. 1
( 6)


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Anglo-Chinese Encounters since 1800
War, Trade, Science and Governance

Chinese encounters with the British were more than merely those
between two great powers. There was the larger canvas of the
Empire and Commonwealth where the two peoples traded and
interacted. In China, of¬cials and merchants placed the British
beside other enterprising foreign peoples who were equally intent
on in¬‚uencing developments there. There were also Chinese who
encountered the British in personal ways, and individual British
who ventured into a “vast unknown” with its deep history. Wang
Gungwu™s book, based on lectures linking China and the Chinese
with imperial Britain, examines the possibilities, as well as the
limitations, attached to their encounters. It takes the story beyond
the clich´ s of opium, ¬ghting, and the diplomatic skills needed to
fend off rivals and enemies, and probes some areas of more intimate
encounters, not least the beginnings of a wider English-speaking

Wang Gungwu is Professor and Director, East Asian Institute,
National University of Singapore. His publications include Bind Us
in Time: Nation and Civilisation in Asia (2002) and To Act is to Know:
Chinese Dilemmas (2002).
Anglo-Chinese Encounters since 1800
War, Trade, Science and Governance

Wang Gungwu
National University of Singapore
©¤§ µ®©© °
Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge  µ, United Kingdom
Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521826396

© Wang Gungwu 2003

This book is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provision of
relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place
without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published in print format 2003

©®-± 978-0-511-07105-8 eBook (EBL)

©®-±° 0-511-07105-1 eBook (EBL)
©®-± 978-0-521-82639-6 hardback

©®-±° 
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©®-± °
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Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of
µ¬s for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this book, and does not
guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.
To my grandchildren

Sebastian WANG Lisheng
Katharine Yisheng REGAN
Ryan WANG Kaisheng
Samantha Feisheng REGAN

Acknowledgments viii

1 Introduction 1

2 “To ¬ght” 13

3 “To trade” 43

4 “To convert” 75

5 “To rule” 107

6 Beyond Waley™s list 137

Notes 151

Index 193


I am grateful to the Smuts Memorial Fund for the invi-
tation in 1995 to give the Commonwealth Lectures at
the University of Cambridge in 1996“1997. A couple
of months before I was supposed to give these lectures,
unforeseen circumstances forced me to cancel my trip
altogether. This caused great inconvenience to the
organisers, and especially to my host, Gordon Johnson,
President of Wolfson College, Cambridge.
In preparation for the lectures, I sketched out the
story of Anglo-Chinese encounters, in China, in Britain
and in the Commonwealth. I had just spent nearly ten
years working on the edge of China in the last major
British colony of Hong Kong, and recently translated to
Singapore, a member state of the Commonwealth that
was already over thirty years old. The two island port
cities seemed to be good starting points from which I
could make my excursions. I have never strictly observed
modern political boundaries in my readings of modern
Chinese history. As someone who was born Chinese
in a Dutch colony, Java in the Netherlands East Indies,
but has lived all but three years of my life in coun-
tries that are, or were, parts of the British Empire and
Commonwealth, I had often wondered if I could bring
the Chinese and British stories together in some way.
The Smuts Commonwealth Lectures would make an
interesting framework for me to re¬‚ect on some of the
encounters the two peoples have had since 1800.

Acknowledgments ix

It came as a pleasant surprise two years later when
the Smuts Memorial Fund renewed its invitation to give
the Commonwealth Lectures in the year 2000. Again,
Gordon Johnson offered to be host. This was a generous
gesture and gave me an opportunity to return to the
notes and sketches I had made. This volume is a slightly
revised version of the lectures I gave in Cambridge in
October 2000.
1 Introduction
It is a great honour for me to be invited to give the
Smuts Commonwealth Lectures. I grew up in Ipoh in
the state of Perak, a British protected state, and studied
Empire and Commonwealth history for my Cambridge
School Certi¬cate in a government-funded school
named after Governor Sir John Anderson (1858“1918).
Jan Christiaan Smuts (1870“1950) was still alive when
I went to university in Singapore, in the newly es-
tablished University of Malaya. I was interested in the
extraordinary story of how this Cambridge-educated
colonial became ¬rst a bitter foe of the British Empire
and then a loyal supporter of the Commonwealth. This
interest was fuelled by my meeting Keith Hancock
(1898“1988) at the Australian National University in
1968 when he had just completed the second volume
of his biography of Smuts.1 I enjoyed reading about
the young Boer™s youth and his exploits in the War of
1899“1902. The last stage of his career after 1933 in-
trigued me even more. Why did he become so loyal to
the Commonwealth? Among the reasons that might be
offered for this loyalty, two stood out for me as a Chinese
sojourner. One was that he was of European descent, a
Christian, someone who could identify with British cul-
ture and history, and who also trained to be a common
2 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

law lawyer in one of the great universities in the world.
The other was that he was a settler colonist with a deep
love of the land of his ancestors in South Africa and he
wanted his people to build their own civilised country in
a multiracial continent. Thus, he worked to perpetuate
the Commonwealth as an institution that would enable
his country to become free and humane and a part of a
global enterprise.
Neither explanation applied to my life, however, and
this was the reason why I did not embark on research in
Commonwealth history when I had the chance to do
so. I was born to parents from literati families who had
served the Chinese imperial system. But the 1911 rev-
olution in China changed the lives of such families. My
father switched from studying the traditional Confucian
classics to prepare to enter a modern university. After
he graduated, he found that he had to leave China to
¬nd the kind of work he wanted and started his teach-
ing life as a sojourner in British Malaya.2 He then went
home to marry my mother and they both went to the
Netherlands East Indies. I was born in Surabaya where
my father was a Chinese high school principal. He left
Java to go to the Malay State of Perak when I was a small
child, and took a job with the Education Department
under British administration as an inspector of Chinese
schools. Although my father had studied English at uni-
versity in China and was a great admirer of English lit-
erature, he never brought me up to identify with the
British Empire. However, his work introduced him to
certain imperial ways of dealing with a plural society. He
thus saw his task as ensuring that Chinese children had a
good modern education and that the Chinese commu-
nity did their bit to transmit Chinese culture to those
Introduction 3

who wanted it. My mother knew Chinese well but did
not speak or understand any English, so we spoke only
Chinese at home. For them both, Malaya was not really
their home and they had no deeper wish than to return
to their homeland in China. They also imparted to their
only child a love for China and things Chinese.3
So why do I think I have something to say about the
Commonwealth? One of my quali¬cations comes from
the fact that I have lived all but three years of my life
in countries that were once part of the Empire or are
still members of the Commonwealth. Those years were
spent in various towns and cities of Malaya and Malaysia,
in the United Kingdom, in Australia, in Hong Kong,
and ¬nally in independent Singapore. The other qual-
i¬cation is more mixed. I learnt my history at univer-
sity from British teachers and colleagues4 even though
I have spent most of my professional life writing about
the history of China and the Chinese overseas. I did my
research, teaching and writing in Commonwealth-type
universities and environments5 and this has given me
ample opportunities to re¬‚ect on the Anglo-Chinese
connection, both within and outside the Common-
wealth. Thus, I have often wondered about how various
kinds of Chinese have fared in their dealings with the
British and what China has made of the encounters with
various British and their activities in Asia.
These lectures therefore have been written from that
perspective. They do not attempt to be comprehensive
about all aspects of British relations with China and the
Chinese, but come at the subject from both the Chinese
and British periphery and seek to juxtapose issues that
were central to the two peoples with those that might
seem to be tangential. My use of the word “encounter”
4 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

