street was also a deliberately pointed appeal to the popularity of Limehouse. The obvious contradiction was that it was on Chinese themselves that most Britons in most fields actually relied for information, in trade, or in evangelical mission work.

in Britain in China
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Robert Bickers

This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book examines the nature of that presence, particularly the semi-autonomous status of the settler communities on the China coast. It identifies the processes by which Sino-British relations were brought under the control of the British state by 1943. The book offers an analysis of the creation and maintenance of the new identities acquired by Britons in China. It argues that the problems faced by the British state in China stemmed from the pseudo-colonial presence. The book concerns with identifying both the singularity of Britain in China and at the same time the incorporation of 'China' into Britain-abroad. It focuses on the structure and workings of the establishment in the decades before the Pacific War. The book also examines the formation of British settler societies and British settler mentalities.

in Britain in China
The British recruits of 1919
Robert Bickers

This chapter examines the lives, careers and mentalities of a group in Shanghai: British men in the Shanghai Municipal Police (SMP). It begins with a survey of the British communities in the city and moves on to discuss briefly the functions of the SMP. The chapter looks at why those recruited in 1919 joined up, what police service in Shanghai offered them, and what it made them. It concerns with the formation and maintenance of one type of British-derived identity in this society. British mores and structures dominated foreign life and the government of the International Settlement down to the Pacific War, but British society in the city was far from homogeneous. The supervisory capacity of British recruits must, have been limited, atleast by their lack of familiarity with Shanghai's languages, with the city itself, and with Chinese society, and modes of social interaction and social obligation.

in New frontiers
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Imperialism's new communities in East Asia, 1842-1953

In the new world order mapped out by Japanese and Western imperialism in East Asia after the mid-nineteenth century opium wars, communities of merchants and settlers took root in China and Korea. New identities were constructed, new modes of collaboration formed and new boundaries between the indigenous and foreign communities were established. This book explores two themes at the heart of the colonial process: agency and identity. The agents of British empire in China included the usual suspects: Britons from the official and military castes, as well as Iraqi Jewish merchants, Parsis and Indian Jews, Eurasians, South East Asian Chinese. The reliance of colonial regimes on local middlemen has become an essential part of any explanation of colonialism, though it is only very recently that the model has been systematically applied to Hong Kong. The Daniel Richard Caldwell affair could hardly have broken out at a more difficult time for the young and problematic British colony at Hong Kong. The book defines the ambiguous positioning of the Baghdadis vis-a-vis the British, and shows that their marginality did not represent, as a whole, a significant hindrance to their sojourn in the Shanghai foreign settlements. In Shanghai the German community recognised the leading role which the Nazi party held and which everyone, even the other foreign communities, seemed to accept. The book also looks at the aspects of their economic, social and political life that Indians led in the colony of Hong Kong and in the Chinese treaty ports.