. 3
( 6)


Interpreters™ College (Tongwen Guan, established in
1862), the institution that organised systematic trans-
lations of works of modern mathematics, science, law,
geography and world history into Chinese.3 From 1860
to the turn of the century, some 350 texts were translated
from English, many of these done by men of the cloth
and as many of them American as British. It looked as
if, where religious conversion might have been prema-
ture, a different kind of conversion, achieved by making
books on secular subjects available, would have to do.
In contrast, the Japanese, who humiliated the Chinese
in the 1894“1895 war, were surprisingly well received
after the war. From the publication of the research of
Saneto Keishu (1896“1985) in 1939“1940, we know
how much Japanese teachers and educational of¬cials
contributed to the modernisation of China from the late
1890s to the establishment of the Republic in 1912.4
Douglas Reynolds, in his ¬ne study of the Xinzheng
or New Systems Revolution, went so far as to call this
78 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

period “the golden decade” of Sino-Japanese relations.
This could be seen as the time when the Japanese re-
turned their cultural debt to the Chinese by hasten-
ing the introduction of Western knowledge to China
through the innumerable translations from Western lan-
guages that they had done for themselves for decades.
Compared with those translated from the English before
1900, the number of books translated from the Japanese
in one decade, 1900“1910, was more than one and a
half times all those done by the various of¬cial transla-
tion bureaus during the 40 years before.5
In neither case was there any question of religious
conversion. For the English translators, they had learnt
to steer studiously clear of works speci¬cally extolling the
Christian faith. For those translating from the Japanese,
the rhetoric of a common respect for Confucianism
eased the transfer of both knowledge and ideas. For one
short moment in history, the Japanese provided a short
cut to modern knowledge that the awakened Chinese
elites were willing to embrace enthusiastically. This was
not simply asking the Japanese to help implement the old
way of “using the foreigners™ ways to defend against the
foreigners” (yiyi zhiyi).6 There was a genuine realisation,
con¬rmed by Japanese educational successes and recon-
¬rmed by Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese War,
that the new learning promised a long-term progress to
the future which China desperately needed if it was to
save itself and its civilisation.
The Sino-Japanese War of 1894“1895 opened the
Chinese mind to the breakthrough the empire really
needed. The last of a series of defeats by superior naval
forces, it drove the Chinese to seek knowledge from
the West with a new thoroughness, via what was more
To convert 79

accessible in Japanese translation. It is now clear that the
highest Japanese authorities approved plans to engage the
Chinese in an enterprise to drive the West out of the re-
gion. Had that been a genuine effort at cooperation,
the Chinese might have been proud to remember that
“golden decade”. Unfortunately, real Japanese intentions
were exposed by their plans to annex the Korean penin-
sula in stages between 1905 and 1910. At the onset of the
First World War, its imperial plans were further revealed
when Japan made its infamous Twenty-one Demands
of 1915, and followed that by replacing Germany as
the dominant power in Shandong province.7 As a re-
sult, most of the thousands of students still studying in
Japan decided they had to leave, and China was happy
thereafter to forget that it ever owed Japan anything.
Let me make two points here in the context of conver-
sion. The ¬rst is that Japan™s extraordinary in¬‚uence on
China™s attitudes towards modernity was a kind of con-
version. Great claims have been made about the way the
Japanese translations impacted on a whole generation of
young Chinese who not only learnt of the West through
them but also adopted the vocabulary the Japanese used
to convey the new ideas that were introduced. There is
no doubt about the linguistic in¬‚uence, especially in the
new schools built all over the empire, which used text-
books translated from the Japanese.8 But this should not
be confused with acceptance of the content. The new
ideas had originated from the West and the most impor-
tant of these were largely made available through works
translated into Japanese from the English. But it was the
half-century from the 1850s which laid the foundations
for the modern ideas circulating in the Treaty Ports.
The works translated directly from English into Chinese
80 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

during that period had already begun to open the eyes
of the leading mandarins at the court.
The return of the brightest young of¬cials and stu-
dents from Britain and the United States and the
most successful among the overseas Chinese had fur-
ther prepared the ground for change. Men like Yan
Fu (1854“1921) and Lin Shu (1852“1924), who trans-
lated some of the philosophical and literary classics of
the British, were no less in¬‚uential than Liang Qichao
(1873“1929) and others who did their translations from
the Japanese. In addition, there were others like Sun Yat-
sen who turned new words into slogans and political
ideas into action. Certainly, a greater number of indirect
translations were made, but the desire and will to learn,
through translations from the English in particular, were
already there. The threat by the imperialist powers for
several years after 1898 to “carve up the Chinese melon”
had become a fearful probability. The dramatic acts fol-
lowing the so-called Hundred Days™ Reform the same
year, and the Boxer catastrophe in 1899“1900, merely
added a greater sense of urgency and spurred more of the
young to challenge the orthodox views of their elders.9
The wider impact of these events can be seen in the
debates conducted in Hong Kong and the Straits Set-
tlements among the Chinese there. Those debates held
in English re¬‚ected the extent to which British politi-
cal rhetoric had been internalised. The best example of
this may be found in Lim Boon Keng™s (Lin Wenqing,
1869“1957) essays, collected in the volume The Chinese
Crisis from Within (1901).10 He was a peripheral ¬gure
for Chinese intellectuals in Shanghai and other cities in
China, who were unlikely to have read the book, but the
English terms he used pointed to the kind of terms that
To convert 81

were also being powerfully employed in contemporary
writings in Chinese.
The second point is, with the willingness to con-
vert at this level, why turn to the Japanese and not
learn more directly from English-language original writ-
ings? After all, dedicated people like W. A. P. Martin,
Young J. Allen, John Fryer, Gilbert Reid (1857“1927)
and Timothy Richard (1845“1919) had been working
for decades to make works relating to science, indus-
try, history, politics and geography available to younger
Chinese.11 Many senior of¬cials and budding examina-
tion candidates found the works exciting. The Japanese
links with Confucianism and the British and Americans
with Christianity meant that only the latter were asso-
ciated with a kind of conversion that implied rejection
of Chinese tradition.
At the same time, a secular conversion did take place
in the years 1901“1910. Although using the same word
“conversion”, I suggest that this latter conversion re-
quired no less a change of mindset than the idea of a
religious conversion. And, if we recognise that the sec-
ular change had begun with some key Chinese thinkers
decades earlier than the Japanese impact in 1900“1910,
it was the English-language-based aids to that conver-
sion that enabled the Chinese to appreciate so quickly
what the Japanese short-cuts had to offer.
Nevertheless, to what the Chinese people should
convert was still unclear. The majority of the literati
class were con¬dent that Chinese learning remained the
basic principle and conversion should only be to things
of practical utility, as suggested by the famous phrase of
Viceroy Zhang Zhidong, “Chinese learning as founda-
tion, Western learning for application”. Let me point to
82 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

