China and the Modern World is a series of digital archive collections sourced from preeminent libraries and archives across the world, including the Second Historical Archives of China and the British Library. The series covers a period of about 180 years (1800s to 1980s) when China experienced radical and often traumatic transformations from an inward-looking imperial dynasty into a globally engaged republic. Consisting of monographs, manuscripts, periodicals, correspondence and letters, historical photos, ephemera, and other kinds of historical documents, these collections provide excellent primary source materials for the understanding and research of the various aspects of China during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such as diplomacy/international relations, economy/trade, politics, Christianity, sinology, education, science and technology, imperialism, and globalization. Read on for more information about some of the collections published in the series.
MISSIONARY, SINOLOGY, AND LITERARY PERIODICALS (1817-1949)
The Missionary, Sinology, and Literary Periodicals collection includes 17 English-language periodicals published in or about China during a period of over 130 years, extending from 1817 until the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. This corresponds to the periods of the late Qing Dynasty and the Republican Era (1911–1949), when China experienced the radical and often traumatic transformation from an inward-looking imperial dynasty into a globally engaged republic.
Set within the context of such major historical events as the Opium Wars, the Taiping Rebellion, the Boxer Rebellion, the Revolution of 1911, the second Sino-Japanese War, and the Chinese Civil War, these periodicals illuminate the thoughts of Chinese intellectuals and Western missionaries and diplomats about China—and, more importantly, their efforts to understand Chinese culture and transform the nation in the years before 1949. Set within the context of such major historical events as the Opium Wars, the Taiping Rebellion, the Boxer Rebellion, the Revolution of 1911, the second Sino-Japanese War, and the Chinese Civil War, these periodicals illuminate the thoughts of Chinese intellectuals and Western missionaries and diplomats about China—and, more importantly, their efforts to understand Chinese culture and transform the nation in the years before 1949.
This resource also features a significant collection of articles and photos on the founding and development of Christian higher education in China, including the establishment and growth into prominence of such institutions as Yenching University, the University of Nanking, Ginling College, Shandong Christian University, Soochow University, St. John’s University, Shanghai Baptist College, and the Canton Christian College.
Robert Morrison (1782–1834): Anglo-Scottish evangelist and the first Christian Protestant missionary in China. Morrison pioneered the translation of the Bible into Chinese and was also the co-founder of Indo-Chinese Gleaner.
Walter Henry Medhurst (1796 –1857): English Congregationalist missionary to China. He was one of the early translators of the Bible into Chinese language. He was also known as the compiler of the English and Chinese Dictionary (1848).
James Legge (1815 –1897): noted Scottish sinologist, Scottish Congregationalist, representative of the London Missionary Society in Malacca and Hong Kong (1840–1873), and first Professor of Chinese at Oxford University (1876–1897). He was best known for his monumental translation of the Chinese classics into English, including the Confucian Analects and The Works of Mencius.
Herbert Allen Giles (1845–1935): British diplomat, sinologist, and professor of Chinese language, known for his collaborative work in developing the widely known Wade–Giles Chinese Romanization system. Among his many works were translations of the Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching), the Chuang Tzu, and the first widely published Chinese-English dictionary.
Tsai Yuan-pei (蔡元培 1868–1940): Chinese educator and revolutionary who, as president of Peking University from 1916 to 1926, played a major role in the development of a new spirit of nationalism and socio-political reform in China.
Wu Lien-teh (伍連德1879–1960): Malayan-born Chinese doctor and the first medical student of Chinese descent to study at University of Cambridge. He was best known for his significant contribution to the containing of the large pneumonic plague pandemic of Manchuria and Mongolia that claimed 60,000 victims in the early twentieth century. Dr Wu was the first president of the China Medical Association (1916–1920) and directed the National Quarantine Service (1931–1937).
Lin Yu-tang (林語堂1895–1976): one of the most influential writers of his generation known for a wide variety of works in Chinese and English. He was also remembered for his bestselling translations of classic Chinese texts into English.
