Robert Hart’s relationship with the late Qing bureaucracy

  • Tsai Chih-Hui

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis focuses on Robert Hart’s relationship with the late Qing bureaucracy.
It looks particularly at his role in improving Chinese administrative institutions outside his control as Inspector General of the Customs, including Hart’s ambition to develop the Chinese Navy. This thesis will argue that Hart did not simply stick obstinately to British blueprints for reform in China. Instead, he tried to fuse the ideas of Qing intellectuals and the Self-Strengthening movement into the British model to develop his own approach to modernisation in China, although these efforts were not always successful.

This thesis will argue that Hart’s influence within the Qing bureaucracy arose from a number of factors. Particularly in the early part of his career as a Qing official, Hart gained influence from the perception within China that he enjoyed the support of the British government in the aftermath of the Second Opium War. Hart, however, saw himself as a Chinese servant, not a British one, and sought instead to create a role for himself as an intermediary between China and the West, acting as a ‘man in the middle’ and trying to shape interactions as well as facilitate them. Towards the end of his career, Hart continued to exert significant influence within his own domain, but his ability to use his Western connections to influence other parts of the Qing state began to wane, as too many other channels of communication between China and the West were available.
Date of AwardDec 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorEmma Reisz (Supervisor) & Peter Gray (Supervisor)

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