some examples from the era of the New Systems Revo-
lution, roughly the last decade of Zhang Zhidong™s long
and distinguished life. In 1906, the scholar-archaeologist
and novelist Liu E (1857“1909) published the novel, Lao
Can youji, or the story of Lao Can™s travels. In it, he tells
us of a dream about the sea off the coast of Shandong,
not far from where the Japanese navy had in¬‚icted de-
feats on the Chinese eleven years earlier, in 1895. This
was close to the port of Weihaiwei, which the British
leased in 1898 together with Kowloon in the frenzy
of “melon-carving” a few months after the xenopho-
bic Boxers in Shandong began to attract attention. In
the dream, the narrator saw a wounded ship heading to
shore with its passengers. But instead of saving the pas-
sengers, the crew proceeded to rob them. Liu E used the
image to describe the declining Qing empire in which
the Chinese people were victimised beyond endurance.
But he personally expected the Qing dynasty to recover
and still put his faith in China™s superior traditions that,
although much neglected in practice, retained the vital-
ity to restore China to greatness. He saw no future for
radical reformers and revolutionaries, whom he com-
pared to the rapacious crew taking advantage of helpless
passengers. He had no reason to place any faith in the re-
ligious and secular ideas brought to China by the British,
whether directly or via the Japanese.12
Liu E™s hometown was Dantu (Chinkiang, or Zhen-
jiang, not far from Shanghai and itself a Treaty Port in
Liu E™s lifetime). His novel has become a classic. If it
were compared with two other classics of the same pe-
riod from the same town, a similar faith in tradition may
also be found. The two are the Baiyuzhai cihua, by my
grandmother™s father, Chen Tingzhuo (1853“92) and
To convert 83

the Songren yishi huibian, by my mother™s cousin, Ding
Chuanjing (1870“1930).13 The ¬rst was an insightful
study on the Ci-poets of the past thousand years, and
the second a wonderful collection of anecdotes about
personalities of the Song dynasty. Both were wholly de-
void of any external in¬‚uences. Chen, who was about
the same age as Liu E, completed his book in 1891,
while Ding, who was 13 years younger, published his
book just two years after Lao Can™s Travels appeared, that
is, in 1908. What all three had in common was con¬-
dence in the permanence of transmitted traditions. All
three showed not a whiff of the radical change that was
soon to take place a decade later. The anxious voices
of the reformers and revolutionaries of their time were
hardly representative of the elites of this generation,
for the views of these three men were closer to the
What is striking about these men was that their city
of Zhenjiang had been a Treaty Port since the 1860s. All
had lived for 30 or 40 years within sight of British and
American missions before they wrote their books, but
only Liu E gave any hint of awareness that powerful new
ideas of a dominant foreign power like Britain had been
introduced into China. In recent decades, most works
of history concentrate on the men who were excited by
the challenge of new ideas. The fact was, the men men-
tioned above ignored those challenges and were far more
representative of the majority of literati in their faith in
Chinese tradition. All were hostile to the idea that spir-
itual agents sent from the English-speaking world could
have anything to offer them. Yet, within a decade of
Ding Chuanjing™s collection of Song dynasty anecdotes
in 1908, a rush of intellectual and cultural conversions
84 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

began swiftly to crowd people like them off centre-stage
There was a huge jump in “conversions” by the
end of the First World War, but few of them were to
Christianity. What, then, was it that converted young ed-
ucated Chinese in large numbers? Bearing in mind that
thousands of dedicated British missionaries like Robert
Morrison had been working with young Chinese in
Malacca and Hong Kong for more that 80 years, it is
surprising how few converts they made before 1918.
The China Inland Mission alone, led by James Hudson
Taylor (1832“1905), had sent 800 or so missionaries, and
Timothy Richard and his colleagues inducted a new
generation of Chinese into modern learning through
the Guangxue hui (The Society for the Diffusion of
Christian and General Knowledge, founded in 1887).15
Many of them had played down religious teaching, and
the secular knowledge they provided met Chinese intel-
lectual curiosity and was clearly better received. Also, the
cooperation between British and American missionaries
reaped their best fruit in the many colleges and hospitals
they founded. The Americans in particular were keen
to send their converts back to the United States for fur-
ther training, and some of these converts continued with
Christian work all their lives. Whether or not the input
of capital and massive human energy in these efforts was
commensurate with the numbers of Chinese actually
converted is debatable. It is enough to note that the push
to bring modern schooling to most corners of the coun-
try within a decade of the foundation of the Republic in
1911 had begun with Christian missionaries. And this
contrasted greatly with the minimal Chinese of¬cial re-
sources put into the drive for secular education at the
turn of the century.16
To convert 85

From time to time, we are reminded that Sun Yat-sen
had been converted to Christianity, that his successor as
leader of the Guomindang, Chiang Kai-shek, had also
converted to Methodism when he married Sun™s sister-
in-law, Soong Mei-ling. What is less emphasised are Sun
Yat-sen™s early contacts with a series of British teach-
ers from Iolani College in Honolulu and Government
Central School in Hong Kong (later, Queen™s College).
He then went to the Chinese College of Medicine
founded by Ho Kai (He Qi, 1859“1914), a devout
Christian convert who married an English wife. There
he established a close and lasting relationship with his
teacher, Dr James Cantlie (1851“1926). The cumulative
in¬‚uences of all these men on Sun Yat-sen had been
deep, but more important than his Christianity was his
secular conversion to modernity as the saviour of China.
His new religion was the idea of guojia or patria, of na-
tionalism and national salvation through revolution.17
For many Chinese of his generation, Christianity was a
symbol not of rejection of tradition but of discovery and
progress. And underlying that progress was the power of
the scienti¬c knowledge he received in his schools.
This response was also found among the sojourning
Chinese in British Malaya, where of¬cials established a
few secular government schools but were reluctant to
promote Christianity in a tolerant plural society whose
development they wished to encourage. Of the vari-
ous missionaries who established schools in the major
towns, the British were often the minority among strong
contingents of protestant Americans and Catholics from
Ireland and continental Europe. The Chinese studied
together with the children of immigrants from British
India and Ceylon or Sri Lanka (a mixture of Hindus and
Muslims, mainly from the south), local Eurasians and
86 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

Muslims from the various Malay states. Their teachers
were often recruited from among local Christian con-
verts or Christians directly from South Asia and south-
ern China. Again, although most students accepted the
British worldview and went on to serve the local gov-
ernment and businesses, actual converts to Christianity
among the Chinese were never many.
In sharp contrast, the drive for Chinese schools teach-
ing the Chinese national language and modern science,
and using textbooks published in Shanghai, was irresisti-
ble.18 Here different kinds of conversion were experi-
enced. These “conversions” may have been indirect, but
they were deep and led to serious challenges to perspec-
tives on how the local Chinese were expected to behave
in British-administered territories, notably those civic
values highlighted in the of¬cially approved texts used
in the English-language schools. What was interesting
was that modern ideas were not always acceptable when
coming from Anglo teachers themselves, but were much
better received when ¬ltered through Chinese-language
books written by modernising Chinese in China.
I have suggested earlier that different groups of
Chinese responded to British culture differently, but
wonderment at spectacular technological advances led
to the ¬rst converts. Eventually, the acceptance of the
underlying scienti¬c principles that needed to be mas-
tered transformed the nature of education for all. There
was nothing smooth or natural about such processes of
conversion to foreign ways, especially to foreign ideas.
The impact of British and other Western ideas, no less
than the Chinese response to them, was erratic and un-
predictable. However powerful these ideas were when
they ¬rst appeared among the Chinese, the Chinese
ultimately picked only what they wanted, what they
To convert 87