Wen Yuan-ning (溫源寧 1900–1984): editor of the T’ien Hsia Monthly and author of the book Imperfect Understanding (1935), a collection of vignettes of prominent Western educated Chinese intellectuals of pre-war Republican China.
- Missionary journals, as represented by The Chinese Recorder and The West China Missionary News, two of the most famous missionary periodicals published in China before 1949.
- Journals of Sinology, including pioneering sinology journal The China Review and its sequel, The New China Review. Many renowned sinologists of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries, such as James Legge and Herbert Giles, contributed articles to these journals.
- Academic and literary journals, such as the Bulletin of the Catholic University of Peking, The Yenching Journal of Social Studies, The China Critic, and T’ien Hsia Monthly. These literary journals were established and run by Chinese scholars and writers educated in the West.
Dr. Max Ko-wu Huang
Former Director and Distinguished Research Fellow, Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica
Professor David Faure
Professor of History, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Dr. Jin Yilin
Deputy Director, Institute of Modern History, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
Periodicals included in the collection
- The Chinese Recorder (教務雜誌, 1867–1941) was produced by the Protestant missionary community in China that enjoyed a run of 72 years, longer than any other English-language publication in that country. The complete set of the journal, along with its predecessor, the Missionary Recorder, is available in this collection. The journal is regarded today as one of the most valuable sources for studying the missionary movement in China and its influence on Western relations with and perceptions of the Far East.
- The West China Missionary News (華西教會新聞, 1899–1943) was established and published in Sichuan, China by the West China Missionary News Publication Committee. The journal aimed to enhance communication among missionaries based in western China and published many articles on the missionary activities in the region.
- The China Mission / Christian Year Book (中國基督教年鑑, 1910–1939) was published under an arrangement between the Christian Literature Society for China and the National Christian Council of China. It started in 1910 as The China Mission Year Book and changed its title to The China Christian Year Book in 1927. This digital version also includes The China Mission Hand-book (1896) and A Century of Protestant Missions in China (1807–1907).
- Educational Review: continuing the monthly bulletin of the Educational Association of China (教育季報, 1907–1938) was the official journal of the Educational Association of China which later changed its name to China Christian Educational Association. Founded in Shanghai in 1907, it was published first as a monthly during 1907–1912 and then as a quarterly during 1913–1938. The journal publishes minutes of the meetings of the Association and reports of affiliated local associations. There were also articles covering Christian colleges and universities founded across China.
- Canton Miscellany (廣州雜誌, 1831) was a literary journal published in Guangzhou (Canton) between May and December 1831. Anonymously edited, it targets the well-educated English elite. The last two issues contain lengthy articles on the history of Macau, the first ever to be written in English.
- Chinese Miscellany (中國雜誌, 1845–1850) was founded by Walter Henry Medhurst (1796–1857), an English Congregationalist missionary to China. The journal consists of four volumes, introducing China’s silk and tea industry, geography, manufacturing, trade, and customs.
- The Chinese and Japanese Repository (中日叢報, 1863–1865) was edited by James Summers (1828–1891), a professor of Chinese language of the University of London. The journal documents China and Japan’s often violent reactions to the presence of foreigners from a Western perspective.
- Notes and Queries on China and Japan (中日釋疑, 1867–1869) was one of the earliest sinology journals. Edited by Nicholas Belfield Dennys (1840–1900) and published in Hong Kong, it focuses on topics such as Chinese history and culture. Japan and Korea are also covered.
- The China Review: or Notes and Queries on the Far East (中國評論, 1872–1901) was arguably the first major Western sinology journal; many of the renowned sinologists of the nineteenth century contributed articles, including James Legge, Herbert A. Giles, Joseph Edkins, John Chalmers, Ernst Faber, Edward L. Oxenham, W. F. Mayers, Alexander Wylie, Edward Harper Parker, and Frederic Henry Balfour.
- The New China Review (新中國評論, 1919–1922) was established by British sinologist Samuel Couling in Shanghai in 1919, aiming to inherit the mantle of The China Review, which was discontinued in 1901. Contributors to its four volumes include such prominent sinologists as Herbert A. Giles and Edward H. Parker.