does not have the qualities described by Gillian Beer
of being “forceful, dangerous, alluring, essential”, but
I hope, as she suggests, “it brings into active play un-
examined assumptions and so may allow interpreters, if
not always the principals, to tap into unexpressed incen-
tives”.6 The angle of vision I have chosen is sometimes
awkward, and the picture presented is elusive and hardly
ever the whole story. The key to the story, however,
is that, on the most serious matters pertaining to their
deeply felt values, both the British and the Chinese
people remained far apart.
My story begins with the theme that the British and
the Chinese had a turbulent relationship from the start.
There was never enough that was right between them
to enable either to develop a deeper understanding of
the other. There were complex reasons for this. Some
arose from immediate political and economic con¬‚icts,
but most of them stemmed from deep differences in
history and culture. There should be nothing surpris-
ing in that. The Western civilisation that had nourished
the British nation was very different from the unique
civilisation that China had produced for itself. Also, the
British had had to deal with other great civilisations be-
fore they ¬rst met the Chinese. In fact, the British had
a great deal more to do with the two civilisations of
the Muslims and the Hindus in West and South Asia
than with the Chinese, and they did not get much right
with them either. The British, in accumulating impe-
rial territories, were always outnumbered. Sensing that
their power would always be insecure, they erected pro-
tective barriers that were extended to cover social and
cultural relationships. Not enough of them could afford
to lower their defences when faced with the alien and
the bewildering.
Introduction 5

Nevertheless, the Anglo-Chinese relationship was a
rich and productive one. Although so different, the
English- and Chinese-speaking worlds came tantalis-
ingly close on many occasions and indeed there were
some encounters that have had profound effects on
China. For example, the Chinese felt the sting of British
naval power but admired more the fact that that power
came from a modern sovereign nation-state. Their re-
assessments of the defence and security of their country
have been continuous, but the transformation that the
country needed to respond to that kind of power was
late in coming. Also, the Chinese of¬cial classes were
struck by the wealth that overseas commercial enter-
prises could produce. This eventually prepared them to
review the status of Chinese merchants and seek to rede-
¬ne the roles that these merchants could play in China™s
recovery. Furthermore, different groups of Chinese re-
sponded to a British missionary culture in very different
ways but, in the end, it was British technological ad-
vances that won the most converts. As a result, the idea of
science has become the measure of modern civilisation
and now determines the meaning of modern education
for all China™s peoples. Finally, most Chinese were struck
by British respect for the law, their civic discipline and
ef¬ciency, even though they did not always appreciate
how that respect was cultivated. Nor has it been easy to
understand the rami¬cations of a system of governance
based on the rule of law. But there is no doubt that the
cumulative impact of a wide range of encounters has
been profound.
I shall explore some of these past encounters and
re¬‚ect on their present and future signi¬cance. Chapters
two and three will focus on Chinese attitudes towards
war and the strategies of entrepreneurs overseas. These
6 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

will be followed by two other chapters on the rediscov-
ery of China™s scienti¬c past and the Chinese response
to modern statecraft, including their experiments with
political parties. I shall then try to draw these thoughts
together to offer a long view of the Anglo-Chinese
When thinking about the Anglo impact on China
as compared with that on India, I was struck to read
the following lines by the nineteenth-century Indian
Muslim poet Mirza Ghalib (1797“1869)7 when he
advised Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817“1898), the founder
of the Aligarh Muslim University in India, not to look
so much to the Mughal past. The lines were:

Open thine eyes, and examine the Englishmen,
Their style, their manner, their trade and their art.8

This would not have been advice that the Chinese man-
darins of the time would have heeded and there were
important cultural reasons why that was so. It is also a
measure of the different starting points in Indian (both
Hindu and Muslim) and Chinese worldviews. Of the
four qualities Ghalib wanted Sayyid Ahmad Khan to
examine, only “their trade” might have attracted the
Chinese merchants on the coast, but that was precisely
what the mandarin rulers had set out to limit and con-
trol. In no way would they have encouraged Chinese
merchants to learn from English trading ways. And that
would have been even more true of “their manner”
and “their style” which, on the whole, the mandarins
found reason actively to dislike. Some Chinese might
have found “their art” interesting, especially in its use in
design and industrial arts, and also the inventiveness in
the use of materials but, most of the time, the Chinese
Introduction 7

would have been more impressed by what made the
British powerful.
What, then, would have focused the Chinese mind?
I have found that Arthur Waley (1889“1966) captured
that best in a piece he wrote in 1942, in the middle of
the Second World War, called “A Debt to China”. It was
reprinted two years later in Hsiao Ch™ien™s (1910“1999)
A Harp with a Thousand Strings.9 Waley spoke of “a great
turning-point in our relations with China” during the
¬rst two decades of the twentieth century when men of
leisure, poets, professors, thinkers, began to visit China
instead of the usual soldiers, sailors, missionaries, mer-
chant and of¬cials. It seems somewhat surprising that
he should have drawn attention to this. As Ivan Morris
put it,

The strangest thing about Waley was his failure to visit China
and Japan. I asked him about this, but never received a direct
answer. Raymond Mortimer is surely right when he says that
Waley ˜felt so much at home in T™ang China and Heian Japan
that he could not face the modern ugliness amid which one
has to seek out the many intact remains of beauty™. He carried
his own images of China and Japan within himself and had
no wish to dilute them by tourism.10