thought they most urgently needed. Does such a ra-
tional process qualify as conversion? It may not have
been a religious experience, but the word is the most
apt for describing what happened to the Chinese in the
way they thought about the world. I hasten to add that
this did not mean that they agreed with the British and
adopted their values. What changed was the capacity to
use the Chinese equivalents of modern terms to fur-
ther absorb the latest knowledge and methods that the
Western world had to offer and, where necessary, to
counter the criticisms and attacks by foreigners on what
the Chinese believed was their due.
The increasing use of the vernacular language
(baihua), also guoyu (national language) or Mandarin, and
now called putonghua or the common language, early in
the twentieth century, is a useful index of conversion.
Better known as a literary revolution, the Baihuawen
Movement led by Chen Duxiu (1879“1942), who had
studied in Japan, and Hu Shi (1891“1962), educated in
the United States, was a liberating experience. It freed
young Chinese from the straitjacket of both classical
sentence forms and the of¬cialese in which all pub-
lic documents and correspondence were written. The
classical language had been steadily loosened by popu-
lar Buddhist teaching and story-telling, and the writ-
ing of novels like Journey to the West (Xiyou ji), The
Water Margin (Shuihu zhuan), and the Dream of the
Red Chamber (Honglou meng), over several centuries.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Lin Shu still
insisted on translating Shakespeare and several English
novelists into classical Chinese. The popularity of his
work may have helped to slow down the enthusias-
tic embrace of baihua, but the style and quality of his
writings introduced a new literary sensibility to a new
88 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

generation of Chinese.19 These contributed to the at-
traction of literary and artistic values from the English
romantics, the free and rumbustious prose of Charles
Dickens and even the gloomy morality tales of Thomas
Hardy. I need not dwell on those young scholars who
were stimulated by study in, or visits to, Britain: poets
like Xu Zhimo (1895“1931) and the philosopher of
aesthetics, Zhu Guangqian (1897“1986), novelists like
Lao She (1899“1966) and Xu Dishan (1893“1941)
and, among others, the close friend of E. M. Forster™s,
the journalist Xiao Qian (Hsiao Ch™ien, 1910“1999).20
They each added to an awareness of another Britain,
one of sensitivity and spiritual enlightenment that the
Chinese people would not have found in the Chinese
books and essays about the British at that time. I shall say
a little more about three very different men: Zhu, Xu and
Zhu Guangqian deserves a mention as an example
of a twofold, direct and indirect, bene¬ciary of British
education. He came from a family of distinguished
Confucian scholars and had negligible English when
he was sent on a scholarship from China in 1918 to
the University of Hong Kong. Through his teachers in
English literature, psychology and education, he was in-
troduced to the English literary classics and the works of
Plato and Aristotle. He was thus “converted”, so thor-
oughly that, after graduation in 1923, he sought to study
directly in Britain (1925“1929, and then spent another
four years in Europe). He received his doctorate at the
University of Glasgow and expanded his thesis for publi-
cation as The Psychology of Tragedy: a critical study of various
theories of tragic pleasure. He went on to become the doyen
of literary theory scholars in China. To capture the way
To convert 89

he saw his moment of “conversion”, let me quote from
his essay of 1944, when he recalls his professor at Hong
Kong University:

. . . [You are] my spiritual wet nurse. I learnt English poetry
from you. The ¬rst poem you asked me to read was The Rime
of the Ancient Mariner. When I ¬rst read it, I found the story
of the old sailor shooting the albatross so dry and dull, and
laughable. But after you guided me through the poem again,
the syllables and imagery were so beautiful, the alternating
arrangements so ¬nely placed. Only an artist can touch up
an ordinary world to look like a beautiful one, only a skilled
teacher can open up an apparently ordinary world to reveal
the beauty brewing inside. You once made for me this kind
of miracle.21

And, indeed, this miracle led him thereafter to share his
excitement over new ideas about literature with gen-
erations of students. He not only became a dedicated
teacher, but through a prose that was fresh and free, he
inspired them, beginning with the “Twelve Letters to
the Young” he wrote from Glasgow in 1926.22 It was
this language of poetry that served as the bedrock of the
educational psychology and philosophy of aesthetics that
he wrote on throughout his long and fruitful life. This
may not have been quite the conversion Christian mis-
sionaries had wanted, but the idealism Zhu Guangqian
sought to convey was no less a deep change in mindset,
perhaps the next best thing.
Since I started with Arthur Waley™s essay on “A Debt
to China” and am speaking in Cambridge, I would also
like to mention Xu Zhimo, the poet Waley wrote about,
who came to King™s College at the recommendation of
90 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson (1862“1932). In Waley™s

Never has anyone belonged more wholly and sincerely to the
Romantic Period. Byron was his model and hero. He loved
to think of himself as the Chinese Childe Harold, though
nature has scarcely ¬tted him for that part. There was nothing
Byronic about his long thin face, with the stubborn mouth
that seemed to express, above all, the determination to lead
his own life in his own way; he had not a particle of Byronic

Waley regretfully says, “Great Englishmen had lived in
China before, but failed to make any impression on the
Chinese intelligentsia”. He saw that men like Lowes
Dickinson (1862“1932), Bertrand Russell (1872“1970)
and Robert Trevelyan (1872“1951), who went to China
to make friends and learn, “gave the Chinese a com-
pletely new view of us”. I am not sure that that was
really so. Lowes Dickinson™s views on the ancient Greeks
did become available in Chinese and some of Robert
Trevelyan™s translations of Greek tragedies were known,
but we have no record of their in¬‚uence on the Chinese
they met.24 Bertrand Russell, however, was a world
¬gure whom the Chinese intellectual world was keen
to listen to when he was invited to visit China in 1920.
But he turned out to be a puzzle and a disappointment
to his hosts. They began by lionising him, but his frank
and uncompromising views at a time of nationalist en-
thusiasm and naive discovery of Russian socialism were
presented at a wrong time and place. Thus, he left only a
minimal impact on his audiences. His remarkable effort
to explain China, The Problem of China, published in
1922, was ignored and not translated until 1996 and, till
To convert 91

this day, there is still a slight sense of regret among some
older Chinese that the early contact had not been more
With Waley™s thought in mind, allow me to indulge
myself with one more quote, from the subject of Waley™s
essay, Xu Zhimo, the ¬rst truly modern poet of China.
The poem captures something of what might have been
had there indeed been more opportunities for the gentler
folk of both countries to meet, instead of the usual list of
of¬cials, merchants and soldiers. I quote a few lines, from
a translation of his “Second Farewell to Cambridge”:

Quietly I am leaving
Just as quietly I came . . .

In search of a dream? You pole a tiny boat
Toward where the green is even more green
To collect a load of stars, as songs
Rise in the gleaming stellar light.
But to-night my voice fails me;
Silence is the best tune of farewell;
Even crickets are still for me,
And still is Cambridge tonight.

