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'The Awakening of China': Western Concepts of China in the Early 20th Century


An Invented Tradition? Western Concepts of China’s ‘Awakening’ in the Early 20^th^ Century







Word Count (excl. title page and bibliography): 11,964

Candidate Number: 173971



Introduction: China’s ‘Awakening’ – The Power of a Construct

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Chapter 1: The Sleeping Giant: Hopes and Fears (pre-1900)

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Chapter 2: The Dragon Awakes: ‘400 million rise from a stupor’ (1900-19)………………………………………………………………………………………………pg Error: Reference source not found

Chapter 3: ‘Faint in the East, behold the dawn appear’ – China’s ‘Awakening’ and the British Left

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Conclusion: China’s ‘Awakening’ – A Malleable Reinvention

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_*Bibliography* _

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Introduction: China’s ‘Awakening’ – The Power of a Construct

China is the theatre of the greatest movement now taking place on the face of the globe…It promises nothing short of the complete renovation of the oldest of empires…. Her present greatness and her future prospects alike challenge admiration^^1^^.


The author of this passage, Dr W.A.P Martin, was just one of several authors who enthusiastically proclaimed an ‘awakening’ of China in the early-20th century. Yet it seems counterintuitive that there would be commentators who spoke optimistically about the future great strength of China at the turn of the century – a time when it had recently suffered successive humiliating defeats to the western powers and even its own neighbour, Japan. This view is even more surprising considering the widespread anti-Chinese sentiment evident in popular culture in the West. In particular, the outbreak of anti-foreign violence during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 served to significantly tarnish the image of China in foreign eyes.


In this thesis, therefore, I will attempt to address the prima facie problem of the existence of an optimistic foreign conception of China during her struggle with foreign imperialism. There had always existed a wide spectrum of foreign perceptions of China, ranging from the virulent Sinophobia to intense Sinophilia. My argument is that the proclamation of China’s “awakening” in the early 20th century was principally advocated by a Sinophilic group of predominantly Anglophone commentators, who built upon late-19th-century foreign discourse about China and appropriated it to support their own agendas. While many foreigners may have held China in contempt during a period of its humiliating capitulation to foreign imperialism, it also attracted sympathisers – a minority group first of American evangelical missionaries and later British left-wing activists in the late-19th and early-20th century that differed from prevailing foreign perceptions and empathised with China’s plight. I will analyse the notion of an awakening of China as a product of a specific contemporary combination: a favourable environment to incubate the concept, enthusiastic historical agents to synthesize and disseminate the idea, and watershed events to ignite and transform the meaning of the concept in its dissemination. The fulfilment of these conditions was a mutual feature underpinning manifestations of the ‘awakening’ of China concept both at the turn of the century, and in the 1920s. During both these periods, the ‘awakening’ of China was proclaimed to a selected audience in the US and Britain receptive to such a notion, by a group of agents who had an incentive to propagate such an idea and following an event or series of events that were considered sufficiently pivotal to justify the rhetoric. Therefore, delineating the analysis through this ‘tripartite criteria’ will help to elucidate the reasons for the existence of the awakening concept at a particular point in time and reveal its reinvented nature.


I argue that at the turn of the century, the enthusiastic advocates of the notion of China’s awakening were American missionaries, who I identify as the key players in the synthesis of the Chinese ‘awakening’ concept at the turn of the century. After the Boxer Rebellion, they perceived a pivotal change in climate and events, which finally allowed them to harness and exhibit their zeal towards China, as well as celebrate manifestations of their perceived success. This was facilitated by the Progressive Movement taking place in the United States from the 1890s to the 1920s, which provided the favourable environment for sympathetic commentaries on China’s reform and modernisation. The contemporary evangelical awakening and Progressive Movement taking place in America had profound effects on the notion of a Chinese ‘awakening’. The sense of American Exceptionalism and ‘Manifest Destiny’ supposedly imparted a uniquely selfless perspective relative to other imperialistic foreign powers in American policies and attitudes towards China. The American public was therefore particularly receptive to the missionary notions of a reinvented Chinese ‘awakening’, which was recycled to coincide with their rhetoric to garner support for American missions in China. Meanwhile, the Qing government’s New Policies in the first decade of the 20th century ignited missionary enthusiasm, as they seemed to provide evidence that supported their proclamation of the dawn of a new era in China, aimed at modernization along Western lines. Commentary on the ‘awakening of China’ was therefore an outlet for missions to maintain and draw support for their cause back home.


This study seeks to contribute to the existing body of literature examining western perceptions of China. In particular, John Fitzgerald’s book ‘Awakening China: Politics, Culture and Class in the Nationalist Revolution’ was the first book to approach the ‘awakening’ of China as a historical problem in its own right, aiming to locate this problem within the broader history of the rise of modern China. Fitzgerald endeavoured to discover ‘what the term meant in China, to whom and by whom it was applied, how it may have affected the form and style of democratic politics and why it has been so ubiquitous in the rhetoric of modern Chinese nationalism’^^2^^. To achieve this, he traces China’s awakening from an indigenous, Chinese point of view, as his book follows the legend of China’s ‘awakening’ from its origins in the European imagination to its transmission to China. I too will follow the awakening concept from its western inception, but in contrast, I will examine instead how the concept evolved at the turn of the century to reflect and shape perceptions of China from a foreign perspective. Thus far, little has been written about the cause and effect of the ‘awakening’ of China as a foreign-constructed motif in the early-20th century. Fitzgerald briefly alludes to the Western synthesis of the term, stating that in the early-19th century, China was ‘an oriental screen onto which the European imagination projected the hopes and fears of its own self-awakening’^^3^^. He states that ‘the awakening of modern Europe foretold the awakening of the world’^^4^^, but refrains in his study to investigate the ramifications of the ‘awakening of China’ discourse on Europe and the rest of the world at the turn of the 20th century. My aim is to therefore to illuminate the foreign perspective of the motif, and emphasise the nature of the Chinese ‘awakening’ notion as primarily a Western construct which was used to pursue particular agendas. This will counterbalance the view that the ‘awakening’ of China was chiefly a product of the rise of the multifarious forces of Chinese nationalism, such as the construction of political institutions and evolution of social behaviour.


My analysis also incorporates work by Rudolf Wagner^^5^^, Wang Jing^^6^^, Ariane Knusel^^7^^ and Tom Buchanan^^8^^. The rich array of recent secondary literature about foreign perceptions of China have allowed for a comprehensive re-examination of the ‘awakening of China’ motif since the publishing of Fitzgerald’s book in 1996. Wang Jing examines the image of China shaped by American missionaries in the early-20th century, explicitly commenting on the spate of books published on the ‘awakening of China’ in the first decade of the 20th century. Wagner’s work explores the linguistic background behind the ‘awakening’ of China in the 19th century permitting an incisive semantic explanation for the adoption of the term ‘awakening’ in foreign conceptions of China. Meanwhile Buchanan’s book ‘East Wind’ investigates the support for China originating from the British Left from the 1920s. His work allows me to demonstrate the indispensability of the tripartite criteria, which the missionaries fulfilled in the beginning of the 20th century, by comparing it to the evolved form of the awakening concert as a left-wing political construct later on. My thesis thus builds upon Fitzgerald’s existing work on the ‘awakening of China’ by analysing it from a reverse viewpoint, as well as highlighting the different strands that emerged and faded at different points in time and space. Finally, I will utilise Knusel’s survey of American and British perceptions of China in the early 20th century to provide the necessary background with which to identify the awakening concept’s position amidst the wider spectrum of foreign perceptions of China.


The primary sources for my thesis revolve around previously overlooked books published c1900-10, which proclaim the awakening of China. I will also utilise other contemporary books and journal and newspaper articles from the late-19th century to the early-20th century. In particular, the early-20th century books are essential in shedding light on how and why the missionaries adopted and manipulated the ‘awakening of China’ metaphor for their own ends. The contemporary newspaper archives then reveal the 19th century origins of the ‘awakening’ motif which was appropriated by the missionaries, and how the concept evolved later in the 20th century as the ‘awakening’ concept received predominantly left-wing press attention. They also illuminate the general foreign sentiment towards China, revealing how this ‘awakening’ rhetoric fitted into the wider spectrum of foreign perceptions of China.
















Chapter 1: The Sleeping Giant: Hopes and Fears (pre-1900)


The awakening of China’ was a latent 19th century idea that existed in foreign discourse. It lay dormant as the antithesis to the perception of a weak and helpless China described as ‘asleep’ during the 19th century. The concept was therefore primed to be employed for later use after 1900 by missionaries in constructing their own take on China’s awakening. This explains the conception and use of the term ‘awakening’ when the wider spectrum of opinion of China was mostly negative. To understand why China’s ‘awakening’ was proclaimed at the start of the 20th century, we must first explore the origins of the term in the late-19th century. The Chinese ‘awakening’ heralded at the start of the century was a product of this precursory strand of discourse. At first, it may seem strange that the idea of China’s awakening might have originated at a time of China’s evident weakness, having been defeated by Western powers in the Opium Wars (1839-42, 1856-60) and the Sino-French War (1884-85). One newspaper commented in 1875 that there was ‘no country so wretchedly weak and helpless’^^9^^ as China, with Chinese soldiers being ‘miserably armed, almost entirely undisciplined’, so that ‘they could not stand five minutes before a well-ordered regiment of European soldiers’^^10^^. This situation was exacerbated by the ‘utter misgovernment of the country’, as ‘corruption and extortion have evidently reached an unusual limit at the present time in China’^^11^^.