- Indo-Chinese Gleaner (印中搜聞, 1817–1822) was a quarterly journal founded by Robert Morrison (1782–1834) and William Milne (1785–1822) in Malacca in 1817. This periodical covered missionary activities, reported on the social, political, religious, military, economic, and cultural affairs of China and other Asian countries, and introduced the literature, philosophy, and history of Asian countries, especially those of China and Southeast Asia.
- Bulletin of the Catholic University of Peking (輔仁英文學志, 1926–1934) was founded in September 1926 and published a total of nine volumes. Each volume contains articles on the university’s developments and achievements, as well as sections devoted to the study of Chinese culture. It ceased publication in November 1934 and gave way to a purely academic journal titled Monumenta Serica.
- The Yenching Journal of Social Studies (燕京社會學界, 1938–1950) was founded in June 1938 and published semi-annually. This journal, which ceased publication in 1950 after releasing the first part of Volume five, provides significant research materials on the history of social studies in China during the Republican period (1911–1949).
- The China Quarterly (英文中國季刊, 1935–1941), founded and run jointly by the China Institute of International Relations, the Pan-Pacific Association of China, and the Institute of Social and Economic Research, was an authoritative journal discussing topics on China’s internal and external affairs. The journal had a stellar editorial and contributor team, including such prominent scholars as Tsai Yuan-pei (蔡元培), Chungshu Kwei (桂中樞), Wu Lien-teh (伍連德), John Benjamin Powell, Hollington Tong (董顕光), and Lin Yu-tang (林語堂).
- T’ien Hsia Monthly (天下月刊, 1935–1941) was published under the auspices of the Sun Yat-sen Institute for the Advancement of Culture and Education. Editors included John C. H. Wu, Wen Yuan-ning, Lin Yu-tang, and others. This cultural and literary journal was dedicated to introducing and interpreting Chinese literature and art for the West and promoting understanding between East and West.
- The China Critic (中國評論週報, 1928–1946) was a weekly founded on 31 May 1928 by a group of Chinese intellectuals who had studied in the United States. Despite the editors’ avowed preference for “nonpolitical” discourse, The Critic’s editorials and articles frequently discussed the presence of imperialism in Shanghai, debated the abolition of extraterritoriality, and advocated equal access to public facilities in the concessions. The editors also participated in wider-ranging discussions about urban affairs.
- The China Year Book (中華年鑑, 1912–1939) was edited by British journalist and publisher H.G.W. Woodhead (1883–1959) with H.T.M. Bell to provide information on China for Westerners. It was published from 1912 to 1939, incorporating documents related to each year’s events in China. Woodhead was the editor of the Peking and Tientsin Times from 1914 to 1930 before moving to Shanghai to write for the Shanghai Evening Post and Mercury and later edit his own journal, Oriental Affairs.
RECORDS OF THE MARITIME CUSTOMS SERVICE OF CHINA 1854-1949
Records of the Maritime Customs Service of China 1854–1949 provides an excellent primary source collection for the study of China and its relations with the Imperial West in the late Qing and Republican periods. The records included in this collection—official correspondence, despatches, reports, memoranda, and private and confidential letters—constitute invaluable and often unique evidence of Chinese life, the economy and politics through the Taiping Rebellion, the Boxer Rebellion, the Revolution of 1911, the May 30 Movement, the two Sino-Japanese Wars, and the Chinese Civil War.
The Maritime Customs Service of China (MCS) was an international, although predominantly British-staffed bureaucracy (at senior levels) under the control of successive Chinese central governments from its founding in 1854 until January 1950. It was one of the most important institutions in China during this period, and was at the heart of Chinese trade, communications and international affairs. It was also the only bureaucracy in modern China which functioned uninterrupted throughout all the upheavals between 1854 and the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.
