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Title: The Opium War, overlapping empires, and China's water borders
Author: Luk, Gary Chi-hung
ISNI:       0000 0004 6496 0772
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2016
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This thesis explains the relationships between the British Expedition to China, the Qing state, and the Chinese maritime and river population during the Opium War (1839-1842). Drawing on scholarship on borderlands and frontiers as well as a variety of textual and visual sources, the thesis argues that the Opium War transformed vast coastal and waterway regions in Guangdong, Fujian, Zhejiang, and Jiangsu provinces into what can be conceptualized as "water borders." These water borders were initially characterized by the existence of the Qing Empire's sea frontier, where the Qing rulers, with the "inner-outer paradigm" in mind, strove to maintain control over those labeled as "outer barbarians," "Han evildoers," "villainous fishers," and the "Dan." The rise of a British wartime frontier in China and its adverse effects on local transportation as well as Chinese regional and international trade, however, destabilized southeast China's socioeconomic order. With the Qing forces weakened, Chinese piracy was unleashed, and given limited British naval power, there was an absence of any militarily hegemonic power in southeast China's waters. The British occupation and naval blockade, moreover, resulted in the emergence of overlaps and interstices of the Qing and British empires. On the one hand, the British Expedition and the Qing state conflicted over managing Chinese merchant craft and their trade. On the other hand, subject to neither Qing nor British control, many Chinese people living along the coast and rivers took advantage of the wartime opportunities and expanded their activities and networks to fissures of Qing control and the newly opened interstitial space. The thesis engages with Opium War studies by 're-reorienting' the war toward the coast and revealing the war's three "inner" aspects, namely the Qing efforts to "tame" the sea frontier, British rule in wartime China, and the Qing-British conflicts over controlling Chinese littoral people. The thesis, moreover, contributes to scholarship on late imperial and modern Chinese littoral societies. It argues that while the war marked the beginning of an unprecedented-scale interaction of Chinese coastal and riverine people with Westerners in China, the evolution of Chinese littoral societies during the war was in fact a continuation of the preceding centuries. The Opium War, the thesis argues, brought about one of the most dramatic political-social upheavals in late imperial littoral China. Furthermore, the thesis revisits British imperialism in late imperial and modern China by looking at the origins of the British "formal empire," limitations of British power, and wartime aids of the "indigenous" population for the British. The thesis also reassesses the significance of the Opium War in the history of the Qing Empire. It argues that for the Qing state, its anti-opium campaign and anti-British war in 1839-1842 constituted one of the recurrent threats on the maritime frontier for the empire's first two centuries. It also highlights some aspects of similarities and linkage of the Qing Empire's maritime and inland borders. Furthermore, the thesis reevaluates the Qing's state capacity during the Opium War and in the following years, highlighting its partial ability to control the empire's littorals. Last but not least, the water border framework constructed in the thesis serves to underscore some aspects of continuity in the political and socioeconomic development of late imperial southeast China, and to facilitate comparison between different frontiers in the Qing Empire, Southeast Asia, and beyond.
Supervisor: ter Haar, Barend Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: China--History--Opium War ; 1840-1842 ; Waterways--China ; China--Boundaries ; China--Commerce--History ; China--Foreign relations--Great Britain--History--19th century ; Great Britain--Foreign relations--China--History--19th century