chapter  3
22 Pages

Anglo- Japanese relations and treaty port China: the case of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service


In China’s nineteenth century the British Empire figured most prominently in the Qing state’s encounter with overseas power. This is equally the case in terms of the projection of British power into China itself, and in terms of the experience of Chinese people in Southeast Asia. Some of these encounters were already underway before the mid-century wars that led to the establishment of the treaty ports. However, the development of new European communities in Chinese cities brought the ‘foreign’ home in ways that provided opportunity and trouble in equal measure. It also brought the British and their collaborators to China, to work in the treaty ports, in Chinese government service, and as missionaries. The culture which developed among foreign residents in China was dominated by the English language and by British ways, which were aped by all. And while there was no British grand colonial design, and no plan of attack, the Union flag flew high nonetheless in Shanghai, Tianjin, Hankou, on the Yangzi, in Burma, Hong Kong and in Tibet. This chapter first sketches out the ways in which British power was projected into China, and then looks at how the interpolation of Japan into the China concert of the powers after 1900 undid one key sector of the British presence: the Chinese Maritime Customs Service. There are echoes of changes and challenges elsewhere – in such treaty port administrations as the Shanghai Municipal Council for example, although there is a key difference: whereas the Council ran a semi-autonomous private statelet, the International Settlement, the Chinese Maritime Customs Service was an agency of the Chinese state. British and Japanese interests met in such grey zones of interaction – leased territories, spheres of influence in Manchuria and the lower Yangzi, the seized German naval colony at Qingdao, and the international settlements: areas in which Chinese sovereignty was compromised to varying degrees. The Customs Service was one such.