Changing British attitudes to China and the Chinese, 1928-1931

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This study examines the context and nature of British attitudes to China and the Chinese in the period 1928 to 1931, between the initial consolidation of the Nationalist Revolution in China and the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. The relationship between official and popular levels of this discourse provides the dominant theme of this work. It is argued that these years saw the start of a major long-term shift in British attitudes prompted by the Nationalist Revolution and by changes in Britain's official policy towards China.

A wide range of official, institutional, and private primary and secondary material relating to Sino-British relations and to British treaty port life in China is examined in order to identify the sources, nature, and influence of British attitudes. The introduction surveys the existing literature on "attitudes" and "images" and outlines the limitations of traditionally textually-based approaches. Part 1 examines metropolitan and treaty port sources of British attitudes and their articulation and relates these to the structure and mores of British society in China, its socialisation of new arrivals, and its relations with the Chinese as hosts, competitors, colleagues, customers and employees. It shows the extent to which hostile and suspicious attitudes towards the Chinese pervaded British popular culture, diplomacy and treaty port society. Part 2 describes the nature and limitations of British attempts at social and institutional reform in the three main sectors of British society: the structures of treaty port life, businesses and missions.

Although British residents accepted the need for reform, in practice they were insular and conservative. Furthermore, successful changes were introduced with the intention of protecting the British presence in China rather than changing its character. This work concludes, however, that genuine attempts were made in this period by influential individuals to alter the character of British treaty port life, and treaty port attitudes, and that the long-term repercussions of these efforts underlie improvements in Sino-British cultural relations since 1928.

This study is a contribution to the social history of the foreign communities in China, the history of Sino-British relations and the social history of British attitudes to China and the Chinese.
Date of Award1 Dec 1992
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SponsorsSchool of Oriental and African Studies

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