Silently I am going
As silently I came;
I shake my sleeves,
Not to bring away a patch of cloud.26

Here the Chinese language is wholly freed.
About ¬fteen years later, in 1942, with the help of
E. M. Forster (1879“1970), Xiao Qian (Hsiao Ch™ien)
gave up his lectureship at the School of Oriental
and African Studies (SOAS) in London to study at
King™s College, Cambridge.27 Born in Beijing in a
92 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

part-Mongol family, Xiao was orphaned at a young age.
The American wife of a cousin helped him get to a
Presbyterian school where he learnt his English early.
Faced with a joyless fundamentalist Christianity, his later
“conversion” after attending a Catholic (Furen) Univer-
sity and then graduating from a Protestant (Yenching)
one, was to the English novel, ¬rst the Victorians and
then modern writers: D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf,
E. M. Forster and James Joyce. He began to translate
poems and stories from the English and then translated
Chinese writings, including some new Chinese plays,
into English. He also began to write his own stories.
But, in the end, he was drawn to study with Edgar Snow
at the School of Journalism at Yenching University and
went to work for the best-known independent news-
paper of its time, the Dagongbao of Tianjin. From there
he went to SOAS in 1939. One of the very few Chinese
in England during the war, he taught Chinese, lectured
to pro-China societies, broadcast for the BBC, and pub-
lished several books, including A Harp with a Thousand
Strings, where Waley™s radio talk, “A Debt to China” was
As Xiao Qian recalls in his autobiography:

I met many British authors through the PEN meetings . . .
My one true friendship was with Forster. Our friendship
was not really so surprising . . . The best friend in Forster™s
life, and the one who most profoundly in¬‚uenced him,
was Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson, whose biography Forster
wrote. [Dickinson] wrote Letters from John Chinaman, in which
he described China as a utopia in order to satirize Britain. It
was because of this book, and his friendship with Dickinson,
that Forster conceived a passionate interest in the East.28
To convert 93

Xiao and Forster exchanged over eighty letters, of
which forty have survived. Xiao concludes, “Thus did a
young Chinese literature student come to be friends with
a distinguished British author. The author deepened the
young man™s understanding of Western culture, and the
youth added to the author™s knowledge of China”.29
That friendship may have been an added reason why
Waley thought of those English who could make friends
and learn, and give the Chinese “a completely new view
of us”.
Xiao the patriot returned to China and chose to sup-
port Mao Zedong™s revolution. When he was persecuted
for his bourgeois views in 1957, this was a severe test of
his “conversion”. But he kept faith and, by the time
he was rehabilitated in 1979, he had returned to the
English novel. Through Forster™s in¬‚uence, he began
with Henry Fielding (1707“1754) and translated The Life
of Jonathan Wild and then The History of Tom Jones. But
he never forgot Forster™s praise for Joyce™s A Portrait of the
Artist as a Young Man and the critical essay he wrote and
read to his learned tutor, George Rylands (1902“1999),
on Finnegans Wake. In disgrace, his youthful “conver-
sion” led him to begin his masterly and prize-winning
translation of Ulysses into Chinese. It was ¬nally pub-
lished in three volumes in 1994, when he was 84 years
Zhu Guangqian, Xu Zhimo, and Xiao Qian, like Hu
Shi before them, were “converted” through literature
in English, especially the language of poetry that Xu
Zhimo transmuted into a fresh poetic idiom in Chinese.
This may be compared to literary giants in British India
like Rabindranath Tagore (1861“1941) and Muhammed
Iqbal (1877“1938), whose contacts with English writing
94 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

and ideas led them to a vivi¬ed poetry in Bengali
and Persian and Urdu respectively. It was, however, a
different situation where students of English did not
write in their mother tongue. Outside China, where
Chinese who were born and had settled in British terri-
tories were taught directly by their teachers to write in
English, there was no similar development or impact.
It was only decades later, during the 1950s, that writ-
ers of Chinese descent in the Commonwealth began to
make their mark writing in English. About that time,
all around the Commonwealth, writers of Asian and
African descent found their English voices in poetry,
¬ction and drama as well as other branches of the ¬ne
arts. Soon after, Asian Americans in the United States,
with a strong contingent among them of Chinese de-
scent, sought to join the English literature mainstream.31
But this was a different phenomenon from the kind of
“conversion” that brought a totally new life to literature
in Chinese.
I spoke earlier of the linguistic conversion that became
complete when the vernacular became the language of
all teaching. This impact is not unlike that of Chaucer
using English for his Canterbury Tales. Using baihua at the
university level to teach every modern subject ensured
an enormous impact on young minds. I have already
mentioned the many liberal arts colleges and universi-
ties started in China by the Americans which enshrined
English as the ¬rst foreign language in China. There was
strong competition from Japanese and French. Together,
the three languages helped to transform the Chinese
vernacular into a powerful tool with a rich vocabulary
that could transmit all the fresh ideas and discoveries the
people might want from the West.
To convert 95

This linguistic impact rarely came from those who
actually used the English language, but there were
interesting exceptions from earlier times when most
Chinese were still fully con¬dent of the greatness of
Chinese civilisation. The ¬rst Chinese to master English,
who was nevertheless able to remain in¬‚uential among
the Chinese in China, was Yung Wing (Rong Hong,
1828“1912), who went to the United States in 1847
after studies in Hong Kong and graduated from Yale
University in 1854. His was a practical English coloured
by his Christian faith, but he continued to make con-
tributions to his country™s welfare in the ¬eld of foreign
affairs. Later, many others followed his footsteps, and
most of those who also had a good knowledge of classi-
cal Chinese repeated his Sino-American career path.32
The ¬rst person to study at a British university, how-
ever, had very different experiences. In his case, he learnt
his English from when he was young without having
any knowledge of Chinese. This was Ku Hung-ming
(Gu Hongming, 1857“1928) of Penang who, after he
settled in Beijing as Professor of Latin at Peking Uni-
versity, became the most accessible Chinese for Western
visitors to China during the ¬rst quarter of the twentieth
century. His family had settled in the Malay States, and
then the Straits Settlements, for three generations. His
foster father, a Scotsman, sent him to school in Scotland
about 1870 and he graduated from the University of
Edinburgh in 1877. Later colonial Chinese who went
to Britain from Malaya and Hong Kong mostly chose
to study medicine and law, but Ku Hung-ming took an
arts degree, adding to his knowledge of Greek, Latin and
German an admiration of the English romantics. On his
return to Asia, he experienced a reverse “conversion”,
96 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