Nevertheless, he was part of the “great turning point”
in demystifying Chinese poetry for the English-speaking
world and walked his own path towards a deep mental
and aesthetic encounter with the Chinese. It was a pity,
however, that so few Chinese were aware how that sen-
sibility could work its verbal magic on Chinese ideas,
language and art.
In his essay, Arthur Waley went on to mention a few
men who went “not to convert, trade, rule or ¬ght,
8 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

but simply to make friends and learn”. He thought
such visitors would have given the Chinese a com-
pletely new view of the British. Of the men he men-
tioned, Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson (1862“1932) and
Robert Trevelyan (1872“1951) made no impact. Only
Bertrand Russell (1872“1970) left an impression, but
men like him were too few and most of them had gone
to China too late to make many friends. In reality, his
earlier four words, “to convert, trade, rule or ¬ght”, re-
mained truer than he might have wished. He cannot, of
course, be blamed for not foreseeing that Britain was to
be succeeded by an even more powerful force to which
the same four words could apply. I refer to the informal
empire of the United States that, perhaps unwittingly, has
replaced the British Empire not only in the eyes of the
Chinese but also of other peoples living in the regions of
East and Southeast Asia. Informally or not, the United
States™ accession to a second phase of Anglo-Chinese
encounter has made the larger picture seem continuous
and seamless to the present day. I therefore suggest that
Waley™s four words remain central to that extended story.
The words, “convert, trade, rule or ¬ght”, describe the
core issues in the history of Chinese relations with the
English-speaking peoples.
I shall not, however, follow Waley™s word order but
begin with “to ¬ght”, the word that captured China™s
full attention as none of the other three did. China™s ¬rst
humiliating defeat by Britain in 1842 was an ill-fated
start, and was probably why the two peoples never did
quite get anything right between them thereafter. The
next would be “to trade”, something that had begun
much earlier but whose full impact did not come until
after all the ¬ghting was done. Here the Chinese had
Introduction 9

a much better measure of the British and their mutual
assessments of each other, as they widened their com-
mon enterprises over time, were usually more right than
wrong. As for “to convert”, this was rather one-sided.
The Chinese tradition paid little attention to converting
others, but when the word was stretched to include both
sacred and secular education, this was a fertile area for
mutual exploration. It turned out in the end to be one
where nothing was ever quite right, but the Chinese did
manage to take much of only what they wanted from the
contact. Finally, “to rule” was even more one-sided but
this was necessarily a partial, if not peripheral, experi-
ence for most Chinese. After having to rule India before
opening up the coast of China, the British did not relish
the idea of ruling over China. But rule they did over
bits of administration, whether in the Treaty Ports or in
the maritime customs, and over Chinese communities
outside China, notably in Hong Kong, Malaya and parts
of north Borneo. Here the response of the Chinese was
mixed indeed, but the potential for a deeper understand-
ing of the essential features of modern governance was
often there and deserves attention.
As I shall be talking a lot about China, I shall obviously
be neglecting issues closer to the Commonwealth for
which the Smuts Memorial Lectures have been named.
I hope you will bear with me when I suggest that, the
motives of the politicians who created it notwithstand-
ing, the ideals underlying the Commonwealth go be-
yond those of a cozy club consisting of member coun-
tries that have shared a common past. They were drawn
from ideals which represented a bold attempt to gen-
eralise some unique experiences of a multicultural and
multiracial world, and to make enough order out of those
10 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

experiences for others to study if not emulate. China it-
self was not directly part of that world and will still insist
on its own vision in order that it might yet play an impor-
tant role in de¬ning the future of that world. But there
are now millions of Chinese outside China who are liv-
ing with various social and economic systems, a major
part of them in an extension of the English-speaking em-
pire now informally led by the United States. They are
now useful links between China and a globalised world.
Jan Christiaan Smuts would have understood the
changes in perspective between the ¬rst half of the twen-
tieth century and the second. He was the most interna-
tionalist Boer of his generation. He admired Winston
Churchill™s worldview, regretted American isolationism,
feared the rise of Soviet Russia, and recognised the in-
evitability of Indian independence. He wrote on China,
with foreboding, in September 1937, following the out-
break of war with Japan,

What will the giant yet do when fully released? I fear Japan
has done a thing which may not only undo her yet, but which
may threaten the West far more in the coming generations
than anything that has happened in the East in the past. The
heroism of the Chinese may yet shake the world.11

His tragedy was, in his own words, the “fear of getting
submerged in black Africa . . . What can one do about
it, when the Lord himself made the mistake of creat-
ing colour!”12 Thus he did not blame the British for
not getting it right about South Africa. In retrospect,
the British were wrong to have fought the Boers. Also,
they fought badly even though they eventually won
the war. In the end, they failed to stop the creation
Introduction 11

of one of the nastiest regimes in the Commonwealth.
But they did get it right with trade, with economic
development, and South Africa did become the rich-
est country in the continent. As for “converting” some
people to Christian ideals, some credit must go to
the Anglo-Christian world for someone like Nelson
Mandela to be possible. Mandela could be compared,
as in the Chinese saying, to the fresh and beautiful lotus
¬‚owers and leaves that grow out of the mud but are
totally free of mud. Such a ¬‚owering is something the
Chinese literati-mandarins would have deeply admired.
What is more, there is yet another extraordinary, if
inadvertent, product of the empire in that region. I refer
to the great nationalist leader of India, Mahatma Gandhi
(1867“1948), who had worked as a lawyer in South
Africa and was a contemporary of Smuts. Gandhi would
have rejected all four of the words Arthur Waley used for
the British in China if they had been applied to India:
¬ghting, trading, converting and ruling. He rejected all
¬ghting because there had simply been too much killing
in India by both Indians and British, and he saw no
way of winning his particular war on the battle¬eld. He
also rejected Christianity as a church, although appre-
ciating its spiritual power. He openly referred to those
parts of Christian beliefs that could help him revivify his
own faith. Even more vehemently, he rejected British
rule, and his non-violent solutions to each problem he
met with on the road to independence baf¬‚ed even the
hard-headed British empire-builders. Lastly, he rejected
the kind of trading in mass-produced manufactures that
gave the British their dominance in Indian markets and
undermined the traditional economy and culture of the
Indian peasantry.
12 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

On all four counts of rejection, no Chinese politi-
cal leader was as thorough and unbending as Mahatma
Gandhi. The Chinese leaders who preached thorough
reform and revolution, like Kang Youwei (1858“1927)
and Sun Yat-sen (1866“1925), and ¬erce nationalists
like Chiang Kai-shek (1887“1975), and Mao Zedong
(1893“1976) when young, had all been more respon-
sive than Gandhi was to the modern and the secu-
lar that the British were seen to represent. Like most
pragmatic Chinese, they were willing to learn, albeit
not from Britain speci¬cally, but from the models of
Western Europe. Why, then, does it appear today that
Anglo-Indian encounters have borne more fruit than
Anglo-Chinese ones, or more than has been produced
by the impact on China of the West as a whole? I shall
not try to answer that question, but hope that what I say
about Anglo-Chinese encounters here can help others
to tackle what appears to be an intriguing puzzle.
2 “To ¬ght”
Let me start with one of Arthur Waley™s words, “to
¬ght”. The British opening of China in the 1840s was
the result of their success in breaking through Chinese
naval and coastal defences and the trauma of that de-
feat for Chinese leaders lasted for generations. It became
the most important marker for Chinese historiography
when this “Opium War” was chosen, soon after the fall
of the Qing dynasty in 1911, to date the beginnings of
China™s modern history. That decision re¬‚ects both a
new reality and China™s strong desire not to forget the
aftermath of regret, resentment and recrimination. The
subject has ¬lled hundreds of volumes in a number of
languages. The actual ¬ghting has also been fully de-
scribed many times and the details need not detain us.
It is enough to focus here on some of the consequences
for China.
The British had conquered much territory in India
but did not try to do the same in China. They had fought
the Indians for far longer a period, at least 100 years from
the Battle of Plassey to the Mutiny, and thereafter against
local insurrections and the enemies who threatened the
Northwest Frontier. But they did not have to ¬ght long
with the Chinese, mainly from 1840 to 1860, because
they started ¬ghting the Chinese only after they had
14 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