Just before the turn of the century, the Chinese suffered another catastrophically humiliating defeat in the Sino-Japanese War in 1895. This increased the perception of Chinese national fragility, as Western observers interpreted the defeat as an indicator of the imminent collapse of the Qing state. The Juye Incident in 1897 then intensified the ‘scramble for China’ by the Western powers. Local Chinese in Juye County, Shandong, murdered two German Catholic missionaries. Their deaths were used by the German Empire as a pretext to seize Jiaozhou Bay on Shandong’s southern coast. This set in train a process of ‘greatly intensified imperialist activity in China’^^12^^, with newspaper headlines such as Plucking Poor China: Italy’s Demand May Be Signal for the Final Rush^^13^^ illustrating the dire situation China found herself in at this time. China was also the subject of articles titled in the style of “The Sick Man of the Far East by the British editor of the Asiatic Quarterly Review^^14^^. In the same year, one American periodical published a piece on Who Will Exploit China?’, speculating on who might be likely to ‘be the winners in this game for the possession of China’^^15^^. The metaphor of China being ‘sick’ or ‘dying’ reflected the parlance of Social Darwinism, which underpinned many of the social and political theories of the day. Much of the language was put in terms of biological survival. In 1898, Lord Salisbury epitomised this particular worldview, commenting that one could ‘divide the nations of the world as the living and the dying’^^16^^. At a time when China was perceived to be on the brink of imminent collapse and the perception of the Chinese was that of the heathen and craven ‘John Chinaman’, it is difficult to see why there would be reason for some Western observers to hail an ‘awakening of China’.


However, the negative perception of China as ‘dying’ or ‘asleep’ logically evoked the possibility, however faint, of her antithetical potential for ‘resurrection’ or ‘awakening’. In Western political discourse, the use of the term ‘awakening’ goes back at least to the early Renaissance works of Petrarch (1304-1374)^^17^^. In one poem, he called upon the spirit of ancient Rome to wake up an ‘Italy that is not even feeling its misfortune’. ‘Old, lazy, and slow will she sleep forever, without anyone waking her up?”^^18^^. But only since the late-18th century have nations become categories that were regularly assigned a state of mind and a specific historical agency^^19^^. The metaphor of China asleep first crops up by the 1870s. It is seen in an 1872 sketch from the first foreign journal of satirical cartoons in China, appearing in Puck, or the Shanghai Charivari. In the ‘past’ China was portrayed as being asleep and mired in tradition as can be seen by the clothing. In the ‘present’ it is just waking up in the ‘future’. However, reading Puck was to give China a fresh perspective, enabling it to understand foreign cartoons and their texts symbolised by wearing modern, Western clothes (suit, tie and hat)^^20^^. This cartoon demonstrated that from the outset, the ‘awakening of China’ notion involved modernisation along a linear Western model.


The notion of China being ‘sick’, ‘dying’ or a ‘sleeping giant’ became widely shared in Western writing after the Opium Wars, as the defeats to Western powers made her comparative weakness apparent.^^21^^ But despite these defeats highlighting China’s inferior political and military capabilities, observers acknowledged her latent potential owing to her large demographic and territorial size. China’s 400 million-strong population was often cited, as well as her vast mineral resources. One article titled ‘The Awakening of China’ describes China as a country ‘boasting a population estimated at not far short of 400 million’^^22^^. Whilst another argued that there was ‘no physical decrepitude’ in China, citing that it was ‘adding forty millions to her population every decade, equal to that of the empire of Japan’^^23^^. In an article describing the Mineral Riches of China’, the author states that ‘it has long been known that the mineral resources of the Chinese empire were extensive…but have remained undeveloped’^^24^^. The metaphor of a ‘sleeping giant’ was therefore often attributed to China, befitting the perceived vastness of her latent demographic and material power. Although it might have been helpless to defend itself from the encroachment of Western imperialism, there was an anxiety over the possibility of a change in power asymmetries if China were to ‘awaken’ and respond to the Western aggression. A ‘sleeping’ China signified that there was no threat to Western political and commercial interests, which dominated discourse on ‘The China Question’. However, if it were to imitate Japan in adopting wholesale reform, then the impacts of a technological revolution in a country of such gigantic would have enormous consequences.


This was not just an issue of Western imperialistic interests in Asia. Running concurrently was the idea that, according to one editor of The Times, that “the European war…had minimised continental events for a long time. Asia is now the field. The coming question will be Asiatic.^^25^^”. It was believed that future conflicts between the Western powers would be fought in the Pacific rather than the Atlantic as the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) had reduced the appetite for intra-European warfare and instead the European powers would battle to claim colonial possessions in the East, such as the French in Indochina. But if China were to ‘awaken’ and become strong, it would itself become a major power on the international scene, dramatically transforming the global political landscape. An article in the Washington Post echoed this sentiment with the headline Dangerous Awakening of the Great Chinese Dragon – A Menace to Civilisation^26^. The instrumental success of the ‘Ever Victorious Army’ (the first Chinese army trained in European techniques, tactics and strategy, albeit led by an American and European officer corps) in suppressing the Taiping Rebellion stoked belief in the potential of such an awakening as it proved that ‘under good officers, [Chinese troops] should become expert in the use of modern arms”. The ‘testimony’ of Charles George Gordon (commander of the Ever Victorious Army) was ‘sufficient to prove the courage and fighting quality of the Chinese soldier when properly commanded’. Thus, the perception that the Chinese were biologically inferior waned in favour of the opinion that once the Chinese were equipped with modern technology they could match or even surpass Western counterparts:


With an army in proportion to its vast population and developed on the lines of modern military science, England would find their supremacy in Asia lost…they would find a most formidable enemy, able to pour out army after army across their frontiers long before the home forces could be sent to protect them.


Charles Pearson’s widely read National Life and Character: A Forecast (1893) encapsulated the resonance of this idea. The vision of China that he advanced was that of a threat with colonising, military and trading power^^27^^. He illustrated the fear of a reversal in the balance of power between China and the West that could result from the awakening of China’s unparalleled latent potential: “We are well aware that China can swamp us with a single year’s surplus of population,” so much that “we shall awake to find ourselves elbowed and hustled out and perhaps even thrust aside by people who we looked down upon as servile…belonging to an inferior race”^^28^^. As the end of the 19th century approached, the cause of anxiety of some foreign onlookers was not just that China would awaken to her plight, but also that she would then galvanise her tremendous resources to reverse the tide of foreign encroachment.


These late-19th-century views were fuelled by Japan’s recent rapid growth in strength. It seemed credible that China could experience the same surge in power (but on an even larger scale) if she followed similar modernization and reforms. Japan’s sudden rise set a precedent for China ‘in the introduction and execution of the most sweeping reforms’, so that they would ‘not long lag behind the nations of the Aryan race’^^29^^. Japan’s ‘energy and diligence’ had ‘converted an ill-armed, undrilled rabble’ into an army which would ‘do credit to any European state of the second rate’^^30^^. In military terms at least, it was clear that Japan was catching up with the West. China’s catastrophic defeat to Japan thus ignited the view that the zeal for reform would then spread to China. Many commentators cited it as the turning point in which China would finally awaken to the superiority of western civilisation (due to Japan’s evident success of the Meiji Restoration). As one New York Times article put it, the war: ‘pricked the bubble of belief that it could take a long while to conquer China…it showed that with modern equipments and well-disciplined troops China could easily be subdued. The improvements recently made in China have been made by pressure from without. She had made them because she had to”^^31^^. Another magazine concurred that the war had made China ‘realise that the old order is doomed; that reforms are necessary’ and that China ‘is gradually moving towards reform – financial and military’^^32^^. The perception that there was a significant Japanese influence in the impending awakening of China was revealed by the press coverage over the speculation of an alliance between China and Japan. One newspaper presented a rumour that ‘a secret treaty has been signed between the two countries, giving the Japanese ‘a carte blanche with China’s military and naval reform”^^33^^. Since ‘Easterns naturally affiliate themselves with Easterns’^^34^^, it appeared that increasing Japanese contact and tutelage would make the prospective Chinese ‘awakening’ inevitable.