falling in love with classical Chinese at a time when
the classical scholars mentioned above, like Liu E, Chen
Tingzhuo and Ding Chuanjing of Zhenjiang, were all
con¬dent of the viability of the civilisation.
Ku Hung-ming may be compared with Lim Boon
Keng (Lin Wenqing), another Straits-born English-
educated, who had followed him to Edinburgh in 1887.
Lim Boon Keng, too, returned to the Chinese classics
and also became a strong advocate for the restoration
of Confucian values. The “reverse conversion” of both
Ku Hung-ming and Lim Boon Keng from an English-
based education back into the China fold was the last of
its kind.33 The act of using a foreign language to revive
a Chinese faith was repudiated by their compatriots in
their lifetime. For most young Chinese, it was the reju-
venated literary works in Chinese by the next generation
of writers, like Zhu Guangqian, Xu Zhimo and hun-
dreds of others, that marked the cultural life and style
that replaced it.
Religion in China was built on a tradition of inclu-
siveness. As a result, in all its long history, China has not
known wars of religion. By the end of the Song dy-
nasty in the thirteenth century, its people had integrated
Buddhist and Taoist ideas into a revived Confucianism.
This seems to have removed the need for other faiths and
philosophies, but it also enabled most Chinese people to
deal with a wide range of religious experiences with-
out trauma or conversions. The existence of an agrar-
ian communitarianism and an imperial orthodoxy was
widely accepted. Three stages of living that encour-
aged social stability and recognised personal develop-
ment were rationalised to satisfy the members of the
elite. The young were exhorted to study and prepare
To convert 97

themselves to be Confucian, giving emphasis to moral
character through self-cultivation. After middle age, they
were encouraged to seek good health and physical resus-
citation through select Taoist practices, and this was to
be followed by a tranquil old age to which the Buddhist
sutras had much to contribute. What need was there for
the enthusiasm and excitement of conversion?
When this all-embracing Confucianism that sup-
ported the two religions was rejected by the young after
the 1920s, following the many calls for revolution, what
could be the modern equivalents to replace the tradi-
tional three stages? With the conversion to a freer lan-
guage that carried the new truths of science, embod-
ied in spectacular new technology and reinforced by
¬erce debates about the supreme faith in “scientism”,
the young looked for a secular faith. Some found it by
committing themselves to nationalist calls to wealth and
power. Others were enjoined to “make revolution” by
studying science and seeking their ful¬lment through so-
cial dedication. Here the English-language contribution
from the late nineteenth century may clearly be seen.
The Chinese themselves, for example men like Yan
Fu, made a difference. Yan Fu had studied science
and navigation in the Fuzhou Naval Academy and was
among the ¬rst to be sent to England to learn the secret
of British military power at Greenwich Naval College.
I shall come back to him in the next chapter to dis-
cuss his quali¬ed admiration of British institutions of
governance. His importance here comes from his transla-
tions of books by Thomas Huxley and Herbert Spencer,
Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill and, most of all, his
introduction of Spencer™s social Darwinism to sev-
eral generations of young Chinese.34 A better-trained
98 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

scientist was the geologist Ding Wenjiang (1887“1936),
who had studied in Glasgow and lived in Britain for
seven years. His defence of science provided a major
manifesto in refutation of all efforts at restoring tradi-
tional Confucian learning, although he also contributed
to a growing uncritical faith in the wondrous powers of
science. It did not take long for everything scienti¬c to
be right and the word “unscienti¬c” to be the strongest
dismissal of any argument.35
Here the missionaries who sought religious con-
verts had also made a contribution. In their critiques of
Chinese religious practices, they introduced the idea of
superstition, and the word was translated as mixin, or
blind faith. Mixin became the word that was applied
to the practices of astrologers, fortune-tellers and geo-
mancers, as well as the popular beliefs by most Chinese in
devils, ghosts and evil spirits. Since all these practices and
beliefs were also not accepted by rational Confucians and
Buddhists, this powerful word came quickly into com-
mon use among the younger generation of educated
Chinese. No one expected, however, that it would also
become the opposite of the word kexue, or scienti¬c, and
that it would one day be used against all ideas and values
that could be described as “traditional”, and also, iron-
ically, against all religions, including Christianity itself.
Once mixin was embedded in the language as a term of
condemnation, with kexue or science as the only judge
of truth, we have observed something akin to a conver-
sion, a total acceptance of the secular worldview based
on reason and observation, on mathematical calculation
and laboratory experiment.
This leads me to two of the most remarkable
stories that linked China to Britain. It could only have
To convert 99

happened in the context of the worship of science and,
therefore, could only have happened after the victory
of those who believed that they had found a scienti¬c
way to rebuild China. There is no need here to dwell on
the capabilities of the young Chinese scientists after the
Second World War who have won Nobel Prizes through
their research done in the other major English-speaking
country, the United States. They are but the tip of a
growing body of science talent from Asia, mainly China
and India, whose achievements outside their countries of
origin have dazzled the world. Most of these, however,
are virtuoso performances with American and European
scientists that tell us little about the impact of science
among their peoples at home. The stories that are more
revealing are those pertaining to the new faith in “scien-
ti¬c socialism” and a deeper curiosity about the scienti¬c
achievements of Chinese civilisation.
The ¬rst secretary-general of the Chinese Commu-
nist Party, Chen Duxiu, had extolled the young to look
to “science and democracy” to save China. In one gener-
ation, the rhetoric of “scienti¬c socialism” had entered
the nationalist discourse and the debate it engendered
threatened to rewrite the social and economic history
of China.36 I do not want to make too much of the
fact that the language of capitalism, imperialism and so-
cialism was drawn from the writings of Karl Marx and
Friedrich Engels, ultimately from ideas that had been
crystallised in the British Museum and had been inspired
by the industrial achievements of Manchester. But this
may be taken together with the picture of a Britain trans-
formed by the industrial revolution, best represented by
several novels of Charles Dickens made popular through
the elegant translations by Lin Shu. Through them, the
100 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

language and the images of an exploitative capitalism
made a powerful impact and reinforced the value of sci-
ence and scienti¬c study. It led to debates about how the
seeds of capitalism could be found in the late Ming and
early Qing period (sixteenth“seventeenth centuries),37
and also to the early history of science in traditional
China. This was a subject the Chinese themselves had
never really appreciated before the advent of modern
science. The Chinese were great inventors but did not
place much value on the inventors themselves. The name
of the inventor of paper was known, so were those of
the ¬rst great physician and the discoverer of the south-
pointing magnetic mechanism, but no one could recall
who had invented printing or gunpowder. There was
greater appreciation, during the Song, Yuan and Ming
dynasties, of the great books on agriculture, sericulture,
and materia medica. And, by the eighteenth century, the
work of Song Yingxing (b. 1587) on the practical arts,
the Tiangong kaiwu ¬rst published in 1637, had become
well respected, notably in Japan, but the idea that there
was science behind all the technology and that this
science was the key to greater truths and the mastery
of nature was strikingly absent.38
The awakening among the Chinese scholars began
in the 1920s and 1930s. The new interest was hesitant,
even apologetic, and no one was con¬dent to make bold
scienti¬c claims. But the ¬rst steps were taken, notably
in their writings on the early history of mathematics, as-
tronomy and geography. They were followed by efforts
to link alchemical practices to the origins of chemistry
and ancient mechanical devices to modern engineer-
ing developments.39 One of the more ambitious books
was the work of two men trained in British medical
To convert 101