The records of the Maritime Customs Service of China are in manuscript form (scanned from microfilm) and are arranged into seven parts:
Part One: Inspector General’s Circulars
- Official Circulars
- Semi-Official Circulars
- Other Series, Drafts and Miscellaneous
Part Two: London Office Files
- Dispatch Registers
- Letter Books
- Semi-Official Correspondence
- Confidential, Private, and Personal Correspondence
- Telegrams and Memoranda
- History of the London Office
Part Three: Semi-Official Correspondence with Selected Ports
- Semi-Official Correspondence from Shanghai
- Semi-Official Correspondence from Swatow
- Semi-Official Correspondence from Hankow
- Semi-Official Correspondence from Harbin
Parts Four and Five: The Policing of Trade
- River Police
- Inspector General’s Confidential Correspondence with Kuan-wu Shu
- Preventive Service
- Takeover of Native Customs
- Smuggling Reports
- Opium: Regulations and General
- Chief Inspection Bureau
Parts Six and Seven: The Second Sino-Japanese War and its Aftermath
- Outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War
- Customs Leadership in Wartime and Revolution
- Kishimoto Hirokichi
- Chungking and the Chungking Inspectorate, 1941-1945
- Planning for Peace and Resuming Functions in Post-War China
- Wartime Consumption Tax
DIPLOMACY AND POLITICAL SECRETS (1869-1950)
Diplomacy and Political Secrets (1869-1950) comprises a compilation of 4,204 rare China-related historical documents carefully selected from three series within the India Office Records now held at the British library: the Political and Secret Department Records, the Burma Office records, and the Records of the Military Department. These documents consist of manuscripts and monographs in the form of reports, memoranda, correspondence, pamphlets and official publications, intelligence diaries, accounts of political and scientific expeditions, travel diaries, handbooks and maps. Together they reflect the security concerns of British India. The frontier regions of China bordering British India were considered of strategic importance. This is why a large amount of material coming from Xinjiang (Chinese Turkestan), Tibet, and Yunnan was collected by the Political and Secret Department of the India Office, Military Department, and the Burma Office.
These records also exhibit the British India Office’s interest in China’s developments in various aspects after 1910, and the cooperation between China and Britain during WWII. Included also are official accounts of border disputes and negotiations involving China, India, Britain, Tibet, Xinjiang, Burma, Russia (later Soviet Union), Pakistan, and some other Central Asian countries. Military operations such as those during the Boxer Rebellion are also covered.
The collection is arranged in 3 parts:
- Political and Secret Department Records (1869–c1950)
- Burma Office Records (1933–1948)
- Records of the Military Department (1878–1946)
What Are the India Office Records?
The East India Company was founded in 1600 and received a monopoly on trade with all countries east of the Cape of Good Hope and west of the Straits of Magellan (mainly China and India). It transformed in the eighteenth century into a major territorial power that ruled large areas of India with its own private armies, exercising military power and assuming administrative functions, with its headquarters in Calcutta.
The British government established the Board of Control in London in 1784 to exercise supervision over the Company’s Indian policies. Later, with the passage of the Acts of Parliament of 1813 and 1833, the Company lost its monopoly over the British trade with India and China. As a result, the Company withdrew completely from its commercial functions.
With the India Act of 1858, the Company and the Board of Control were replaced by a single new department of state, the India Office. The office functioned, under the Secretary of State for India, as an executive office of UK government alongside the Foreign Office, Colonial Office, Home Office, and War Office. The India Office inherited from the East India Company and the Board of Control all the executive functions and all the powers of “superintendence, direction and control” over the British Government in India.
The constitutional reforms initiated during the World War I and the India Acts of 1919 and 1935 led to a significant relaxation of India Office supervision over the Government of India, and a gradual devolution of authority to legislative bodies and local governments. The same reforms also led in 1937 to the separation of Burma from India and the creation in London of the Burma Office, separate from the India Office though sharing the same Secretary of State and located in the same building.
With the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947 and Burma in 1948, both the India Office and the Burma Office were dissolved.
The India Office Records are the repository of the archives of the East India Company (1600–1858), the Board of Control or Board of Commissioners for the Affairs of British India (1784–1858), the India Office (1858–1947), the Burma Office (1937–1948), and a number of related British agencies overseas which were officially linked with one or other of the four main bodies. The focus of the India Office Records is in the territories mainly that today include Central Asia, the Middle East, regions of Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia and their administration before 1947.