However, the nature of the discourse of China’s potential ‘awakening’ was not simply that of fear and trepidation. It is important to note that the imperialistic, anti-Chinese sentiment was neither uniform nor universal. Levels of Sinophobia varied and there always existed a wide spectrum of Western perceptions of China. Therefore, in contrast to the anxious, fearful side of China’s potential stood a more buoyant, optimistic perspective. Sinophilists and other sympathetic observers took to promoting the positive aspects of China’s ‘awakening’ and disseminated it into the wider discourse on China’s future. Many of these sympathisers were those who had spent time and had experience with China and the Chinese people, such as Western diplomats, soldiers and missionaries. For diplomats such as John R. Young and James H. Wilson, the ‘awakening of China’ represented the change in power relations that would affect the commercial and diplomatic interests of their representative countries. They dwelt significantly on the political repercussions of the ‘China Question’. However, their commentary stands out from typical newspaper and magazine articles due to their intimacy with China and their personal admiration for its the culture and its efforts at reform. Young spoke in glowing terms about the viceroy Li Hongzhang, whom he had befriended, describing him as ‘strong, positive’ with ‘governing qualities’^^35^^. Likewise, John Walker, a former soldier in the Chinese army, spoke of the implications for the global balance of power, claiming that if China were equipped with modern technology, ‘the military chart of the world must be remodelled’^^36^^. Again, there is praise for Li Hongzhang, whom he brands ‘one of the greatest statesmen of his age’^^37^^.


Missionary writers reiterated some aspects of other commentaries on the ‘awakening’ of China, such as the adoption of modern technology. However, they were more paternalistic in their outlook on the awakening of China, describing it as ‘the duty of Christian nations’^^38^^. This reflected their religious background, which induced them to pay particular attention to the spiritual, social and cultural changes that arose or would arise from China’s ‘awakening’. For the missionaries, the ‘awakening’ of China primarily comprised the conversion of the Chinese people to Christianity by spreading the gospel and Western civilization. Describing the ‘bold and joyous…testimony of Christ’ by Chinese converts as part of the ‘spirit of victory’^^39^^, it is clear that the aim of Reverend Worley’s article on ‘the great awakening of China’ was to garner support that would facilitate ‘the speedy triumph of Christianity’^^40^^. For American missionaries in particular, ‘progress’ was a keyword, stating that China “must rise…she must join the nations in the ongoing stream of progress”^^41^^. This reflected the contemporary progressive sentiment in America and its self-identification as the God-ordained ‘Empire of Liberty’. Therefore, whilst missionary Dwight Mallory Platt’s article on ‘awakening China’ was predominantly centred on missionary work, it included a paragraph on the ‘political outlook for China’. Platt cited providence as allowing America to take a new place in its influence on China ‘to aid the world to the enjoyment of the same blessings’ as Americans. In the next chapter, we will see that American missionaries wrote a significant proportion of literature on the ‘awakening of China’.

For some, the ‘awakening’ concept was used to describe military reforms changing the balance of power.^^42^^. For others, it served to express the utopian hopes of bringing progress and Christianity to China. The ‘awakening of China’ was therefore a concept that evoked different ideas, emotions and images at opposite ends of the spectrum of foreign perceptions of China. Some looked anxiously on at the possible release of millions of low-wage workers onto the global market or well-equipped soldiers that could tilt the balance of power. Others saw this ‘awakening’ as bringing religion and Western civilisation to a hitherto heathen and backwards country. Nevertheless, the extensive discourse on the possibility of China’s awakening in the 19th century served to create a fertile field for its proclamation later on. Advocates of an ‘awakened China’ after 1900 built upon this existing pre-1900 discourse. It also accounts for the conception and use of the term ‘awakening’ as a sign of the fulfilment of this optimistic hope at a time when the wider spectrum of opinion on China was mostly negative.






















Chapter 2: The Dragon Awakes: ‘400 million rise from a stupor’ (1900-19)


In this chapter I will demonstrate how missionaries built upon the notion of an ‘awakening’ of China drawn from the foreign discourse on China in the late-19th century. The missionaries played the role of ‘enthusiastic disseminating agents’, supported by a ‘favourable environment’ for the dissemination of the concept and fuelled by pivotal ‘watershed events’. This ‘awakening’ was proclaimed in a period when there were shoots of change in attitudes and reform in China, coupled with popular support for American missionary activity and public solidarity with their aims. Sympathisers with China’s plight saw signs of fulfilment of the latent ‘awakening’ concept of China, heralding a new era for the country. I will also situate this ‘awakening’ amidst wider foreign perceptions of China. The unique US missionary perspective explains why enthusiastic proclamation of the dawn of a new era for China existed at a time when anti-Chinese sentiment rose to new heights following the Boxer violence in 1900.


As shown in the previous chapter, the glimpses of reform following the Sino-Japanese War at the turn of the century provided some impetus for the wider notion of China’s ‘awakening’. But it was the Boxer Rebellion, which the missionary authors cited as the decisive turning point. They noticed a profound change in the Qing government’s attitudes toward reform following their defeat in the invasion by the Eight Nation Alliance. The missionary W.A.P. Martin remarked: ‘Taught by the failure of a reaction on which she had staked her life and her throne, the Dowager became a convert to the progress. She had, in fact, outstripped her nephew…She knew too that the spirit of reform was abroad in the land and that the heart of the people was with her’^^43^^. By 1901, one missionary journal was already trumpeting the start of a new era in China: “History has been made in China as never before…[it] has entered upon a new era and she can never go back. The spell of Christianity, of modern civilisation, of progress and improvement, is upon her”^^44^^. Western missionaries clearly had high hopes to spread the gospel to a ripe Chinese audience at this time.


Just as in the late-19th century, it might seem counterintuitive that the perceived ‘awakening of China’ came at a time when Western anti-Chinese sentiment was increasing even further. Fears over a possible ‘Yellow Peril’ of ‘Mongol hordes’ appeared to be confirmed by the outbreak of Boxer violence against foreigners. Greene outlines the effect that the Boxer Rebellion had in exacerbating pre-existing Sinophobic attitudes by ‘fuelling every negative stereotype bearing on China and the Chinese’^^45^^. As a result, this ‘brought the Yellow Peril (a term first coined by Kaiser Wilhelm in 1894^^46^^) vividly to life. By the time the rebellion was over, the term had even officially entered the English language, appearing in the 1901 edition of the Oxford dictionary^^47^^. The Boxers clearly left a lasting impression on Western psyches, where they epitomised cruelty, xenophobia and superstition^^48^^. The uprisings were described in Western media as ‘horrible events’ and spread fears of ‘Chinese secret societies working in collusion with ‘wicked’ Manchu empress employing sorceresses to annihilate all Westerners living in China’^^49^^. The Times and Daily Mail published fictitious accounts on the ‘Pekin Massacre’, describing the Chinese as ‘overwhelming hordes’ (evoking the medieval imagery of Mongol nomads) and ‘bloodthirsty barbarians’^^50^^. In contrast, the ‘awakening’ advocates had first-hand experience and insight into China and its contemporary events, so that they were far removed from the sentiment of such sensationalist media reports. Arthur Judson Brown, an American missionary, emphasized in his work how noble it was to ‘grasp the great thought that the Chinese is not only a man, but our brother man, made like ourselves in the image of God.’^^51^^ He also listed many Chinese virtues deserving respect, such as industriousness, intelligence and endurance. Brown’s work included his experience of visiting China in 1901–1902, and thus his open-mindedness to ‘the Chinese character’ was reflective of his own first-hand experience. As discussed in the first chapter, the proponents of the Chinese ‘awakening’ were mostly by sympathisers with China. This distinguished them from the mainstream populace, who were influenced by the sensationalist anti-Chinese popular media and culture following the outbreak of Boxer violence.


In particular, the majority of authors in the first decade of the 20th century were American missionaries. John Gardner argues that 1900 was a watershed moment for the missionaries in China: ‘the Boxer uprising of 1900 made the missionaries acutely conscious of their role in China. [They] were subject to heavy criticism from parts of the American press and other sources as intruders in China upon whom should fall a major share of the blame for the uprisings. [The missionaries] found themselves defending a role which it would never occur to most to defend’^^52^^. For example, William Ament was a missionary to China for the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions from 1877 and was known as the ‘Father of Christian Endeavour in China’^^53^^. Another missionary author, Judson Smith, was the foreign secretary of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions^^54^^, and therefore had a similar incentive as Ament in promoting missionary support in China. Other prominent missionary authors such as W.A.P. Martin “hoped to win the nation of China through mass conversions”^^55^^, combining their sympathy for China with their evangelistic zeal. As a result, the missionaries were optimists when it came to the events taking place in China. Although they saw difficulties – such as the size of the country and population, the lack of general education and a communication system, they still had faith in China’s future^^56^^. Evidence of this change in missionary stance towards China can be observed in contemporary literature. Brown’s book New Forces in Old China: An Unwelcome But Inevitable Awakening saw the word ‘Unwelcome’ dropped in its revised edition in 1907^^57^^. This captures the increased positivity of missionary sentiment in China at the time.