already become the strongest power in the world and the
Chinese empire was in decline. The British soon had
all that they wanted. In addition, the British had many
competitors who were willing to share or do more of
the ¬ghting whenever they thought that it was in their
interests: for example, the French and the Russians, and
later the Germans and the Japanese. If anything, it soon
became clear that what was increasingly important for
Britain was to help the Chinese modernise themselves
in military affairs. The British wanted trade, not land. If
Chinese armies could keep order in their own land, trade
would prosper. There was, in any case, no question of the
Chinese ever becoming a military threat to the British
themselves. All that was needed was for the British navy
to patrol the Yangzi river regularly and remain in a
state of armed readiness in bases like Hong Kong and
The British did teach the Chinese ruling elites their
most important lesson. This was that the Chinese realm
could be seriously threatened from the south and from
the east, and that it could even be conquered from the
sea. The Chinese rulers had not been ready to learn
that lesson when they ¬rst saw European ships ¬ght-
ing off their coasts from the sixteenth to the eigh-
teenth centuries. It was also not a lesson that they learnt
willingly. What they had been aware of for centuries
was that they could build a strong naval force if they
wanted to (at least since the Song dynasty, 960“1276).1
During the ¬rst half of the ¬fteenth century, the third
emperor of the Ming dynasty (1368“1644), Emperor
Yongle (1402“1424), could, and did, send naval expe-
ditions through Southeast Asia and across the Indian
Ocean to the coasts of Arabia and eastern Africa. He
To ¬ght 15

and his successors had the capacity to defeat Japanese
and other pirates and armed traders who disturbed the
peace of coastal towns and cities. During the middle of
the sixteenth century, after 120 years of neglect, it was
still possible to rebuild a navy strong enough to defend
the empire against Japanese and Chinese pirates. By the
beginning of the seventeenth century, Chinese armed
merchants, especially those led by Zheng Chenggong
(1624“1662), better known to the maritime world at
the time as Koxinga, had established one of the strongest
navies in the region to control the trade between Japan,
the Chinese coast and Southeast Asia.2
But the Manchu Qing dynasty (1644“1911) reorgan-
ised the imperial navy and ultimately destroyed Koxinga™s
base in Taiwan in 1684. After that victory, the Manchu
court devised a tight system of deprivation and control of
all foreign trade in order to ensure that the empire would
never have to deal with such mercantile enemies again.
This proved to be a successful policy for more than 100
years, until the early nineteenth century. The Manchus
were simply not aware that, while their military forces
were complacent and stagnating with their older ¬ght-
ing methods, their future enemies were advancing fast
in the skills of warfare.
For the Chinese empire throughout its history, de-
fence of its northern land borders was most impor-
tant. The Ming rulers turned away from the sea after
the ¬rst third of the ¬fteenth century precisely for that
reason when they found their Mongol enemies once
again at their gates. The Manchus, themselves overland
conquerors of the Chinese heartland, were even more
sensitive to what could happen if the northern fron-
tiers were weak. They read Chinese history carefully and
16 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

concluded that there were no enemies who could have
conquered China from the sea. Even after Lord Macart-
ney™s visit in 1793, with the ambassador™s open display of
pride and con¬dence, Qing coastal of¬cials still did not
report accurately to Emperor Qianlong the intelligence
already available about British naval prowess.3 Not until
the British ships fought their way up the Pearl River to
Canton (Guangzhou) in 1841 did the Qing court ¬rst
realise China™s relative weakness.
Most nationalist historians in China during the twen-
tieth century have castigated the Manchu court for its
failure to prepare China for war against the British.
Much of their historical writing has also concentrated
on the corrupt and treacherous of¬cials who either mis-
led the emperor or underestimated the enemy. The only
praise for the higher of¬cials has been reserved for Com-
missioner Lin Zexu (1785“1850) for having de¬ed the
British and con¬scated British opium. At lower levels of
the Qing armed forces, there has been appreciation of
some of the military of¬cers who bravely defended the
poorly designed coastal forts. But the warmest accolades
have gone to the people of villages like Sanyuanli outside
Guangzhou who had stood up to British troops. All this
was hardly noticed then, and only came to be recognised
afterwards, when nationalist historians went to work.4 At
the time, early in the 1840s, the Qing court had little
time to assess the damage along the coast when it was
engaged in the desperate struggles with local rebellions
in the interior. By 1851, these too were overshadowed
by the greatest threat to the empire since the seventeenth
century, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, whose armies
swept through south and central China and made its
capital in the empire™s second capital in Nanjing. This
To ¬ght 17

was followed by several other rebellions in the north,
northwest and southwest, wars that engaged the impe-
rial armies for the next thirty years.5
In the eyes of the court, the empire managed, not
surprisingly, to win all these land battles. The British
in Shanghai did provide timely help to ¬ght off the
Taiping armies in the neighbouring counties of the
Yangzi delta area at the time when these rebels were at
their most dangerous. But the imperial forces that did the
key ¬ghting were built around the loyal Chinese mili-
tia units (called the “Hunan braves”) brought together
by the scholar of¬cial, Zeng Guofan (1811“1872), and
the local gentry leaders whom he had inspired. These
armies fought against the Nian rebels in the north and
the major Muslim rebellions in Yunnan (on the Burma
border) and Xinjiang (Chinese Turkestan), and eventu-
ally defeated them all.6 Thus, despite the fact that Qing
of¬cials could not prevent further debacles in Anglo-
Chinese relations in the 1850s and their troops failed
to prevent British and French naval forces from taking
Beijing and sacking the Summer Palace, they could still
interpret those disasters as merely partial setbacks, and
remained hopeful that these would be temporary. The
contrast between relative success on land and painful per-
formance at sea did not seem to have been so obvious.
Wei Yuan (1794“1856), the author of Haiguo tuzhi
(Illustrated Records of the Maritime Countries, pub-
lished in 1844), the earliest and best available study of
China™s maritime position at the end of that war, con-
cluded that, if China was ever to defend itself against its
enemies again, the court would have to learn Western
naval technology and use Western skills to train Chinese
sailors.7 But the message was read as a general warning
18 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