schools, one in Hong Kong and the other in Cambridge.
I refer to the work of Wong Chimin and Ng Lean Tuck
(Wu Liande, 1879“1960) who published the History of
Chinese Medicine, in 1936. Wong Chimin from Hong
Kong wrote the historical part, while Ng Lean Tuck,
another Queen™s Scholar from Malaya, dealt with the
new developments in China to which he had made a
contribution. This book concentrated on medical hap-
penings from ancient times to the 1930s. It was a useful
attempt to link past and present, but the gap between
Chinese tradition and modern practice was glaringly
large. Neither author did more than note the unbridge-
able differences.40
About the same time, some students had come to
Cambridge to study with Joseph Needham (1900“1995)
and planted a seed in his restless and curious mind. This
was followed by an opportunity for Needham to go
to China during the war to follow up the work being
done by British-trained scientists who had returned to
China. A series of fruitful meetings with scholars from
just about every relevant discipline led to the decision
to study the history of science in China. There was no
one better to lead this research than Needham himself.
Thus began one of the most spectacular voyages of dis-
covery in Anglo-Chinese history, one of which Cam-
bridge University should rightly be proud. Without the
conversion to the new faith in science in both its nat-
ural and social forms, there would not have been the
readiness to give Needham the support and respect that
he deserved. It is an extraordinary contribution that has
earned him a place in the history of Anglo-Chinese en-
counters. Bear in mind that the backdrop is the conver-
sion that the British missionaries had failed to achieve,
102 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

which British science has now succeeded in bringing
about. The project to ¬nd “A Science Civilisation for
China”, yet to be completed, has been worthy of the
volumes devoted to it. I offer here but a brief personal
appreciation of this climax of 150 years of a complex
Joseph Needham did more than anyone to try to
discover every bit of science and technology he could
¬nd in all the Chinese texts still available, and these have
been extensively examined and interpreted in the vol-
umes of Science and Civilisation in China published so far.
He has contributed to building Chinese national pride
and a new sense of direction in modern scholarship about
Chinese civilisation. He restored pride to a generation
in China which had accepted Chinese “backwardness”
as a given “ the result of political weakness and cultural
stagnation and decay “ in a China which it was thought
that only modern science could save.
He believed that civilisation was a product of mil-
lennia of human effort, and all peoples and areas of the
world had contributed to scienti¬c progress. The even-
tual rise of modern science in Europe was the result of
many streams and tributaries ¬‚owing into it from many
other parts of the world. The varieties of premodern or
proto-science show that a science civilisation could have
existed prior to the explosive developments of the past
three centuries. This is not to say that Chinese civili-
sation was indisputably a scienti¬c one. But Needham™s
work suggests that, in the world of the natural sciences,
it is conceivable for all past civilisations to become one
global civilisation.
I shall not deal with Needham™s thoughts on Chinese
civilisation. He clearly thought that its philosophy
To convert 103

was holistic and organismic and discouraged analytical
thought, that the authoritarianism of both the family
and state systems limited knowledge collaboration and
“technology transfer”, and that its examination-based
bureaucracy looked down on the discoveries of peas-
ants and artisans. These were relevant factors in China™s
so-called scienti¬c “inertia” or “stagnation”. Of course,
we now know that there were numerous texts offering
solutions in mathematics, astronomical observations and
calculations, agricultural tools and techniques, alchem-
ical “experiments”, the discovery of gunpowder, the
development of printing, mechanisms in the “heavenly
clock”. Nevertheless, his question, “Why did China not
develop modern science?”, was worth asking because
it re¬ned the concept of science for different periods of
history and revealed the richness of phenomena that have
illuminated the place of science in Chinese civilisation.41
Following the uni¬cation of China in 1949, there
was a new con¬dence in Beijing. When the Academy
of Science was founded under the presidency of a poet,
historian and ideologue, all knowledge was included
under Science. Many writings in China began to speak
of three or four thousand years of “China™s glorious sci-
enti¬c and cultural achievements”. What made this in-
teresting was that, for most of the hundred years before
1949, Chinese scholars had thought the opposite. No
one had claimed that the Chinese people had developed
science, only that Chinese civilisation had declined dras-
tically because it had none. What China needed urgently,
they thought, was scienti¬c education. With the victory
of Marxist ideologues in 1949, those who subscribed to
the view that all knowledge was scienti¬c deemed the
problem to have been solved. Needham™s achievements
104 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

have to be seen in this context. Although he was not the
¬rst to study early artifacts and documents in search of
Chinese science, he was the ¬rst to take a comprehensive
view. He had stimulated new ideas about the nature of
Chinese civilisation and forced people to ask questions
that no one had cared to ask before.
In this context, one may ask, will Chinese civil-
isation end up as one of the many national cultural
manifestations of a single global civilisation? Will there
be something like a science civilisation with Chinese
characteristics? Can the essence of China™s ancient civil-
isation survive, still as Chinese civilisation, but now
strongly bolstered by keji (the favourite phrase meaning
science and technology)? It is no accident that there has
been renewed interest in China in the idea of “Chinese
learning as foundation and Western learning for appli-
cation”. This again puts the emphasis on science as a
method, an instrument, and the means to master the
secrets of advanced technology in order to gain national
wealth and power.
Needham was himself clear that modern “mathemati-
cised natural science” demands a total commitment to a
philosophical position about the nature of the universe.
His efforts to ¬nd this science in Chinese civilisation
were largely to suggest that China, despite its distance
from the most recent scienti¬c discoveries, was always
part of world history. The progress of premodern sci-
ence in China might have been obstructed by political
institutions and local cultural values, but the capacity for
science was clear in what the Chinese have been able to
produce over the centuries. If a science civilisation for
China is a legitimate claim, then that would be some-
thing all Chinese can identify with and be proud of.
To convert 105

In the context of Anglo-Chinese encounters, is con-
version to science a lucky escape for the Chinese
from conversion to Christianity? It depends on how
science was understood. There were at least three main
approaches, the ¬rst being the most accessible and
popular among the Chinese of the twentieth century.
This stemmed from the view that keji, science as hard
knowledge supportive of technology, forms the foun-
dation of a modern country™s wealth and power. This
view became the core of a new Chinese secularism.
The second approach was more likely to prevail among
scholars and intellectuals. For many of them, science was
seen primarily as a magni¬cent methodology for study, as
a sharp instrument that brought clarity and curiosity. But
there was also a third dimension, found more in the West
than in China. Here science became a source of faith
that led its believers to marvel at God™s work on earth.
There have been Europeans and Americans whose faith
in Christianity was either unaffected by their study of
science or was strengthened by it. Such believers are also
found among the Chinese overseas, particularly among
the local-born of second and third generation settlers,
but few scientists on Mainland China are known to have
turned to organised religion. Nevertheless, if people feel
that economic success and rapid social change did little
to meet their spiritual needs, the worship of science may
produce new faiths. Once science no longer stands in the
way of personal faith, new impulses for conversion could
emerge. That faith may not be chalked up as Christian
missionary success, but who can say that a conversion to
science may not seed conversions of other kinds?
No conversion is ever ideal or wholly positive if taken
to excess. It is ironic that science could be incompletely
106 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