That the missionaries were partially trying to justify their role and existence through these awakening books is evidenced by the emphasis on describing missionary accomplishments in China. The purpose was to demonstrate the success achieved with funds invested into missionary efforts by American churchgoers. For example, the depiction of the missionary role as an integral facet of a three-pronged transformatory force in China was a rhetoric that permeated across the ‘awakening’ literature. Brown stated that the object of his book was to ‘describe the operation upon and within old, conservative, exclusive China of the three great transforming forces of the modern world – Western trade, Western politics and Western religion’^^58^^. No book which featured the ‘awakening of China’ was complete without at least one chapter devoted to the contributions of missionaries. Martin quoted a Chinese official in illustrating the success of missionaries, who praised:


the part taken by American missionaries in promoting the progress of the Chinese people. They have borne the light of Western civilisation into every nook and corner of the Empire…The awakening of China which now seems to be at hand may be traced in no small measure to the hand of the missionary. For this service you will find China not ungrateful^^59^^.


Arthur Smith claimed that it was ‘impracticable to illustrate adequately the amount and the quality of the work which Christian missions have done and are doing in China.^^60^^’. Brown even went as far as to offer a rebuke to the missionaries’ critics: ‘Some are saying that the Boxer outbreak has destroyed their confidence in the practicability of the effort to evangelise the Chinese. They’re asking: “Why should we send any more missionaries to China?”. To this he gave a defiant reply:


Why send any more merchants, any more consuls, any more oil, flour, cotton? Shall we continue our commercial and political relations with China and discontinue our religious relations; allow the lower influences to flow on unchecked, but without the spiritual forces which would purify trade and politics, which have made us what we are and which alone can regenerate the missions of China?^^61^^.


Here, Brown argues that the religious facet of the transformative forces of China provided by America underpinned the other two, and therefore should not be ignored in favour of political and commercial interests.


The continual tribute paid to missionary efforts, aims and achievements in China therefore intimates a sense that these books were an outlet for missions to maintain and draw support for their cause back home. This argument is buttressed by the timing of the publication of many of these ‘awakening’ books. Most were published around 1907, when Protestants were celebrating their centenary year in China and applauding themselves on their success. The publishing of these books can thus be seen as a manifestation of the missionary agenda of seeking funding and justification of their role by capitalising on the increased publicity and media attention surrounding their centenary year. Several books were published during the Protestant centenary, including W. S. Ament’s The Giant Awakened (1906), J. W. Bashford’s China and Methodism (1906), Arthur H. Smith’s The Uplift of China (1907), W. A. P. Martin’s The Awakening of China (1907), and William N. Brewster’s The Evolution of New China (1907)^^62^^. It was also the year in which a revised edition of Arthur Judson Brown’s book, New Forces in Old China: An Unwelcome But Inevitable Awakening was published. Jing supports the argument that 1907 was particularly meaningful to the missionaries: “The year 1907 meant much to missionaries. [By] the centenary year of Protestant Christianity in China, Christian developments in China far surpassed missionaries’ expectations and enhanced their optimism. As missionaries looked back on changes in China from 1807 to 1907, the progress of China was self-evident and therefore there was much perceived cause for self-celebration on their part.”^^63^^

That most of these missionaries were American reflects how supportive public sentiment also played a significant part by providing a ‘favourable climate’. Evangelical fervour and the idea of American exceptionalism played a pivotal role in fuelling the concept of China’s awakening. Religious interests dominated public images of China in America in the early-20th century. In the 19th century, the Second Great Awakening caused evangelicals to link the birth of the American nation to the coming of the millennium^^64^^. This increased the focus on a national destiny and the notion that the USA had been chosen by God to lead the rest of the world. Public support for missionary organisations increased because it was argued that American missionaries carried the divine mission of the entire American people^^65^^. By describing China as a nation that needed the help of American missionaries to become ‘civilised’, missionary organisations portrayed their work in China as serving American self-interest and appealed to American nationalism^^66^^. The missionary Arthur Smith alluded to this sense of divine mission when he spoke of ‘the duties and privileges of Americans to contribute to the peace of the world by helping to establish in it the kingdom of God’^^67^^. In his foreword to the book Griffith John, another missionary, reminded the American audience that upon ‘entering on the second century of Protestant missions in China’, ‘one of the first duties of the missionary societies is to perfect their agencies, and to bring them up to the requirements of the times and age’^^68^^.


This was followed by the rise of the Progressive Movement in the USA at the turn of the century, which had the effect of making the American public receptive to other, non-religious aspects of the Chinese awakening. The Progressive Movement was a middle-class movement, which attempted to deal with the effects of modernisation on society, focusing on the potential of society to improve and establishing a new moral order^^69^^. The contemporary American preoccupation with modernisation and progress can be seen by the scathing attacks on superstition, ancestor worship and other aspects of traditional Chinese culture that was keeping China ‘backward’. Brown denounced Confucianism as ‘the foe of all progress, the stagnation of all life’^^70^^. The Progressive Movement was deeply influenced by Protestant values and adhered to the belief that “American democracy was superior to any other forms of government”^^71^^. The sense of American supremacy was evident as W.A.P. Martin extolled the missionary schools in China for providing ‘open windows through which the light of the world’s best culture and civilization is streaming in’^^72^^. Brown also exhibited the hegemony of the idea of progress in American minds: “The higher idea is sure to conquer the lower…these [mission] boards are the channels through which the highest type of Christian civilization is communicated to pagan peoples, the agencies which gather up all that is best and truest in our modern life and concentrate it upon the conditions of China’^^73^^. The Progressive Era began in the 1890s and ended in 1920^^74^^ and thus Progressive values were widespread in American society at the time these ‘awakening’ books were published. This helps explain why the missionary authors paid particular attention to the perceived ‘modernisation’ and ‘progress’ that comprised China’s ‘awakening’.^^75^^


This notion of God-ordained national destiny and Progressive mission facilitated the prominence of enthusiastic American proponents of an ‘awakening’ in China. American press reports about China increasingly portrayed Sino-American relations as a friendship in which the USA adopted the role of mentor to China^^76^^. During the Boxer Rebellion, American newspapers stressed that the USA was unlike the other foreign powers in China because it had no territorial interests there^^77^^. While America pursued an ‘Open Door Policy’ which proposed to keep China open to trade with all countries on an equal basis, it had no direct territorial concessions as the other Foreign Powers had, and pledged to protect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity from partition^^78^^. This is also demonstrated in Brown’s book, which appealed to American exceptionalism as a moral force. In contrast, he criticised the European powers for pursuing selfish interests:


There is no blood of Chinese women and children on the hands of Americans in China. No record of outrage and iniquity blackens the page on which the American part of the Boxer outbreak is written…Generations will pass before the northern provinces will forget the bitterness of resentment which they now feel towards the European Powers. The Chinese are beginning to understand that the American Government is a friend; that it does not seek their territory; that it will not be a party to extortion; that it does not want to destroy China but to save her; that its object is not to rule her, but to fit her to rule herself, and that it desires only freedom for its citizens to trade and to communicate those ideas of religion which we ourselves originally received from the East, which have brought to us inestimable blessings, and which will, in China as in America, result in the noblest character for the individual and the most stable institutions for the state^^79^^.


This plainly illustrated the paternal relationship, which America perceived itself to have with China, and therefore resulted in their particularly amenable attitude to a positive motif of China’s development.


The pervasiveness of the Chinese ‘awakening’ in American discourse outside of missionary circles sheds light on the role that the wider Progressive sentiment played in the concept’s dissemination. This is made apparent by Theodore Roosevelt’s reference to the notion and the acclaim he ascribed to it. Roosevelt penned an article titled ‘The Awakening of China’ in 1908, describing it as ‘one of the greatest events of our age’^^80^^. He praised the ‘increasing contact with foreigners, increasing foreign trade and a growing adoption of modern methods, remarking on how the ‘attitude of the Chinese towards learning from the West has been utterly changed ever since 1901’ (when the old literary-style imperial examinations were replaced by a Western curriculum). The influence of the missionaries in the dissemination of the ‘awakening’ concept to the wider American public was visible as Roosevelt revealed that he had been prompted to write the article upon being ‘concerned’ after hearing ‘strong appeals’ by two different missionaries. They had recently returned from China and were appealing for ‘aid in awakening and directing the intent of the American people in the cause of Christian education for China’^^81^^. Roosevelt’s article thus embodies the polymerization of both the contemporary American evangelical fervour and Progressive American spirit, which provided the ‘favourable climate’ and receptive audience for the missionaries’ construct of the ‘awakening of China’.


