First Advisor

Ann Weikel

Date of Publication


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Master of Arts (M.A.) in History





Physical Description

1 online resource (3, 158 p.)


Few historians have examined the portrayals of China by British writers during the nineteenth century. Although Britain lead all other western powers in the penetration, exploration and exploitation of the Chinese Empire during the nineteenth century, British perceptions of China, particularly during the critical final decades of the century, have only been presented as small parts of larger comprehensive surveys of western images of China. Historians agree that as a result of Britain's active role in China, British writers were the leading transmitters of information about China to the West, especially after the formal 'opening' of China by treaty after 1860. However, no one has adequately addressed the question of what information was available to the British reading public during the period from 1860 to 1900. As source material for their conclusions about British perceptions of the Chinese, historians have relied exclusively on a small number of books about China published in the late nineteenth century. They have overlooked the tremendous amount of source material available in British magazines and newspapers from the late nineteenth century. The periodical and newspaper press was the leading source of information for nineteenth century British readers. Therefore, a complete examination of British perceptions of China requires some examination of this material. A survey of more than 200 articles in British magazines and journals from the period 1860 to 1900, revealed three major themes in the presentation of China to the late nineteenth century reading public. Two of these themes, the alien and incomprehensible nature of China and China' s refusal to modernize, have been discussed by other historians. While the books that they used as source material did reveal the negative aspects of these themes, the periodical press better demonstrates the relentlessly hostile presentation of information about China, the constant repetition of a narrow range of topics dealing with China and further, the subtle shift of writers' attitudes against China on an issue such as modernization. While the character of individual Chinese was not a major issue in the few books that historians of the period have examined, it emerged as a major theme in many articles published in the late nineteenth century. Finally, an examination of news reporting from China in the Times of London revealed the persistence of negative portrayals of China year after year. British hostility toward China was most clearly demonstrated through the course of regular Times coverage of events from China. The negative imagery remained consistent despite improving communications between Britain and China and despite the steadily increasing volume of information reaching Britain from China.


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