learned and the excesses of “scienti¬c” socialism led Mao
Zedong, with his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolu-
tion, back to the horrors of an obscurantist secular wor-
ship of a sage-leader. No Christian conversion should
mean a return to superstition (mixin). Certainly, a blind
faith in science is no protection against a blind faith in
wealth and political power. The road to that power takes
me to my next chapter. This is one that focuses on the
fourth on Arthur Waley™s list, “to rule”.
5 “To rule”
In the last chapter, I noted that the Chinese elites were
invited to consider a Christian idea of Heaven and the
spiritual life it promised, but they were attracted instead
to the science that would explain the mysteries in Nature
and teach them how to master the resources of Earth.
In the Chinese scheme of things, a separation of the
three concepts of Heaven, Earth and Man was clearly
recognised. This was in contrast to the dualities more
familiar in the West, for example, between darkness and
light, between body and soul, between what was God™s
and what was Caesar™s. The Chinese realms of Heaven,
Earth and Man re¬‚ected the three stages of life that the
elites were trained to face and these found expression
through the teachings of Buddhism, Taoism and Confu-
cianism. In that context, Christianity at its most spiritual
competed with Buddhist metaphysics but most Chinese
thought that Christian doctrines did not offer them any-
thing as rational, and some found Christian practices
hard to distinguish from features of popular Buddhism,
which Christians described as superstition. Science, on
the other hand, enriched areas of knowledge on Earth
that the Chinese did not have. The ends and means of
this science are distinctively secular but, for the Chinese
who had no experience of the tensions created by the
108 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

separation of Church and State, this was not a prob-
lem. Their Confucian elites, in particular, were educated
to emphasise this world and offered no promises about
the next. Thus, while they retained their own images
of Heaven, they and those they taught and trained for
public service willingly received what illuminated their
“To rule”, the subject of this chapter, challenged the
Chinese at the third level, the realm of Man. The core
of this realm was the way humans were organised and
governed. At its heart was the nature of power, how it
translated into authority and legitimacy, how it was used
or abused. Given the underpinnings of a strong system
of governance for over 2,000 years, Chinese elites were
not convinced that the militarily powerful British could
offer them a system of governance superior to what they
had inherited. The social and political norms that they
favoured had largely survived the initial impact of de-
feat by the British in the nineteenth century. The life
of Confucian service to the emperor-state, at least in
theory, remained one of secular learning. This emphasis
on learning began from childhood and was to last a life-
time. There were obvious limitations to such a heritage
and many kept themselves sane and healthy by mastering
Taoist bodily practices. When the time came for them
to leave public service, the weary functionaries prepared
themselves for the next life, turned to the Buddhist
sutras, some composing themselves not so much for
nirvana as for a Chinese ancestorhood.1
In today™s terms, in answer to the stresses of manag-
ing industrialisation and urban living in a China rapidly
transforming itself, some Chinese seem to be seeking
the meaning of Man™s place between Heaven and Earth.
To rule 109

After decades of debunking all religions as superstition,
the Communist Party has come to realise how strong and
pervasive people™s spiritual needs are. They now recog-
nise the legitimacy of established religions and custom-
ary practices among Han Chinese and certain minority
groups. Those of¬cially registered include Buddhism,
Taoism, Christianity and Islam. As in the imperial past,
the present leaders have con¬ned religious practice to
private worship within approved faiths that clearly ac-
cept secular authority and could not serve as sources
of political rebellion. Some Chinese are unwilling to
be so restricted, and they have turned to various cults
and unorthodox religions, including the newly invented
practices of Falungong, a new brew of ideas drawn from
Buddhism, Taoism and general science. The state has as-
serted that this falls within the realm of Man where the
right to rule is central, and the government in Beijing has
so far refused to allow these practices to be legitimised.2
For Chinese elites over the centuries, it was in this
realm of Man that their Confucian upbringing had pre-
pared them to rule, that is, for dutiful service and political
life. After 1911, given a largely incomprehensible repub-
lican framework that was described as one that would
serve the interests of the majority, a ¬erce contest arose
about how the new elites should actually rule. Where
ideals and models from the outside world were con-
cerned, they were faced with many choices. They could
prepare themselves to rule China in the way countries in
the West were ruled. They could sift through the many
constitutional and political forms offered by the Great
Powers and decide which to follow. By the end of the
First World War, the British system of rule was perceived
as reliable but conservative, the French and American
110 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

models as more progressive and, after the Bolshevik rev-
olution, especially in the eyes of the young, the Soviet
Russian experiments as the most radical. They could also
pick and choose among the several models, borrowing
only those bits which could be ¬tted into their own tra-
ditions of governance, that is, taking only enough of each
to help them shape a new modern state. Underlying the
explorations of all these alternatives, with ¬erce debates
among a new generation of intellectuals and students,
was an anxious impatience to ¬nd formulas that would,
as quickly as possible, restore China to the position of
respect it had always had and bring back to it wealth and
Arthur Waley™s four words captured the British mix
of offerings to the Chinese rather accurately. Three out
of the four, to ¬ght, to trade and to rule, were worldly
in ways that both the British and the Chinese could
understand. Only one, “to convert”, was an important
part of the British psyche but not for the Chinese. It had
to be given its rightful place by British of¬cials, mer-
chants and sailors who were pious about their religion,
but it was never seen as equal with the other three, cer-
tainly not as equal as “Christians and spices” were for the
Portuguese adventurers during an earlier era. Religion
was quietly subordinated to the secular needs of empire.
And, even this British vision of Heaven was translated
by the Chinese into a secular response, a conversion to
the science of Earth. As for the secular areas, how to rule
was the central question for the educated elites.
To deal with this issue, I ask the following questions:
What did the British have to offer the Chinese? What
kinds of British rule did the Chinese actually experience?
To rule 111

And, what did the Chinese learn? For each of the ques-
tions, I shall also consider some of the alternatives avail-
able to the Chinese so that we might see where and why
the British way prevailed in some cases and not in others.
Unlike with trade or with ¬ghting, and unlike the
conversion to science, what the British had to offer the
Chinese where ruling was concerned was always indi-
rect or peripheral. What was indirect was the knowledge
gathered about the British system of government in the
prime, if not unique, example of a nation-state that be-
came the world™s largest empire. Chinese mandarins had
heard distantly of what the British were doing in India
by the end of the eighteenth century.3 During the next
few decades, news had ¬ltered through to them from
the ¬rst Chinese to experience British administration in
Penang, Malacca and Singapore, and the record there
was positive. Then, with the opening of China, both in
Hong Kong and the Treaty Ports, more Chinese came
in contact with British of¬cials operating through their
laws and institutions. But these experiences, like those
of the Chinese sojourners in British colonies in Malaya,
would have to be described as peripheral in several senses
of the word. They were irrelevant to the workings of
the mandarinate at the Qing imperial court where real
power still lay. They were only marginally important for
the duties and careers of the Chinese provincial and local
of¬cials who had to deal with the British functionaries
from time to time. Even for those Chinese people who
chose to live under their informal or partial jurisdiction,
direct contact with British systems of law and admin-
istration were rare. Only some entrepreneurial Chinese
and a few specially assigned of¬cials could be said to be
112 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