Hence, the evangelical awakening and Progressive Movement taking place in America had profound effects on the notion of a Chinese ‘awakening’. The sense of American Exceptionalism and ‘Manifest Destiny’ supposedly imparted a uniquely selfless perspective relative to other imperialistic foreign powers in American policies and attitudes towards China. This worked in tandem with the stimulus from missionaries, who had their own incentives in proclaiming a Chinese ‘awakening’. As a result, both sides profited from the dissemination of the concept, as it served to legitimise both their interests in China. The significance of this American Exceptionalism in providing a favourable climate for the American missionaries as disseminating agents can be witnessed by comparing them with their British counterparts. In contrast to the American allusion to the highest moral ideals in their dealings with China, British attitudes at the turn of the century appeared to be much more self-centred. These attitudes were epitomised by ‘China expert’ Archibald Colquhoun, who gave a lecture in London 1898 billed ‘The China Question: How It May Affect Imperial Interests’^^82^^ For Colquhoun, the Middle Kingdom represented ‘a virgin field’ for British enterprise^^83^^. Whilst Knusel concedes that missionary societies contributed to British interests in China^^84^^, she also explains that the British authorities tended to be quite critical of the missionaries.^^85^^. The British missionaries needed the co-operation and support of British imperial authorities, but British officials in China often disliked having to defend missionary interests, since this meant that they could spend less time on commercial issues^^86^^. Contemporary British concerns primarily revolved around imperial defence of the British position in Asia and the expansion of Sino-British colonial trade to serve British merchant interests. The British missionaries lacked governmental and public support, which their American counterparts enjoyed, depriving them of a pivotal factor (a favourable environment) required to disseminate the ‘awakening’ concept.


Having explored the role of the missionaries as ‘enthusiastic agents’ and America as the ‘favourable environment’, I will now turn to the events following the Boxer Rebellion, which fanned the flames of the enthusiasm among ‘awakening’ advocates and represented the third facet of the tripartite model. The missionary authors lauded the New Policies of the Qing dynasty in the first decade of the 20th century. In their eyes, the Boxer Rebellion had effectively given the Qing government an ultimatum: reform or face national extinction. Thus, the missionaries interpreted a profound change of attitudes towards western civilization and proclaimed the dawn of a new era for China. W.A.P. Martin declared ‘the coming of a new China’^^87^^, whilst Judson Smith remarked that they were ‘looking upon the first results [of the] awakening of the ‘dormant empire’… that had ‘let loose the convictions….of reform and modernisation which had been slowly gathering strength’.^^88^^. Wang Jing contends that two remarkable reforms in 1906 attracted more attention from missionaries. The first was that the imperial government promised to grant constitutional government, a move which Judson Smith described as ‘spectacular’. He believed that there was ‘no doubt that sooner or later they will secure self-government’^^89^^. The other reform supposedly attracting attention was the imperial decree of 1906 prohibiting opium. Missionaries had sought to prohibit opium for a long time, and they appreciated the courage of the government in enacting this “most startling reform”^^90^^. S. Isett Woodbridge frankly noted, “it would be a victory greater than that achieved by the armies and fleet of Japan if China would do with opium what America cannot do with liquor – abolish it”^^91^^. Smith mentioned that ‘it is noteworthy that the decree ordering the discontinuance of the use of opium was directly due to missionary initiative’^^92^^, illustrating how the missionaries pushed their own agenda of self-promotion.


But further study of the ‘awakening’ books sheds light on other sources of enthusiasm on the part of the missionary authors. Missionaries were particularly delighted at the reform of the imperial examinations – derided by Brown as ‘literary degrees on some purely Chinese subject relating to a remote past’^^93^^. In 1901, by imperial decree, the archaic eight-legged literary essays on the Confucian classics were replaced with a new Western curriculum including astronomy, maths, chemistry and physics. Judson Smith hailed this move, describing how the changes had ‘made an absolute revolution in the educational and intellectual standards of the country^^94^^’. The Qing government then went one step further in 1905 when the imperial examinations were abolished altogether – a landmark which Arthur Smith acclaimed as ‘the greatest change of all’, having initiated the ‘complete abolition of a system of examinations having a sanction of nearly two millenniums, and the substitution of modern learning.”^^95^^


Meanwhile, authors reserved significant praise for Yuan Shikai, holding him up as a model reformer. Brown praised Yuan as a ‘remarkable, modernizing man’^^96^^, believing that he would play an influential role in China’s ‘awakening’. He stated that ‘the fact that such an able and far-seeing man as Yuan Shih Kai is now the most influential Viceroy in China, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, and the trusted adviser of the Empress Dowager may be fairly included among the hopeful signs for the future^^97^^’. W.A.P. Martin joined in the series of tributes to Yuan, recalling how he, ‘on taking leave of the Empress Dowager before proceeding to the manoeuvres, besought her not to listen to reactionary counsels such as those which had produced the disasters of 1900’^^98^^. Yuan Shikai was credited as the driver of much of the military rehaul in late-Qing China, and the increased pace of military modernisation was observed as evidence of another facet of China’s ‘awakening’. Brown marvelled at how ‘the Chinese are buying repeating rifles and Maxim guns, while in their own arsenals they are turning out vast quantities of munitions of war…give the 426,000,000 Chinese the results of modern discovery and invention and imagination falters”^^99^^.

In his article on ‘the Awakening of China’, Roosevelt cited the Chinese boycott of American goods in 1905-1906 as a manifestation of the rise of nationalist and patriotic sentiment. This, however, was largely ignored as a landmark event in missionary commentary, which instead highlighted the manifestations of an ‘awakened’ China that the missions themselves were involved in (such as banning opium, spreading Christianity and Western education). This, therefore, serves to emphasise the constructed nature of the Chinese ‘awakening’. It was in missionary interests to portray China on an upwards trajectory, where the ‘spirit of reform is abroad in the land’^^100^^ and ‘every day adds its testimony to the depth and genuineness of the movement in the direction of reform^^101^^’. The optimistic language was often mellifluous and poetic: ‘every window is open and the wonderful breezes are blowing through in every direction^^102^^. The missionary authorship of ‘awakening’ literature can clearly be placed in this self-congratulatory context, following the series of reforms and their centenary year in China. This brought a concentration of ‘awakening’ commentaries in the first decade of the 20th century. A receptive domestic American audience primed with evangelical and progressive fervour to support modernisation and change in China fuelled the missionaries’ construction. The missionaries were therefore able to promote the optimistic side of the Chinese ‘awakening’ concept, having fulfilled the criteria of a ‘favourable climate’ and ‘watershed events’. This allowed them to draw from pre-1900 Western discourse on China and construct the notion of the ‘Awakening of China’ in their own image and to serve their own agenda.






Chapter 3: ‘Faint in the East, behold the dawn appear’^103^ – China’s ‘Awakening’ and the British Left (1920s)


The concept of the ‘awakening’ of China as a malleable construct is made even more apparent when exploring how it evolved from the 1920s. There were no books authored by missionaries in the second decade of the 20th century whose title alluded to the Chinese ‘awakening’. The optimism from the missionaries following the proclamation of a republic in 1911 faded somewhat as it became clear that it was not the clear-cut success it was hoped to be. James Field Jr. denotes that by WWI, the Chinese missionary effort lacked a comparable degree of influence than before^^104^^. China no longer seemed to welcome missionaries as the KMT pursued an anti-Christian campaign as part of its anti-foreign activities and rhetoric. As a result, the American public came to question whether the Chinese deserved them, considering their hostility to the spread of Christianity. By the mid-1920s, the former evangelical zeal for exporting Christianity had flagged^^105^^. New justifications for missions at this time were vague and even elusive to the mission boards themselves^^106^^.


There were still optimistic articles, as one American pastor described China as an awakening ‘sleeping giant’ as late as 1927^^107^^. However, there was significantly less press attention on the ‘awakening’ of China following the declaration of the republic as it became clear that the country had not ‘awakened’ as its sympathisers had hoped^^108^^. After the rebellion against the declaration of the Chinese Empire and the death of Yuan Shi Kai in 1916, the country fragmented into regional warlordism. One missionary journal in 1919 bemoaned ‘the symptoms of failure’ which ‘forebode ill for the future’. It deplored at how ‘bandits rove at large…life is in constant danger’ and how ‘political corruption is rife throughout the land’^^109^^. The article is glaringly downcast compared to earlier enthusiastic missionary commentaries. The author lamented at the ‘disappointing…reconstruction in educational policy’ as ‘more than that nine-tenths of the population can neither read nor write’^^110^^. The Chinese patriots’ attempts to construct ‘a gigantic modern nation’ were ‘hopeless’. ‘Money would not save the nation’, just as ‘an army cannot save China’^^111^^. It appeared that reality of the situation in China did not measure up to the missionaries’ construct of it and their enthusiasm faded.