and not taken seriously for another two decades. Indeed,
a thorough examination of what the Chinese side knew
of the relative strengths of the British and Qing military
before the outbreak of the Opium War was not done
even during the late Qing dynasty. Long after the fall of
the dynasty, in the 1930s and the 1940s, several histori-
ans examined British archival records and provided rich
details about China™s weaknesses in defence, including its
lack of a modern navy. But what was missing was the re-
alisation by both Qing and Republican political leaders
that there had been throughout the nineteenth century
a fundamental gap in understanding about the nature of
seapower. That lack lasted for more than a century.
In post-1949 historiography, there have been numer-
ous studies of the Opium War and the patriotism of
Commissioner Lin Zexu.8 Lin Zexu™s many admiring
biographies all touch on his mistakes but focus on his
attempts to learn about the potential enemy before de-
ciding to ¬ght, and also on his courage and the dilemmas
he faced. There have been efforts to ¬nd those literati
who did realise the dangers that China faced but whose
advice had fallen on deaf ears. There have also been
writings that depicted the heroism of ordinary Chinese
in Guangdong and outside Shanghai who fought the
British in vain. But it has fallen to Mao Haijian of
the Academy of Social Science in Beijing in his book,
Tianchao de bengkui (The Collapse of the Heavenly
Dynasty), published in 1995, to reach the more speci¬c
but unpopular conclusion that the Chinese mandarins of
that generation, including Commissioner Lin himself,
had not done enough homework, either about coastal
defences and naval warfare, or about the ¬repower of
the British forces. They had simply underestimated the
To ¬ght 19

British. Otherwise, they would have known that China
was in no position to challenge Britain and would not
have been so ready to provoke the Opium War before
adequate preparations had been made. The real lesson
was not about bravery, or patriotism, or even technology,
but about a complete reappraisal of what it would have
taken to create the necessary defence for the empire,
the kind of rethinking that would have included new
attitudes towards the navy. It is particularly noteworthy
that Mao Haijian™s book has the most complete study
of all the British warships operating in China waters
in the 1840s, more so than any previous Chinese work
on this period.9
In the 1860s, however, “to ¬ght” for the Chinese
meant desperate defence against enemies from all direc-
tions while, for the British, it was more a question of not
¬ghting the Chinese again, but helping the Chinese keep
internal law and order so that they could ¬ght other ene-
mies for themselves. The Qing court engaged a number
of British advisers to equip and train their Bannerman
battalions in modern weaponry, but these largely
addressed the modernisation of land forces. Mandarin
soldiers like Zeng Guofan had become aware that the
lack of naval power was a serious de¬ciency in the im-
perial defences. He and his most innovative subordinates
soon made plans to build a modern navy and sought
British help to repair that weakness.
The views of Zuo Zongtang (1812“1885), one of the
great generals of the period of Qing “restoration” after
the Taiping rebellion, re¬‚ect well the ambivalence about
what had to be done. On the one hand, he strongly
recommended the establishment of a great shipyard, a
modern arsenal, and a training academy for the navy.
20 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

On the other, he had to ¬ght a brutal and success-
ful land war in the northwestern region of Xinjiang
against Muslim rebels and sought loans for that war
at the expense of naval development. He justi¬ed this
with the argument that China™s land enemies sought
territory with the backing of either Tsarist Russia or
British India, while its naval enemies merely sought trad-
ing privileges. In fairness to Zuo Zongtang, the Qing
court was never committed to developing a strong navy
anyway, despite the ¬ne start given to its creation by
Shen Baozhen (1820“1879) in Fuzhou (Foochow) be-
tween 1867“1874. It is also interesting that Zuo Zong-
tang was unhappy that the British, who were supposed
to help, had not been more forthcoming. He noted that
Sir Robert Hart (1835“1911) asked only to build a mer-
chant ¬‚eet while Sir Thomas Wade (1818“1895) spoke
vaguely of training naval personnel.10 It led him to dis-
trust British advice and ask French naval of¬cials instead
to help with the shipbuilding facilities.
Shen Baozhen, on the other hand, realised that it
was the British who knew most about navigation and
engaged British naval of¬cers from the Royal Naval
College at Greenwich to help train the early batches
of students at the Fuzhou Navy Yard. Later, he was also
shrewd enough to send some of his brightest students to
England. He was well aware that the Japanese had also
turned to the British for naval training and shipbuilding.
Although the mixture of French and British staff at the
Navy Yard was, in the end, a mistake, a contemporary
British observer of the Yard™s development over a pe-
riod of twenty years commented that “In Foochow you
had a very good naval college. You want four colleges
like that of Foochow”. By then, in 1884, the Foochow
To ¬ght 21

squadron itself was about to be wiped out by the
French. Nevertheless, it has been concluded that “The
School itself became a model institution in China . . .
When Li Hung-Chang founded the naval academy at
Tientsin and established the Peiyang ¬‚eet, he relied heav-
ily on Foochow-trained men.”11 But, by that time, there
were not only rival centres of naval training, but also rival
offers of help from German and American interests in
addition to the earlier French offers. Deep-seated unease
about relying too much on the British contributed to
undermining efforts to bring naval development under
a uni¬ed control.12
One of the fascinating questions in East Asia later in
the century was that concerning the ¬ghting between
the two sets of students trained by the British “ which
of them would learn better? On the eve of the Sino-
Japanese War in 1894, there were nominally four naval
squadrons in China: the Beiyang force in the north, the
Nanyang along the coast south of Shandong, and the two
provincial ones for Fujian and Guangdong, with nearly
100 naval vessels of various sizes, totaling 80,000 tons.
The main force was the Beiyang squadron when war
broke out with Japan in 1894. Within a few weeks, the
question was answered. When the Japanese engaged the
Chinese in the decisive naval battles off the coast of Shan-
dong and the Liaodong peninsula, the active Chinese
¬‚eet was wiped out.13
What went wrong with the naval shipyards and the
training? Yan Fu (1854“1921), trained in Foochow Navy
Yard and for many years the head of the Beiyang Naval
Academy, has suggested an answer. This was found in the
words of Sir Robert Hart in the 1880s that he recalled
in 1918. He quotes Hart as having said:
22 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

A navy is to a country what ¬‚owers are to a tree. Only when
the roots and branches are ¬‚ourishing, and wind and sun,
water and soil are agreeable, will the ¬‚owers blossom. The
¬‚owers produce fruit and this ensures that the tree will grow
strong with age. There are many problems about your coun-
try™s navy that are unsatisfactory, but they can only be tackled
by going back and examining the roots. It will be useless to
seek the solutions only within the navy itself.14

