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British opinion and policy towards China, 1922-1927

Chow, Phoebe (2011) British opinion and policy towards China, 1922-1927. PhD thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

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Public opinion in Britain influenced the government’s policy of retreat in response to Chinese nationalism in the 1920s. The foreigners’ rights to live, preach, work and trade in China extracted by the ‘unequal treaties’ in the nineteenth century were challenged by an increasingly powerful nationalist movement, led by the Kuomintang, which was bolstered by Soviet support. The Chinese began a major attack on British interests in June 1925 in South China and continued the attack as the Kuomintang marched upward to the Yangtze River, where much of British trade was centred. Policymakers in Britain struggled to come up with a workable policy that could meet the new challenge of Chinese nationalism and satisfy its own interests in East Asia. The result was a complete renunciation of the traditional gunboat policy for a policy of friendship and conciliation. Why then did Britain begin its retreat from China? Why, in the face of the contrasting forces of Chinese nationalism and strong opposition from the British community in China, did Britain decide to relinquish its traditional treaty rights? Political, strategic and economic issues determined, to an extent, Britain’s China policy, but historians have neglected to see the vital influence of domestic opinion in Britain and to take into account the cultural context within which policy was made. In a time when mass audiences read the news and actively engaged in debates over policy, policy needed not only to be pragmatic and profitable, but also persuasive. An entire section of British thought about China has been neglected in the existing literature. This thesis argues that the confluence of liberal, Labour, business, pacifist and missionary opinion in Britain after the First World War and the victory of its narrative of China provided critical support for a policy of imperial retreat from China.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2011 Phoebe Chow
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe) > JN101 Great Britain
J Political Science > JQ Political institutions Asia
Sets: Departments > International History
Supervisor: Best, Antony

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