regularly in touch with the machinery of British-type
government on the China coast.
Nevertheless, the British did offer distinct principles
of a kind of governance, notably in Shanghai, the fastest
growing of the Treaty Ports.4 But the institutions there
were unique, largely an amalgam of practical methods of
urban management under an evolving oligarchic struc-
ture of British businessmen assisted by some Americans
in the International Settlement (later joined by one or
two Japanese). The French in their settlement next door
offered alternative programs of development in their sec-
tors of control and provided interesting comparisons.
Neither offered new ideas about modern governance
that the Chinese could adapt for the use of the empire-
state, certainly not for the mandarins who were still con-
¬dent of the soundness of their own political system,
at least before 1911. After the fall of the Qing dynasty,
younger activists did learn about aspects of accountability
and power sharing that were not found in the Chinese
tradition. This awareness crept into the critiques that
they devised to challenge the incompetent republican
governments in Beijing during the 1912“1928 period.
Enriched with more radical republican ideals taken from
the French, American and Soviet Russian revolutions,
new slogans were then used by various dissident groups
to harass the Nanjing government of the Guomindang
party that succeeded the warlords in 1928“1949.
The appointment of Robert Hart in 1863 to head the
Imperial Maritime Customs at Shanghai and then as its
Inspector-General in Beijing might have provided ex-
amples of relative honesty and ef¬ciency that impressed
court and provincial of¬cials alike.5 The fact that he re-
mained in charge of the Customs Service for over forty
To rule 113

years and enabled the revenues collected to help ¬nance
modern arsenals, industries and translation bureaus not
only shows how he was trusted but also what impact the
service had on certain areas of late Qing government.
Again, no larger principles of how to rule were trans-
mitted to the Chinese elites, only a general agreement
that, beyond obvious naval and technological skills and
in areas like urban order and ¬nancial control, the British
did have something modern and valuable for the Chinese
to learn. There was certainly no thought of replacing the
ramshackle remains of the Qing bureaucracy with the
modernising structures operating in Britain. What was
at stake was the totality of the political system, the ideas
and institutions that would underpin a new centralised
government for republican China. Unlike the Japanese
leaders, who could reform an administration under an
emperor system that was intact, the Chinese thought
that they had to start afresh. Thus the republican model
remained mystifying for another decade.
For almost ¬fty years until the 1920s, the idea of
a constitutional monarchy with a representative parlia-
ment largely consisting of two major political parties
chosen by the people was still intriguing to a whole
range of reformers. Knowledge of British political prac-
tices had begun to reach China through the reports, not
always favourable, of ambassadors to Britain like Guo
Songdao (1818“1891), Zeng Jize (1839“1890) and Xue
Fucheng (1838“1894). They were at times concurrently
ministers to France, Belgium and Italy and provided
comments on various European systems of government
that contributed to Chinese understanding of the in-
stitutions of Victorian England.6 This was not always
appreciated at a time when there was a growing reaction
114 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

by conservative mandarin critics of the seemingly pro-
Western reforms advocated by those who were mem-
bers of the so-called Self-Strengthening Movement. For
them, their sacred duty was still to try and reinvigorate
traditional principles of government.
At another level, among the of¬cials and literati out-
side the court, there was greater interest in the transla-
tions of books on British and European history. Such
books were read in the 1880s and 1890s by, for ex-
ample, young scholars like K™ang Youwei (1858“1927)
and his contemporaries. These men sought to reform
the Qing empire by comparing the British model with
those of Japan under Meiji, Russia under Peter the Great,
and Prussia under Bismarck. The even younger Liang
Qichao stimulated a group of thinkers and politicians
to study the British way through his popular essays, and
many of them were persuaded that something like re-
sponsible and democratic government would be good
for China.7 As for Yan Fu, the former naval student who
had studied contemporary British social thought more
successfully than the secrets of British maritime power
when he was in England, he introduced a representa-
tive selection of British ideas that in¬‚uenced a whole
generation of young Chinese. Although Yan Fu might
not have presented all the nuances of such a richness of
ideas, his quali¬ed admiration of the wealth and power-
creating capabilities of the British system of government
drew the approval of all those who read him.8 What,
then, prevented the Chinese elites and their followers
from going further and adopting some of the ideals and
methods of British rule?
I do not think that the Chinese rejected the British
model because of the bitter memories of the Opium
To rule 115

War and the imperial record of British dominance and
interference in Chinese affairs. The more likely reason is
that the new nationalism propagated by Sun Yat-sen and
his ardent followers did not allow the rebels and revolu-
tionaries to accept a constitutional monarchy headed by a
Manchu emperor and dominated by Manchu aristocrats.
The Confucian commitment of loyalty to the system had
been seriously diluted with the decline of the Qing em-
pire. The idea of nation, or race, had become appealing,
not least because many more Chinese were impressed by
the national success of a country like Britain. Only the
staunchest and most orthodox Confucians could have
contemplated a monarchy that was not headed by a Han
Chinese dynasty, and there were no obvious Han pre-
tenders to the Chinese throne. The Manchus would not
be acceptable because they were still regarded by many
as a symbol of alien conquest that patriotic Chinese had
to abjure.
Thus the nationalists rejected the monarchy and took
the ¬rst step away from the British model to seek inspi-
ration in the French and American republics. The em-
phasis shifted from merely reforming and strengthening
the imperial system to replacing it altogether with a re-
publican road to some kind of populist democracy. No
one had any idea how this could be achieved in China.
It certainly could not be done without violence. In any
case, a violent overthrow of a decadent regime was very
much in keeping with the heritage of political China.
Once the cause of republican revolution was adopted,
it was concluded that violence was unavoidable, as with
the French and American revolutions. The British, with
their monarchical system and a commitment to law and
order as the foundations of pro¬table trade, could not be
116 Anglo-Chinese Encounters

expected to approve of this or to help. Nor, of course,
could the Japanese with their Meiji emperor system, nor
the Germans with their Kaiser before 1918. When, after
only two years in of¬ce, President Yuan Shikai asked his
advisers in 1914 how to establish a stable government, it
was ironic that an American political science professor
should suggest that the president return to a monarchical
system. Yuan Shikai took that advice and announced that
he would proclaim himself emperor of China. He was
totally surprised by the vehemence with which most
educated Chinese rejected that course of action. It is
uncertain whether this was mainly because of the un-
savoury reputation of Yuan Shikai himself, or due to the
¬erce rivalries between various groups of warlords and
revolutionaries. The rejection could have been a symp-
tom of a Chinese act of “conversion” that made them
ready to leap into the unknown. The dramatic and deci-
sive act of choice could also have been a combination of
all three of the reasons above.9 But, whatever the reason,
it was clear that there was no turning back to a reformed
or reconstituted monarchy.
The new republic then looked for models in the
United States and France. But with France equally im-
plicated with Britain as imperialists in China, the Amer-
icans seemed to offer an acceptable modern alternative
as an improved version of the traditional British model.
The United States was also an example of a new nation-
state, one that was perceived as already doing better
than Britain and France. Furthermore, it was gaining
in wealth and power without practising old-style impe-
rialism at China™s expense. Most of all, as a democratic
republic free from the European entanglements that en-
feebled both Britain and France during the First World
To rule 117

War, the American model became for some Chinese
leaders a better model for the future. It appealed spe-
cially to those who were impatient to ¬nd a new for-
mula for power, those who wanted a quicker way to


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