It is often forgotten, even by the Chinese themselves,
that the Chinese did once have the most powerful navy
in the world and had the skills to build great ocean-going
warships that could take the offensive. Chinese historians
are wont to blame the failures of 1894“1895 on the ex-
travagance of the Empress Dowager (Empress Xiaoqin,
commonly known as Cixi, 1835“1908), who failed to
provide enough funding for the navy. Even if this were
the sole explanation for failure, it is stark con¬rmation
of the Qing court™s inability to adjust to the new world
of naval power. In fact, there had been sustained neglect
of naval forces for more than four centuries, and there
was certainly no sense of priority about the need for a
modern ¬ghting force at sea.
The British continued to assist with naval planning
and reorganisation, and the Chinese imperial ¬‚eet did
recover enough after 1900 to show its colours across the
Paci¬c, Indian and Atlantic oceans. But, by that time,
there was no pretence that the ¬‚eet was any match for
the great navies of Britain, Japan and the United States,
nor much more than one that was primarily for river
and coastal patrols. When the Boxer Rebellion of 1900
provoked an international force to be sent to lift the siege
of the legations in Peking, there followed a number of
To ¬ght 23

clear demonstrations of the Qing empire™s inability to
¬ght at all. Not only was there no navy to speak of, but
the armies also offered little resistance. It could not have
escaped the court™s attention that there were Chinese
overseas living in Western colonies who donated funds
to support the forces sent to relieve the foreign lega-
tions. Clearly, these no longer identi¬ed with the Qing
dynasty and shared the growing consensus in the West
that Chinese civilisation was decadent and irretrievably
in decline.15
So desperate were China™s leaders that, after 1900,
they sent their of¬cers to be trained in Japan, the erst-
while enemy they had once despised. Why the Japanese?
Ever since the 1860s, many British and American schol-
ars, including missionaries who knew the Chinese lan-
guage, had helped to translate a large number of scien-
ti¬c, geographical, military, political and legal writings
for the use of mandarins, of¬cers and their technical
staff, as well as prepare students to be sent for further
education and training in Europe and the United States.
Unfortunately, it was thought enough to master a few
key texts. Once these were available for study, that served
the purpose of the mandarins. Why was the updating of
such texts taken less seriously and systematic translation
of new works not followed up? The reasons for this are
complex. I shall come to this in chapter four when ques-
tions of conversion and education are dealt with. Here I
shall concentrate on the more immediate advantages of
turning to Japan rather than to Britain in order to learn
how to ¬ght modern wars.
To begin with, Japan was much nearer and it cost
much less for the Chinese to study there. Most of all,
the Japanese had already themselves translated all the
24 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

important military books and technical manuals they
needed. It was clear that they had been very success-
ful there, something which the Chinese could do well
to emulate. But, instead of starting afresh, it was much
easier for Chinese to master the Japanese written lan-
guage than to learn other foreign languages, and it would
save time and money to have these works translated into
Chinese from the Japanese. Indeed, the evidence of the
rapid availability of Western books and essays in Chinese,
including books on modern warfare, before the end of
the ¬rst decade of the twentieth century, is overwhelm-
ing.16 In addition, it was thought that there would be
greater cultural empathy from the Japanese. This is un-
derstandable. But that this also included the illusion of
sharing goals of imperial restoration against the common
Western enemy, including Tsarist Russia and an expan-
sionist Germany, all waiting to carve China into little
colonial pieces, showed how desperate the Qing of¬cials
had become. In any case, they noted that British impe-
rial interests had led the British to cultivate friendlier
relations with Japan, and that this had contributed to
Japan™s great naval victories against the Russian Far East-
ern Fleet in 1904“1905. This con¬rmed to the Chinese
that they gained little by depending on advisers from
an over-extended British Empire but could learn much
more from their near neighbour.
The 1911 revolution that overthrew the Manchus
could have offered a fresh start in rethinking military
priorities. The in¬‚uence of foreign military training on
many of the key protagonists on both sides of the war is
well known. There were the graduates of the Beiyang
Military Academy who had studied with British and
other Western military of¬cers and advisers. And there
To ¬ght 25

were those who were specially recruited after training in
Japan to establish units of the New Army for Yuan Shikai
(1859“1916), the ¬rst President and chief bene¬ciary of
this minor military renaissance. Yet others had been sent
by Zhang Zhidong (1837“1909) when he was Viceroy
at Huguang (Hubei and Hunan provinces in Central
China) to study in Japan and form the core of the New
Army in Central China. When the revolution broke out
in the Wuhan area on 10 October 1911, both sides were
led by young of¬cers who had been fellow students in
Japanese military academies. And when the revolution-
ary cause was lost to the militarists under Yuan Shikai,
again the younger of¬cers on both sides of the political
con¬‚icts that ensued had links with Japan. For example,
Li Yuanhong (1864“1928), the former naval of¬cer who
gave up his career after the defeat by Japan to become
eventually the senior local commander in Wuhan, and
unwillingly the head of revolutionary forces in 1911,
had made several visits to Japan while training the New
Army. Indeed, for another decade and a half afterwards,
during the period of division called the “Warlord pe-
riod”, many of the most senior of¬cers who served the
warlords had had spells of training in Japan.17
Thus the period 1901“1914 marked a turning
point for Anglo-Chinese military relations. Thereafter,
the British impact on China™s military reorganisation
and recovery was negligible. During the struggles for
supremacy among the warlords after Yuan Shikai™s death
in 1916, another fact stood out. The battles did not in-
volve any naval forces and there was no money to build
a navy anyway. The challengers for national leadership
were warlords who understood land forces, men like
Wu Peifu (1874“1939), Zhang Zuolin (1873“1928), and
26 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

Feng Yuxiang (1882“1948), men who never needed to
think about the navy. Indeed, there was no urgent need
to spend money or energy to do so because the age
of naval threats to the country was over. China was ef-
fectively landlocked and psychologically helpless where
the sea was concerned. The country was totally at the
mercy of foreign naval forces, especially of the British
and Japanese, and later the American, navies off the coast
and up the Yangzi river.
The early warlord years coincided with the out-
break of the First World War. With all the European
powers totally engaged in a life and death struggle on
the battle¬elds of continental Europe, the military situ-
ation changed radically for China. It found the Japanese
moving into the country, skillfully manipulating the
rivalries among the Europeans while inserting their mil-
itary forces to take the Anglo-French side, still much
the stronger in the Far East, against the new power,
Germany. Despite efforts by the Chinese to claim that
they were on the same side during that war, the Japanese
replaced the defeated forces of Germany in Shandong
with their own troops when the war was over. The
Chinese armies were weak and divided. The frustrations
of the diplomats and the intellectuals and students who
took to the streets could do little to change the situation.
Nor could the Chinese trust other foreign powers to help
them in their distress and humiliation. As Japan™s for-
mal allies, the British certainly did nothing to assure the
Chinese of sustained support. There was no shortage of
British advice, and British banks and entrepreneurs and
the British government were involved in the many mis-
cellaneous efforts to arm Chinese warlords, loan them
money to buy arms and even train some of their of¬cers
To ¬ght 27