The strand of China’s ‘awakening’ promoted by missionaries tapered off as books published by missionary authors trailed off by the 1910s. At the same time, the political left-wing began to take up the mantle of the Chinese ‘awakening’ concept. They did, however, construct the notion for their own purposes and in their own image as the missionaries had done earlier. Many on the Left questioned the legitimacy of Western imperialism and advocated a process of decolonisation. I will argue that left-wing politicians particularly in Britain, used China’s ‘awakening’ as a construct to attack the British maintenance of imperialist policies in China at a time when support for imperialism started to wane after WWI. According to Buchanan, the British Left presented a compelling political and moral argument that did not simply describe events half a world away, but linked them to social conditions in Britain. ‘The question of China was therefore a surprisingly resonant one in Britain’.^^112^^ The Left’s most potent weapon was undoubtedly the fear that the confrontation in the Far East would lead to a new general war^^113^^. As George Hicks told the Albert Hall rally in February 1927, ‘we are met in the shadow of war’^^114^^. The events surrounding the May Thirtieth Movement during 1926-7 was frequently compared to the situation in 1914 when the powers had stumbled into war. This exemplified the integration of contemporary Chinese events with leftist inter-war rhetoric.


First though, I shall examine the origins of the British Left’s sympathy towards China. Henry Hyndman, founder of the Social Democratic Federation and the National Socialist Party in Britain, published a book titled The Awakening of Asia in 1919. A significant proportion of the book was dedicated to the events in China. Hyndman was critical of European writers who treated ‘China and her development…from a purely selfish point of view’. They were ‘eager to “open up” China in order to sell their goods at a profit and anxious to spread their religion in order to extend the influence of their own ideas”^^115^^. This epitomised the anti-imperialist sentiment of the British Left which fired their compassion and support for China. Hyndman stated that ‘now, more than ever before, Europeans and Americans are prepared to consider the relations of the white races to Asiatics as demanding very careful study’^^116^^.


Other commentators on the British Left such as academics R.H.Tawney and Bertrand Russell shared Hyndman’s views. Russell was ‘one of the leading progressive thinkers of his day^^117^^. His ideas about China’s place in the world order were highly influential on the Left and helped to shape its perception of China in the interwar years^^118^^. Upon his arrival in Shanghai in 1920, he described the atmosphere as ‘electric with the hope of a great awakening’^^119^^. Russell challenged the linear model of modernisation and progress espoused by the missionaries. Although admitting the superiority of Western science, he scorns its ‘will to power’ and derides it as merely ‘greater proficiency in the art of killing’. The West regarded mankind as mere ‘raw material’ to be moulded. The Chinese, by contrast, ‘valued the intellect and peaceful existence’ over ‘progress and efficiency’. The average ‘Chinaman’ was ‘happier than the average Englishman’ because his nation was built on a ‘more human and civilised outlook than our own’. These Sinophilic attitudes were echoed by Tawney, an economic history professor at the LSE, who rejected the stereotypes of the ‘unchanging’ East.^^120^^ To him, this was no ‘static civilization’ and he argued instead that China’s economic, political and intellectual life were in a state of ‘simultaneous ferment’ and the country could well be ‘on the brink of wholesale change’^^121^^. There were certain similarities here with Russell’s work, in particular a shared fear that China would simply imitate the West rather than drawing on its own strengths to control western technology^^122^^. Hyndman, Tawney and Russell therefore embodied the admiration of China that existed in the British Left at this time, which provided a similar stimulatory force to that which the missionaries imparted a couple of decades earlier.


There was therefore a significant amount of pre-existing sympathy for China’s plight against foreign imperialism from the British Left by 1920. The rise of nationalism stemming from the May Fourth Movement in 1919 played a part in contributing to the fervour of left-wing observers of China. But the labour strikes and worker involvement in the May Thirtieth Movement in 1925 served to considerably elevate the attention to China from the British Left. The killing of Chinese protesters in Shanghai and the following bloody clashes in the foreign concession of Canton marked the beginning of a dangerous confrontation between British imperial power and the emerging Chinese nationalist movement led by the KMT^^123^^. For the British Left, it triggered the first serious political engagement with the Chinese revolution and in 1925-7 there was a series of campaigns known collectively as the ‘Hands off China Movement’^^124^^. On 6th February 1927, at the height of the ‘Hands Off China’ Movement, a packed Labour Party rally at the Royal Albert Hall opened with Edward Carpenter’s socialist anthem ‘England Arise’, which was played twice^^125^^. One reporter noted: ‘the vast audience seemed to lay special emphasis on the second line, ‘faint in the East, behold the dawn appear’^^126^^ which visually resonated with the awakening metaphor. This comment sheds light on the contemporary enthusiasm towards sudden and unexpected revolutionary developments in China. The apex of the United Front between the CCP and the KMT was the occupation of the Chinese quarter of Shanghai by Chiang’s forces on 26th March 1927, after a communist-led general strike had seized control. An eyewitness report published in Britain described a scene ‘reminiscent of the first days of the Russian October Revolution’, as ‘the armed workers looked like typical Red Guards patrolling the streets’^^127^^. Commentary on China’s ‘awakening’ at this time clearly had a socialist and left-wing flavour to it, reflecting the stimulus of leftist thought towards the concept. It served as a channel for the British Left to express their sympathy in the 1920s for what they saw as a concrete manifestation in China of a wider anti-imperialist movement that they advocated. Leonard Woolf linked China to a ‘world revolt’ against Europe encompassing other modernising regimes in Turkey and Persia’^^128^^. For the first time, the Left believed that what was happening in China would have profound implications for the West and for the ‘white domination of the coloured races in all parts of the world’^^129^^.


The anti-imperialistic rhetoric of the liberal discourse on China was also manifested in commentary on the May Thirtieth Movement in left-wing British newspapers. By the mid-1930s, newspapers had turned a considerable channel for transmitting political ideas to the public as 95 morning papers and 57.5 evening newspapers were sold for every 100 families in Britain^^130^^. The Manchester Guardian was the top selling radical morning paper in Britain. It, along with the evening newspaper The Star, were the only liberal major British newspapers in circulation at the time^^131^^ Its rivals such as the Daily Mirror and Daily Mail who enjoyed a much higher circulation were conservative in political orientation^^132^^. Left-wing newspapers such as the Manchester Guardian echoed the anti-imperialistic sentiment of Woolf, Russell and Tawney with several references to the Chinese ‘awakening’. In an article headlined “Hands Off China”, it proclaimed that ‘there was a great national awakening in China’ with a development of the Chinese labour movement and the demand was “China for the Chinese”^^133^^. It then criticised ‘the armed burglars of Europe who were driving China into the arms of Russia^^134^^’. It supported the protest against the ‘warlike action of the British naval authorities in China’ and the call for the ‘withdrawal of British warships from China’s territorial waters’ as well as the abolition of extraterritoriality.


There was much positivity over the emerging Nationalist government and there were calls from the Left to recognise the KMT government in Canton as the de facto government^^135^^. This came at a time when the KMT were still receiving Soviet support and formed an alliance with the CCP to end warlordism and imperialism in China. Observing the unifying efforts of the KMT, the British Left believed that its success would ‘ultimately mean the throwing off of the foreign yoke and the withdrawal of privileges’^^136^^. In 1927, David Lloyd George castigated the British policy in China, arguing that they should have ‘made good the agreement…at the Washington Conference…to recognise the sovereignty and independence of China’. He expressed that ‘the dawn has now broken for China’ as part of ‘a great awakening throughout Asia’ and that Britain needed to ‘avoid the quagmire’ by securing ‘the friendship of this great people’.^^137^^ As the leader of the Liberal Party in Britain, Lloyd George embodied the recycling of the ‘awakening’ concept as a form of rhetoric to pursue a political agenda.


Sympathetic leftist commentary on China in the 1920s was more prominent in Britain than America due to the relative strength of the Labour Party in Britain compared to the socialist movement in America. Whilst fears of Communism and Communist labour subversion pervaded the Western world^^138^^, ‘the Red Scare affected American public opinion to such a degree that communism remained an enemy image throughout the 1920’s’^^139^^. ‘[It] not only proved very effective against radicalism in the USA but also practically destroyed the American Left and massively reduced the labour movement’s militancy’^^140^^. In spite of this James Dolsen, founder of the Communist Party in the USA, wrote a book titled ‘The Awakening of China’ in 1926 in the aftermath of the May Thirtieth Incident. His anti-imperialist attitudes were salient as he described the British police who shot the Chinese protesters in Shanghai as ‘imperialist murderers’^^141^^. He went on to express his solidarity with the Chinese workers as he described the Canton-Hong Kong strike as ‘the greatest general strike in history^^142^^ and praised their ‘magnificent courage in this critical situation’^^143^^. Dolsen’s book demonstrated that the awakening of China concept was a part of wider contemporary left-wing discourse. But the fact that he was the only significant American author to use the ‘awakening’ concept in a Chinese context at this time illustrates the importance of a ‘favourable environment’. Americans wishing to echo Dolsen had a tougher time in expressing sympathy and admiration towards the labour agitation of the May Thirtieth Movement at a time when American public sentiment was so virulently anti-Left.


