• “Learning to Walk”: Qing constitutional reform and Britain’s imperial pedagogy, 1901-1911

      Neuhaus, Tom; University of Derby (Routledge, 2019-08-07)
      This contribution examines British attitudes towards the Qing government’s efforts at introducing constitutional reform in China during the first decade of the twentieth century. During this period, China gradually introduced elected assemblies as well as a range of other reforms in education, civil service administration, and a number of other fields. The chapter will explore to what extent imperial ambitions shaped British understandings of the changes that occurred in the Qing Empire and whether British observers believed constitutional government would be successful. Judging from Foreign Office and consular reports, British opinion on reforms in China was ambivalent. On the one hand, there was a strong sense that Britain should support efforts at democratization, even if many consular officials believed that optimism about China's path towards constitutional government was misplaced. While there was some support for specific reforms, many observers believed that China lacked capable leaders and that the Chinese people were not truly committed to political change. On the other hand, in the aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion, there was also a growing concern that constitutional government was interwoven with a growing sense of Chinese assertiveness, nationalism, and anti-foreign sentiment. This, British consular staff feared, would endanger British interests in the region and the stability of the British Empire, particularly in regions with a significant overseas Chinese population. The ambivalence contained in this assessment of Chinese reforms was never fully resolved, but its very existence demonstrates the importance which British commentators attached to safeguarding not only Britain’s economic interests but also her status as a global symbol of constitutional government.