and soldiers. But it was all futile and the outcome was
Interestingly, the most likely person from the start to
turn to the British for help was someone the British had
learnt to distrust. This was Sun Yat-sen.18 He was edu-
cated in English by British teachers, both in Hawaii and
Hong Kong, and shared attitudes which identi¬ed him
closely with the thousands of Overseas Chinese then liv-
ing in various parts of the British Empire. His teacher at
the Chinese Medical College in Hong Kong, Dr James
Cantlie, had saved him from the Qing of¬cials who de-
tained him in the Chinese legation in London in 1896.
Also, Sun Yat-sen was someone who had enjoyed British
protection for at least part of his two and a half years™
stay in British Malaya (mainly between 1908 and the end
of 1910). He was given considerable freedom to travel
around the colony and protectorate before his in¬‚uence
among his compatriots living and working under British
jurisdiction made him an undesirable person there. He
sought a military solution for China, to change it from
an imperial monarchy to a modern republic by appeal-
ing to Western models like the French and American
revolutions, and this did not endear him to the British.
Sun Yat-sen™s military exploits began in 1900 and con-
tinued for another 25 years. They were largely on land,
except for escapes by sea, usually in foreign vessels, when
his armies failed or some of his commanders mutinied.
A small number of coastal ships was made available to
him by 1920. This only made him even more conscious
of China™s weakness at sea, and he did hope that the Mil-
itary Academy he established at Huangpu would train a
new generation of naval of¬cers. There was, near the
end of his life, one dramatic incident on a Chinese
28 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

warship in the face of a “Leftist” plot to seize him in
the early days of the Guomindang-Communist struggle
for power, but he could not be said to have ever had the
bene¬t of a navy.
For all his military actions, he received no British
help, and most of his efforts were ineffectual. In any
case, his own strong nationalism, and his close associa-
tion with Japanese anti-Western nationalists, made him
unreliable where British interests were concerned. In
addition, he continued to send his ardent supporters to
go among British Chinese subjects and new immigrants
living in British colonies, notably to the Straits Settle-
ments, Indian-administered Burma and Australia. This
further alarmed British of¬cials, aggravating their con-
cerns for law and order in the plural societies under
their rule. Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Sun Yat-sen also
sent his followers to Haiphong, Hanoi and Saigon in
French Indo-China, but a new breed of young nation-
alists developed among the Chinese in the Federated
Malay States, the Philippines and the Netherlands East
Indies. Eventually, the British could not but notice that
Singapore had become the semi-of¬cial centre in the re-
gion for the patriotic activities of Sun™s political party, the
Guomindang. These nationalists carefully avoided being
openly anti-British, but the British and other colonial
authorities found it necessary to increase their vigilance
about anything to do with Sun Yat-sen.19
There were other reasons as well for British distrust
or indifference. The political efforts by Sun Yat-sen after
the 1911 revolution, accompanied by attempts to organ-
ise putative warlords and create his own ¬ghting units,
seemed burdened by incompetence. His ambitions, to
put it kindly, were plagued with misfortune throughout
To ¬ght 29

the 1910s. At a time when British economic interests
dictated the need for a stable regime in Beijing, if nec-
essary under a friendly warlord, Sun Yat-sen was found
wanting. Sun™s former friends in Japan had their own
agenda, not only to exploit China™s weakness but also to
use China™s resources in order to enable Japan to be the
dominant power in East Asia. Thus Sun™s need for suc-
cour to create his own army, to be a “warlord” himself
in an age of warlords, was ignored by both the British
who had ¬rst educated him, and the Japanese who had
given him his start as a revolutionary and once offered
him the most encouragement.20
It is worth emphasising that, after the end of the First
World War, the British had little to do with the Chinese
ability to ¬ght or even their desire to learn how to ¬ght.
They had been the ¬rst to introduce the Chinese to
modern warfare but, having led the way into China,
and already got most of what they wanted, the chal-
lenge of the other powers, notably Meiji Japan, Tsarist
Russia and Bismarck™s Germany, made them cautious.
The tendency then was to try to support the Qing court
when it was still viable and look for suitable successor
regimes that they could trust to maintain order and sta-
bility so that trade could go on. The major task was
to help the Chinese against further interventions and
prevent the country from being carved up. In addition,
Britain™s own problems with its already extensive em-
pire, and also threats from its European neighbours back
home, warned the British not to get involved militar-
ily in the Far East, but to use their skills in diplomacy
When the Qing dynasty fell in 1911, Britain was no
longer the most important of the powers in the Far East.
30 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

The United States had growing interests in the region
and it had come to a similar conclusion that, following
the 1904“1905 defeat of Tsarist Russia, their ¬rst re-
sponsibility was to save China from the Japanese. Both
governments tried to limit Japan™s military reach, ¬rst at
the Washington Conference in 1922 and then pushing
for investigations into Japan™s Manchukuo adventures in
1931. After that, for a while, there was support for join-
ing the Japanese to save China from falling into commu-
nist hands. Neither Britain nor the United States, how-
ever, was directly involved in ¬ghting on Chinese soil
during the decades leading to the second Sino-Japanese
War. The most active foreign military of¬cers in this
period were Japanese, Germans, and Soviet or Com-
intern agents.21 There is still a lot we do not know about
those involvements. The outline of the wars they par-
ticipated in has been much written about, but this is
not the place to deal with those stories. The British role
in the civil wars of 1912“1925 had not shaped any kind
of Chinese military recovery. Their interest diminished
further when the last of the warlords who had shown
promise, Wu Peifu, failed to lead the forces of stability
which the British supported.
And, sadly, the hopes for the one area where the
British could once have given China the most valuable
help, how to build a strong navy, were literally sunk with
the Chinese ¬‚eet in 1895. After that, it was the one mil-
itary area where the Chinese had the least opportunity
to develop. For example, China™s only well-known ad-
miral, Sa Zhenbing (1859“1951), was one of the few
commanders who survived the 1895 debacle. He had
started his career with the birth of the Naval Academy
in Mawei (Fuzhou) with Shen Baozhen and had studied
To ¬ght 31

at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich. After the
Qing navy was destroyed by Japan, he worked for naval
reorganisation and his services were recognised by King
Edward VII when he led a naval mission to Britain.
Later, he rose to be Minister of the Navy under various
warlord-controlled governments in Beijing, but there
was nothing he could do to build a strong navy. None of
his students, or the junior of¬cers who had served under
him, had the chance to earn themselves any recognition
in a service that had done nothing remarkable.22 By the
time Admiral Sa left the navy altogether to become a
provincial governor in 1922, naval matters off the China
coast were matters entirely for the three powers, Britain,
Japan and the United States, at the Washington Confer-
ence. The Chinese had become totally irrelevant in their
own waters. It was not until decades after the communist
victory of 1949 that a truly fresh start could be made.
As for the land forces, the fundamental problem for
China before 1937 was how to get its soldiers to ¬ght
effectively again, not only for the government forces
against their local warlord enemies but also, when the
time ultimately came to restore the country™s sovereignty,
against the foreign armies on Chinese soil.23 Neither
Sun Yat-sen and his Soviet advisers, nor Chiang Kai-
shek (1887“1975) and his German commanders, had any
idea how to restore the Chinese to the military traditions
they once had, notably the fearsome and dedicated ¬ght-
ing skills of the Manchu Bannermen before 1800. What
they had to offer in institutions like the Huangpu Mili-
tary Academy, and all the smaller academies and training
schools that were established in various provinces, were
new methods of conducting war and how to ¬ght with
the latest weaponry. These institutions served largely to
32 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