HONG KONG, BRITAIN AND CHINA (1841-1951)
Hong Kong, Britain and China 1841–1951 presents a collection of British government documents on colonial Hong Kong, spanning a period of over a century. Digitized from the British Colonial Office records grouped under the CO 129 Series titled “War and Colonial Department and Colonial Office: Hong Kong, Original Correspondence,” the collection consists of despatches and correspondence between the governors of Hong Kong and the Colonial Office, as well as letters and telegrams of other government departments and organizations such as the Foreign Office, Home Office, and War Offices. In the form of bound volumes, these records were arranged chronologically till 1926 when arrangement by subject files was introduced. Each volume comes with a contents list, or a précis of each letter giving the name of correspondent, date of letter and subject matter.
This collection of British Colonial office correspondence on colonial Hong Kong provides detailed and valuable information on the political, military, social, economic, and external development of Hong Kong. It also sheds light on the British Empire in Asia, China’s transformation from empire to republic, mainland China-Hong Kong relations, and the international politics of East Asia.
Chronologically, the collection can be divided into four periods, according to Professor John Carroll from the University of Hong Kong:
Foundations (1840s–late 1800s)
The files for the early decades reveal that these were exciting yet uncertain times. Disease and piracy were rampant. Despite its fine harbour, Hong Kong was slow to become the great commercial “mart” or “emporium” envisioned by its colonial founders. Despatches from early governors such as John Francis Davis and John Bowring vividly betray this uncertainty and lack of confidence.
Other files show how early-colonial Hong Kong worked economically and politically. We learn about the opium and “coolie” trades (the twin pillars of Hong Kong’s economy) and about how land lots were allocated—at public auctions and sometimes as rewards to Chinese who had collaborated with the British during the Opium War and in building the infant colony. Likewise, the collection shows how monopolies for opium and other commodities were acquired. Correspondence throughout this period discusses piracy and the joint Anglo-Chinese efforts to suppress it.
Included here are discussions of racial discrimination and segregation, including through clubs such as the exclusive Hong Kong Club (香港會) and through the various residential ordinances of the late 1800s and early 1900s. These files also help us understand the emergence and perpetuation of a local Chinese elite, with the establishment of voluntary associations such as the Man Mo Temple (文武廟), Tung Wah Hospital (東華醫院), and Po Leung Kuk (保良局), and social organizations such as the Chinese Club (華商會所) and the Chinese Recreation Club (中華游樂會). We also learn that within only years after Hong Kong became a Crown Colony, Chinese and European residents learned to join forces occasionally, as they did in February 1848 to petition the colonial government about the payment of ground rents.
The files contain important details about governance and the administration of justice, including John Davis’s short-lived “native Chinese Peace Officers” scheme, Governor Richard MacDonnell’s draconian “great experiment” to lower the crime rate and reduce the number of prisoners, and his successor John Pope Hennessy’s efforts to modernize Hong Kong’s penal system and to reduce racial discrimination and segregation.
Revolution and Reform in China (1890s-early 1900s)
The collection is immensely useful for understanding China’s revolutionary movement that began in the late 1800s. The correspondence included shows how Hong Kong helped facilitate the activities of Sun Yat-sen and other revolutionaries. It also reveals the concerns of the Hong Kong and British governments that the colony not become a base for subversion, even while some local authorities supported the revolutionary movement. Here we find Governor William Robinson’s famous order of March 1896 banishing Sun from Hong Kong for five years, as well as details about reformer Kang Youwei’s stay in the colony after the aborted Hundred Days of Reform in 1898.
The Interwar Years (1920s–late 1930s)
The files for this period are particularly useful to scholars of British “new imperialism” and modern Chinese history. They reveal Britain’s new commitment to expanding public works, including not only road works and reservoirs, but hospitals and teacher-training colleges. They also shed light on the mui tsai (妹仔, female bondservant) controversy of the 1920s and 1930s, which became one of the most intense and protracted disputes in British colonial policy and involved even Winston Churchill.
