The Limits of Informal Empire
: Britain's economic war in Shanghai 1914-1919

  • Sara Shipway

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Against a backdrop of growing political instability in China, as the nascent republic struggled to gain control of a vast and disparate country, Britain waged an aggressive economic campaign against German commercial interests during the First World War, fuelled by pre-war rivalries and bitterness at German commercial success. Chinese neutrality and problems with the drafting of economic warfare legislation restricted the actions Britain could take in the early stages of the conflict, which was resolved to some extent, when Britain tightened the legislation and China declared war against Germany in August 1917. Shanghai was the leading treaty port and although each country fiercely protected its own national identity, it was a unique city, a beacon of cosmopolitanism, a meeting ground for people from all nations, attracted by the commercial opportunities of the ‘China Trade’. The International Settlement was a small foreign enclave where the foreign community lived in close proximity and whose affairs were deeply entwined but as Britain’s economic war took hold, these close-knit ties were torn apart as companies had to rid their business concerns of enemy links. Examining how this situation developed in Shanghai as the war progressed reveals interesting insights into British power and self- perception at a time when its pre-eminence was being challenged on many levels, but particularly by Japan and America as they strengthened their hold over Chinese political and commercial affairs during the war.
Date of Award23 Jan 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorRobert Bickers (Supervisor) & Hugh Pemberton (Supervisor)

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