train of¬cers how to defeat the immediate enemy, the
warlords during the Northern Expedition and the com-
munist armies of the Jiangxi Soviets. There was never
time nor resources enough to build up a new tradition
of career service, of the necessary professional pride that
would overcome the historical reluctance to allow bright
young men to become soldiers.
But two developments laid the foundation for a new
burst of ¬ghting energy among the Chinese people. First
was the mobilisation of the peasantry for both a patriotic
war against the Japanese and, in the best traditional style,
a rebellion against landlords and corrupt of¬cials plus “
using the new rhetoric of revolution “ their treacherous
bourgeois pro-imperialist allies. This was not a great mil-
itary tradition but, following the Long March that the
communist armies made to the northwest in 1935, the
experience revived and modernised older ideas about
how the militarily weak could ¬ght orthodox armies
with guerrilla tactics and, if necessary, with overwhelm-
ing numbers.24 Secondly, a new Paci¬c power was born
from the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and this led to
full-scale United States support for the modernisation
of the Chinese armies of the Nationalist government in
But the picture was not simple. At one level, the
British Empire began to reemerge as the Common-
wealth. At another level, highlighted by the Atlantic
Alliance against Germany on the European continent,
an informal empire was taking shape to assume some of
the responsibilities that the British Empire had created
world-wide over the past century. An American “em-
pire de facto” started out on the Far East periphery and
eventually succeeded that of a very real British Empire,
To ¬ght 33

one that took over the China connection and extended
it further than the British ever tried to do. In the larger
global framework, such a view would offer a credible
angle of vision. It is no accident that Winston Churchill
(1874“1965) came out of the war writing the history of
the English-speaking peoples. And, as the empire began
to shrink and Britain™s destiny came to be more closely
linked to the European continent, there was no shortage
of British opinion that encouraged a more benign atti-
tude towards the colony (or thirteen colonies) that got
away. The rise of American studies in British universities
in the 1950s marked a pronounced shift in perspective.
The acknowledgment that American literary and po-
litical ¬gures were worthy of close study and the wider
acceptance of American scholarship about British and
European history and current affairs con¬rmed what
Churchill had highlighted. The United States offered
new standards of wealth and power which more and
more British people admired, whether they liked it or
In turn, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882“
1945) and his successors overcame America™s historic
aversion to involvement in Old World affairs and took
the ¬nal step towards the “manifest destiny” thrust upon
them in East Asia at the turn of the twentieth century.
There was no turning back. And what better way to
take on the “white man™s burden” than to learn from
the British and try on their shoes? No doubt there was
no exact ¬t. No doubt the American way had a differ-
ent mix of ¬ghting, trading, converting and ruling. But
much of the British experience, the institutional struc-
tures that were still viable, could be used as a basis for
creating more informal but equally resilient connections.
34 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

Where China and the Chinese were concerned, there
were signi¬cant differences in both history and geog-
raphy to be taken into account. And this impacted
immediately upon the military commitment that the
Americans could, and were willing to, put into the
Chinese cause.
Thus “to ¬ght” in Anglo-Chinese relations took on
new dimensions following the outbreak of the second
Sino-Japanese War in 1937. Before Pearl Harbor, sup-
port for China was still minimal, low-key and largely
covert. Both the British and the Americans were sensi-
tive to the dual threats of a fascist and militarist Japan
allied to Germany on the one hand and Soviet in-
ternational communism on the other. They saw that
they could most help China by propping up the Na-
tionalist forces that would resist both those enemies
of Anglo-American interests and political culture. For
Roosevelt more than for Churchill, the goal was a strong
and united China that could stand up to those hostile
forces and become a long-term ally. It was a goal worth
¬ghting for. It was worth investing money and resources
to equip and train the Nationalist armies and air force.25
The immediate result was to tie down Japanese troops
in China and make it easier to drive back their forces
elsewhere in Asia and the Paci¬c. For the future, it was
hoped that the newly strengthened armies would be able
to defeat the communists and unite the country under
a friendly Chiang Kai-shek national government.
Ever since the defeat by Japan in 1895, there had not
been a serious role for the Chinese navy. Chinese waters
were totally out of Chinese control while the warlords
fought one another for supremacy on land. The British
continued to sell or help build a few small ships and
To ¬ght 35

offer training to under-funded naval and coastal units.
But the warlords, and the Nationalists after 1928, were
plagued by civil wars and never had the resources to re-
vive the country™s naval arm. With the Japanese invasion,
the isolation from the sea was complete. No part of the
China coast could be said to be under Chinese jurisdic-
tion. If there was any ¬ghting to be done, China was
left, more than ever before, to defend itself in a conti-
nental war. Never before had the Chinese military been
less connected to maritime concerns. It was not merely
weakness at sea and disastrous defeats that were excep-
tional. It was the unprecedented dependence on foreign
allies to save China, with their navies winning at sea
against China™s enemies. For China itself, the only strat-
egy was to trade land for ultimate survival, rather like
Tsarist Russia facing the armies of Napoleon. But, un-
like Russia, China has always had a long coastline, many
excellent and ice-free ports and at times a formidable
navy. Its failure to take advantage of British skills when
it could have done had left it prostrate like a wounded
beached whale. Was it to be the United States that would
try to get it a¬‚oat again?
When the Second World War ended with Allied vic-
tory, the Chinese Nationalist government failed to stop
the communist armies. Some of its sailors had been
trained by the British before and during the war. These
were put to use, together with massive American sup-
port, to move whole Nationalist armies to thwart the
communist guerrilla forces that were heading towards
territories which had been held by the Japanese. In
1945“1949, a small navy, which the Americans and
the British had helped to re¬t, was put together with
Japanese ships left with the Chinese after the war. The
36 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

¬‚otillas of Japanese ships and those provided with British
and American help totalled some 400 ships, with over
250 of them supposedly in battle-ready condition. That
makeshift ¬‚eet totalled some 190,000 tons and carried
over 40,000 men. But it was largely the American ves-
sels and planes which transported Nationalist troops to
Manchuria and other battlefronts. Chinese sources at
the time claimed that some 540,000 troops were thus
transported. This navy was thought to have been strong
enough to blockade the coasts from Fujian to Liaodong
peninsula. For example, six out of the nine vessels of
the Second Fleet that had gone over to the commu-
nists in 1949 were sunk by the navy that stayed loyal
to the Nationalist government. The remnants of the
force were strong enough to ¬ght off the attempts by the
People™s Liberation Army (PLA) to take Denglu Island
off the coast of Zhejiang. They also won a major battle
at Jinmen (Quemoy) island off Xiamen, with heavy PLA
losses of over 9,000 men.26 But these victories could not
save the Nationalists.

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