Old China Hands and the Foreign Office

Old China Hands and the Foreign Office

Old China Hands and the Foreign Office

Old China Hands and the Foreign Office

Excerpt

This is a study of the opinions and attitudes on Anglo-Chinese relations held by British merchants engaged in the China trade and of their relevance to the formation of British foreign policy toward China in the half-century between the Treaty of Tientsin and the Treaty of Portsmouth. It is, further, the story of that repeated clash between the Old China Hands and the British Foreign Office about the premises of Anglo-Chinese relations, despite their basic agreement on the aims of foreign policy in the Far East. In sum, it is an analysis of the reasons which could lead The Times to exclaim in 1875, apropos of a periodic crisis in those relations, that Britain did not want another India in the valley of the Yangtze.

The ultimate "Chinese question," posed by mercantile pressure on Lord Russell in mid-century and, in more acute form, on Lord Salisbury forty years later, was whether China would become Britain's second India. The issue was always pressed in veiled form. But the upshot of mercantile demands would tend to push the Government into a position from which it could not withdraw without falling heir to the substance, if not the form, of the Manchu legacy. This path the British Government refused to follow: it is the contention of this work that the Foreign Office reached this reluctant decision when the Board of Trade convinced the rest of Whitehall that the China trade would never be worth the expense of war or sovereignty. Old China Hands were never able to shake the fundamentals of this decision. The most their pressure accomplished was the adoption of a policy of wheedling gradual reforms out of China and ensuring that Britain would secure the largest slice of pie during the Battle of Concessions. But with this modest result the taipans were never satisfied.

This hypothesis -- that for half a century there existed a fundamental clash between mercantile and official attitudes on British policy toward China -- contradicts the theory, repeated from authority to authority, that Britain's China policy was shaped primarily by the pressure of the . . .

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