Britain's Imperial Retreat from China, 1900-1931  book cover
1st Edition

Britain's Imperial Retreat from China, 1900-1931

ISBN 9780367596323
Published June 30, 2020 by Routledge
262 Pages

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Book Description

Britain’s relationship with China in the nineteenth and early twentieth century is often viewed in terms of gunboat diplomacy, unequal treaties, and the unrelenting pursuit of Britain’s own commercial interests. This book, however, based on extensive original research, demonstrates that in Britain after the First World War a combination of liberal, Labour party, pacifist, missionary and some business opinion began to argue for imperial retreat from China, and that this movement gathered sufficient momentum for a sympathetic attitude to Chinese demands becoming official Foreign Office policy in 1926. The book considers the various strands of this movement, relates developments in Britain to the changing situation in China, especially the rise of nationalism and the Guomindang, and argues that, contrary to what many people think, the reassertion of China’s national rights was begun successfully in this period rather than after the Communist takeover in 1949.

Table of Contents


1. Past British Thought about China to 1900

‘So Well Conceited of Themselves’: Early Jesuit and British Accounts

‘Fifty years of Europe’ vs. ‘A Cycle of Cathay’: Imperialism and China

Christianity, Compassion and Modernity: Missionary Views

The Moral Burden: Victorian Travel Writings

British Policy, 1895-1900

2. 1900-1910

The Boxer Uprising, 1900

The Boxer Uprising and Chinese ‘Awakening’

Sir Robert Hart and Chinese ‘Awakening’

Official policy, 1901-1904

Chinese Nationalism, 1905

G.E. Morrison’s Opinions and Influence

Official Policy, 1905-1910

3. 1911-1918

Assessments of the 1911 Revolution

British policy towards China, 1911-1918

4. 1919 to early 1925

The First World War and Empire

The Paris Peace Conference

The Creation of a New Order in East Asia

Chinese Issues, 1922-1924

The Bolshevik Threat and the Yellow Peril

The Boxer Indemnity and Chinese Educational Exchange

5. 1925

Unrest in China: 30 May and its Aftermath

The View from Whitehall

Government Advisors and Lobbyists

Public Responses

The Government Response


6. 1926

The Hong Kong Boycott and the Business Lobby

The Tariff Conference in Beijing

Finding Consensus

Changing Perceptions of the GMD

Challenging Conciliation

The Move Towards a Pro-GMD Policy

The New China Policy: Creating the December Memorandum

7. 1927

The Hankou Incident, the Shanghai Defence Force and the Public Response

The Chen-O’Malley Agreement

The Nanjing ‘Outrages’


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Phoebe Chow is in the International History Department at the London School of Economics, UK.