Left wing interest in the ‘awakening’ of China in the 1920s therefore exemplified the flexible and constructed nature of the concept. Although there was some nascent support for China from liberal thinkers such as Hyndman and Russell, the May Thirtieth Incident in 1925 struck a particular chord with wider left-wing commentators. Only after witnessing major strikes and uprisings did the mainstream Left chime in with their support. Solidarity with the ‘Hands Off China’ movement reached its peak around the time when the role of communists within KMT activity was at its height. Liberal Party leader Lloyd George only attached himself to the ‘awakening of China’ discourse in 1927 after much of the labour agitation in China had already taken place. It is evident therefore that in the 1920s, the ‘awakening of China’ was a construct used to pursue individual agendas, just as the missionaries had done at the beginning of the century.










Conclusion: China’s ‘Awakening’ – A Malleable Reinvention


The proclamation of the ‘awakening’ of China in the early 20th century can thus be accounted for by deconstructing the elements which synthesised the notion. In this thesis I argued that the dissemination of the ‘awakening’ of China motif was a powerful visual metaphor which was predicated on the fulfilment of a tripartite criteria: ‘enthusiastic agents’ pursuing their agenda, a ‘favourable climate’ to support them and ‘watershed events’ to certify the rhetoric. But the ways in which these conditions could be fulfilled varied greatly over time and so the tripartite condition should not be seen merely as a prerequisite for the awakening motif, but rather a framework by which to analyse the reasons behind the concept’s existence at a particular point in time.


The tripartite condition was fulfilled at the turn of the century with the missionaries. The existence of the ‘awakening’ concept at this time was therefore a product of their attempts to justify their role in China, the eager evangelism and Progressivism of the American public and the unexpectedly sweeping nature of the late-Qing New Policies. This explains why there was (retrospectively counterintuitive) optimism over the future of China at a time of her evident weakness. The three factors were again active in the 1920s with Chinese sympathy from British Left, helped by an increasingly anti-imperialist audience in the inter-war period and the May Thirtieth Movement providing a rallying point of reference for advocates in 1925. The evolution of the concept as part of left-wing political rhetoric in the 1920s further reveals the extent to which the notion of the Chinese ‘awakening’ relied on the tripartite condition.


This thesis contributes to the historiography on the ‘awakening’ of China by investigating the concept of the ‘awakening’ as a foreign construct rather than as a facet of Chinese political rhetoric which Fitzgerald had explored in his work. In 1925, Propaganda Bureau Secretary Zhou Fohai offered a simple explanation of Sun Yatsen’s division of the Chinese people into three. First came the “first awakened” of the truth, who led by virtue of his discovery. This was Sun himself. The “next awakened” were his propagandists. The third category of the “unawakened” were the “practitioners” who did as they were told even if they did not quite know why they were doing so^^144^^. In the mould of Sun’s vision, Fitzgerald’s study traces the different transitional phases of the ‘awakening’ from the awakening of the “self” to the awakening of the “nation”. He treats the awakening concept as an ‘exercise of political power in the pursuit of a nationalist end: the unity and sovereignty of the nation state’.^^145^^


In contrast, what I have shown is that from the same 19th century ‘Awake’/‘Asleep’ discourse about China, a different strand of the ‘awakening’ metaphor was appropriated by foreign commentators, distinct from the strand promoted by Chinese nationalists. For the West, the ‘awakening’ of China was instead a construct by which they could project their hopes and fears onto the rousing of a ‘sleeping giant’, and I have duly demonstrated how the missionaries and the British Left appropriated the metaphor to match their own aspirations. I have demonstrated how the malleable ‘awakening’ concept was successfully reinvented by historical agents for another cause, for a different audience, instigated by a different series of events in a state of temporal flux between the late-19th and early-20th century. This therefore accounts for the use of the term of ‘awakening’ by foreign observers during a dour period in China’s history and why it contradicted so greatly from the anti-Chinese sentiment that was prominent at the time.

















Primary Sources:


Printed Sources: Books and journal articles

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Brown, A.J. (1904). New Forces in Old China; An Unwelcome But Inevitable Awakening, New York: F.H. Revell Co.

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Newspapers and journal archives (online archives):


Roosevelt, T. (1908). The Awakening of China. The Outlook, 28th November 1908 ( accessed as pdf file – http://www.theodore-roosevelt.com/images/research/treditorials/o157.pdf – accessed 22/2/16, 17.41pm)



[Accessed from the Proquest database – Provided by the Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford (http://search.proquest.com/databases/index – accessed 22/02/16, 17:06pm]

The Manchester Guardian

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Chambers’s Journal

Examiner and London Review

The New Century Review

Littell’s Living Age

The Independent…Devoted to the Consideration of Politics, Social and Economic Tendencies, History, Literature and the Arts


Secondary literature:

Buchanan, T. (2012) East Wind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Clegg, J. (1994). Fu Manchu and the Yellow Peril. Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham.

Clifford, N. (1991). Spoilt Children of Empire. Middlebury, Vt.: Middlebury College Press.

Cohen, W. (1971). America’s Response to China. New York: Wiley.

Dawson, R. (1967). The Chinese Chameleon. London, etc.: Oxford University Press.

Fairbank, J.K. et al.(eds.) (1974) The Missionary Enterprise in China and America, Cambridge: Harvard University Press

Fitzgerald, J. (1996). Awakening China. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.

Greene, N. (2014) From Fu Manchu to Kung Fu Panda: Images of China in American Film. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press,

Greene, N. (n.d.). From Fu Manchu to Kung fu panda.

Hughes, E. (1938). The Invasion of China by the Western World. New York: Macmillan.

Isaacs, H. (1962). Images of Asia. New York: Capricorn Books.

Jespersen, T. (1996). American images of China, 1931-1949. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.

Knusel, A. (2012) Framing China. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Ltd.

Luard, E. (1962). Britain and China. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.

Mackerras, C. (1989). Western Images of China. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mitani, T. and Nish, I. (1980). Some Foreign Attitudes to Republican China. London: International Centre for Economics and Related Disciplines, London School of Economics.

Moon, K. (2005). Yellowface. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.

Muirhead, R. (2009). China. Woolsery, Bideford: CFZ Press.

Ng, K. (1968). The Chinese in London. London: published for the Institute of Race Relations by Oxford U.P.

Otte, T. (2007). The China Question. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pratt, J. (1944). China and Britain. London: Collins.

Roberts, J. (1991). China through Western eyes. Wolfeboro Falls, NH: A. Sutton.

Scott, D. (2007) China and the International System. London: Routledge..

Spence, J. (1998). The Chan’s Great Continent. New York: W.W. Norton.

Tchen, J. and Yeats, D. (n.d.). Yellow peril!.

Turner, O. (2014) American Images of China: Identity, Power and Policy. New York: Routledge

Wagner, R. (2011). China “Asleep” and “Awakening.” A Study in Conceptualising Asymmetry and Coping with It. Transcultural Studies. v.2 (1) pp.4-139

Wang, J. (2015) The Image of China Shaped by American Missionaries and Its Impact in the Early Twentieth Century. Journal of Cultural Interaction in East Asia. v.6 (3)

Winks, R. and Rush, J. (1990). Asia in Western Fiction. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Witchard, A. (2009). Thomas Burke’s Dark Chinoiserie. Farnham, England: Ashgate Publishing. Co.

Wright, M. (1968). China in Revolution. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Wu, W. (1982). The Yellow Peril. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books.

Xu, G. (2011). Strangers on the Western Front: Chinese Workers in the Great War. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press


Cover Illustration:

Qing Azure Dragon Flag, Wikimedia Commons

China Awakening Cartoon, Puck or the Shanghai Charivari. 1 Feb 1872





















1 W.A.P.Martin, The Awakening of China. (New York,1907) p.v

2 J.Fitzgerald, Awakening China. (Stanford,1996) p.5

3 ibid, p.62

4 ibid

5 R.Wagner. China “Asleep” and “Awakening.” A Study in Conceptualising Asymmetry and Coping with It. Transcultural Studies. v.2 (1) (2011) pp.4-139

6 J.Wang. The Image of China Shaped by American Missionaries and Its Impact in the Early Twentieth Century. Journal of Cultural Interaction in East Asia. v.6 (3) (2015)

7 A,Knusel. Framing China. (Farnham,2012).

8 T,Buchanan. East Wind. (Oxford,2012)

9 Military Resources of China, New York Times. 19 September 1875

10 ibid

11 The Resources In China, The North China Herald. 15 July 1876

12 P.Cohen, History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience and Myth, (New York,1997) p.21

13 Plucking Poor China: Italy’s Demand May Be Signal for the Final Rush. Washington Post. 5 March 1899

14 The Sick Man of the Far East. The New Century Review, 10 October 1897

15 ‘Who Will Exploit China?. Living Age, 18 December 1897

16 A,Roberts. Salisbury. Victorian Titan. pp.691-2 (cited in H.L.Wesseling, The European Colonial Empires: 1815-1919.(1999) p. 126)