This collection includes invaluable information on the strikes of the 1920s, especially the general strike-boycott of 1925–1926. Inspired by developments in mainland China, especially the rise of nationalism and labour consciousness, these strikes remind us how the history of Hong Kong has always been intertwined with that of China’s. They also reveal tensions among the British Foreign Office, the Colonial Office, and the Hong Kong government about British policy towards China, as the Colonial Office and the Hong Kong government sometimes worried that the Foreign Office was more concerned about relations with China than about tiny Hong Kong.
War, Reconstruction, and Revolution (1940s–1951)
Although regular correspondence between Hong Kong and London ceased during the Japanese occupation from December 1941 to summer 1945, this collection includes discussions about defense plans for a possible invasion, including the 1940 evacuation of British women and children to Australia. These files are of great value to scholars of British migration. Correspondence from the immediate postwar years provides insight into the Japanese occupation, including the activities of Chinese and Eurasian business and community leaders during the war. Also included in this correspondence are plans for reconstruction and rebuilding Hong Kong, and concerns about the Chinese civil war and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.
Especially useful here are Governor Mark Young’s proposals for localization and municipal form (the so-called Young Plan), the British government’s initial endorsement of the proposal, Governor Alexander Grantham’s and the local British and Chinese business elites’ lack of support, and finally the abandonment of what would have been the most innovative political reforms in Hong Kong’s colonial history.
This collection ends in 1951 during the Korean War, with the files revealing local worries about how the war, and the larger US-China conflict, might affect Hong Kong, the so-called “reluctant cold warrior” eager not to jeopardize relations with its giant neighbour.
A Brief History of Hong Kong
1841-2: Hong Kong becomes a British colony. Formally ceded by China to Britain in accordance with the Treaty of Nanking signed between the British and Qing Chinese Imperial governments following the first Opium War.
1860: The Kowloon peninsula is ceded to Britain as part of the Convention of Peking following the second Opium War.
1898: The New Territories are leased to Britain for 99 years by the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory signed in June 1898.
1925-26: The Canton-Hong Kong strike sees strong anti-British sentiments and a massive Chinese migration away from Hong Kong, seriously damaging the economy of the colony.
1937: Hong Kong declared a neutral zone at the onset of the Second Sino-Japanese War.
1940: All British women and children evacuated from the territory as global conflicts spread.
1941-1945: Hong Kong is occupied by the Japanese; regular British government records ceases from December 1941.
1997: The entire Hong Kong colony is returned to China, becoming a special administrative region under the direct authority of the Chinese central government.
Dr John Carroll | Professor, Department of History, University of Hong Kong
Dr Chi-Kwan Mark | Senior Lecturer in International History, Department of History, Royal Holloway University of London
IMPERIAL CHINA AND THE WEST PART I, 1815-1881
Digitized in two parts from the FO 17 series of British Foreign Office Files held at the UK National Archives, Part 1 of Imperial China and the West provides General Correspondence relating to China from 1815–1881. In this, the first of two parts, scholars will find material relating to the internal politics of China and Britain, their relationship, and the relationships between other Western powers keen to benefit from the growing trading ports of the Far East. The FO 17 series provides a vast and significant resource for researching every aspect of Anglo-Chinese relations during the nineteenth century, ranging from diplomacy and war, to trade, piracy, riots and rebellions within China, international law, treaty ports and informal empire, transnational emigration, and translation and cross-cultural communication.
From Lord Amherst’s mission at the start of the nineteenth century, through the trading monopoly of the Canton System, and the Opium Wars of 1839–1842 and 1856–1860, Britain and other foreign powers gradually gained commercial, legal, and territorial rights in China. These files provide correspondence from the Factories of Canton (modern Guangzhou) and from the missionaries and interpreters who entered China in the early nineteenth century, as well as from the envoys and missions sent to China from Britain and the later legation and consulates.
The hand-written documents of FO 17 have been opened up to scholars with the use of Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) technology, as well as item-level information drawn from the Foreign Office Indexes in series FO 605.