17 Wagner, China “asleep”, p.37

18 F.Petrarca, Rerum Vulgarum Fragmenta, (ed).B.Rosanna (Torino,2005) (cited in Wagner, China “asleep”)

19 R.Wagner, Reenacting the Heavenly Vision. The Role of Religion in the Taiping Rebellion. (Berkeley,1982) (cited in Wagner, China “Asleep””)

20 Puck or the Shanghai Charivari. 1 Feb 1872 (cited in Wagner, China “asleep”) – shown in cover page

21 Wagner, China “asleep”, p.57

22 Awakening of China. The Eclectic Magazine of Foreign Literature, November 1895

23 China’s Awakening. The Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal, 1 May 1893

24 The Mineral Riches of China, Chambers’s Journal, 19 February 1898

25 J.R.Young, New Life in China, The North American Review, v.153,(419). October 1891

26 Dangerous Awakening of the Great Chinese Dragon – A Menace to Civilisation. Washington Post, 26 August 1894

27 D.Scott, China and the International System. (London,2007). p.113

28 C.H.Pearson, National Life and Character (London,1893) p.83

29 Progress in Japan. Examiner and London Review, 10 February 1872

30 Progress in Japan, Littell’s Living Age, 27 September 1890

31 The Awakening in China. New York Times, 16 January 1899

32 Japan and China. The Independent…Devoted to the Consideration of Politics, Social and Economic Tendencies, History, Literature and the Arts, 21 September 1899

33 An Alliance Between China and Japan. The North China Herald, 31 July 1899

34 ibid

35 J.R.Young, New Life in China,p.427

36 Means More Than War: Dangerous Awakening of the Great Chinese Dragon. The Washington Post, 26 August 1894

37 ibid

38 China’s Awakening, The Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal. 1 May 1893

39 The Great Awakening in China. New York Evangelist, 4 October 1894

40 ibid

41 ibid

42 Uncle Sam in China, The Washington Post, 6 November 1898

43 Martin, ‘Awakening of China’, p.196

44 The Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal, 1 January 1901: 52

45 N.Greene, From Fu Manchu to Kung Fu Panda: Images of China in American Film. (Honolulu,2014), p.121

46 W.F.Leung, 16 August 2014. “Perceptions of the East – Yellow Peril: An Archive of Anti-Asian Fear”. The Irish Times.

47 A.Witchard, Thomas Burke’s Dark Chinoiserie (Farnham,2009) p.96

48 ibid.

49 ibid

50 ibid. p.94

51 A.J.Brown, New forces in old China; an unwelcome but inevitable awakening, (New York,1904) p.9

52 J.B.Gardner, The Image of the Chinese in the United States, 1885-1915. doctoral dissertation, University of Pennsylvania. (cited in Wang, p.33)

53 H.D.Porter. William Scott Ament: Missionary of the American Board to China, (New York,1911) p.353

54 J.Smith, Awakening of China. p.229

55 Doyle, G.W. Builders of the Chinese Church, (ed.) G. Wright Doyle, (cited Stockment, Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity ( http://www.bdcconline.net/en/stories/m/martin-william-alexander-parsons.php (21/02/2016)

56 Wang, The Image of China, p.41

57 ibid. p.37

58 Brown, p.XIV

59 Martin, p.264

60 Smith, A. p.1

61 Brown. p.359

62 Jing. p.36

63 ibid

64 L.Xi, The Conversion of Missionaries: Liberalism in American Protestant Missions in China 1907-1932. pp.2-4 (cited Knusel.p.52)

65 ibid

66 ibid

67 A.Smith, The Uplift of China, p.XV

68 ibid, p.XI

69 Knusel, Framing China, p.58

70 Brown, New Forces in Old China, p.73

71 Hamby, Progressivism: A Century of Change and Rebirth. (eds.) Milkis and Mileur, (1999) Progressivism and the New Democracy.(cited Knusel, p.58)

72 J.Smith, The Awakening of China, p.233

73 Brown. p.358

74 E.Eisenach, Progressive Internationalism, in Milkis and Mileur (eds.) (cited Knusel. p.58)

75 ibid

76 Knusel. p.54

77 New York Times, 10th June 1900 (cited Knusel p.55)

78 Scott, p.139

79 Brown, p.331

80 T.Roosevelt, The Awakening of China. The Outlook, 28 November 1908


82 A.R.Colquhoun, Royal United Services Institute Journal, (1898) p.84 (cited Mountford, B. Colonial Australia and Anglo-Chinese relations in (ed.) Bickers)

83 ibid. p.86

84 Knusel, p.28

85 ibid. p.30

86 Porter, Religion, pp. 29-11, Dunch, Cultural Imperialism, p.308 (cited Knusel p.31)

87 W.A.P.Martin, Awakening China, p.231

88 A.Smith, Uplift of China, p.214

89 ibid. p.215

90 Wang, Image of China, p.25

91 The Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal, 38, Jan 1907

92 A.H.Smith p. 210

93 Brown, New Forces, p.325

94 J.Smith, Awakening of China p.234

95 A.H.Smith, Uplift of China, p.211

96 Brown, p.338

97 ibid

98 W.A.P.Martin, p.VII

99 Brown, p.315

100 W.A.P.Martin, p. 203

101 ibid, p.VI

102 A.H.Smith. p.211

103 Daily Herald, 7 February 1927, (cited Buchanan, East Wind (Oxford, 2012), p.26)

104 J.A.Field Jr, Near East Notes and Far East Quotes, p. 26 (cited in (eds.) J.K.Fairbank, The Missionary Enterprise in China and America, (Cambridge,1974)

105 S.S.Garrett, Why They Stayed, p. 289 (cited in Fairbank)

106 ibid

107 Pastor Discusses China: The Sleeping Giant is Awakening, New York Times, 28 February 1927

108 (Based on a search of the Proquest newspaper archive – see bibliography – the number of journal article titles including ‘China’ and ‘Awakening’ fall from 156 between 1895-1912 to just 58 between 1913-30)

109 The Church and the World, The Biblical World, January 1919

110 ibid

111 ibid

112 Buchanan, East Wind, p.38

113 ibid

114 Daily Herald, 7th February 1927 (cited in Buchanan, p.39)

115 H.M,Hyndman, The Awakening of Asia, (1919) p.108

116 ibid, preface

117 T,Buchanan, p.7

118 ibid. p. 8

119 B.Russell, The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, ii:1914-1944, (London,1950), p.128 (cited in Buchanan, p.7)

120 R,Terill, R.H.Tawney p.254 (cited Buchanan, p.10)

121 Tawney, Land and Labour, p.19, p.12 (cited Buchanan, p.10)

122 Buchanan, p.10

123 ibid, p.22

124 ibid.

125 ibid, p.26

126 Daily Herald, 7 February 1927 (cited Buchanan, p.26)

127 A ‘special cable’ published in Workers’ Life, 1st April 1927 (cited Buchanan, p.24)

128 Daily Herald, 12 October 1927 (cited ibid)

129 New Leader, 31 December 1926 (cited Buchanan, p.26)

130 D.Butler, and A.Sloman, British Political Facts, 1900-1975, (London,1975) pp. 377-92; Political and Economic Planning, Report, p.84; Kaul, Reporting the Raj, pp. 55-8 (cited Knusel p.16)

131 Knusel p.14

132 Butler and Sloman, (cited Knusel. p.16)

133 The Scotsman, 28 September 1926

134 ibid

135 Butler and Sloman (cited Knusel p.16)

136 ibid

137 The Manchester Guardian, 21 April 1927

138 Knusel, p.79

139 ibid, p.102

140 ibid

141 J.Dolsen, The Awakening of China. (Chicago,1926), p.124

142 ibid, p.126

143 ibid, p.125


145 Fitzgerald, Awakening China, p.6


'The Awakening of China': Western Concepts of China in the Early 20th Century

"The Awakening of China": Western Concepts of China in the Early 20th Century' explores the reasoning behind the concept of "China's Awakening" at a time when China was weak, divided and dominated by western imperialism. Battered by the Opium Wars, the Boxer Rebellion, the fall of the Qing, the descent into warlordism and then formation of the shaky foundations of a republic in the 1920s, he seems strange that China's was seen as 'awakening' by the West. This book however, seeks to explain this phenomenonand weaves it into a narrative to the early 20th Century American Progressive Movement and later that of the British Left. This book is a reprint of a dissertation submitted as part of the fulfilment of the completion of a history undergraduate degree at Oxford University. ----"China is the theatre of the greatest movement now taking place on the face of the globe...It promises nothing short of the complete renovation of the oldest of empires…. Her present greatness and her future prospects alike challenge admiration .

  • Author: Edwin747
  • Published: 2016-10-22 22:20:12
  • Words: 12928
'The Awakening of China': Western Concepts of China in the Early 20th Century 'The Awakening of China': Western Concepts of China in the Early 20th Century