Institutional Scholarship

The House that Customs Built: How Foreigners Found Their Place in the Chinese Maritime Customs Service

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dc.contributor.advisor Smith, Paul Jacov Frang, Joanna L. 2014-03-06T15:31:46Z 2014-03-06T15:31:46Z 2001
dc.description.abstract In an address to his staff in 1926, the leader of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service asked: "And now as regards our employment here in China: What does it mean and why are we here at all?" This paper intends to study the circumstances that led the foreign leader of a branch of the Chinese Civil Service to ask such a question, and along the way, take note of the different ways the foreigners in his employ articulated answers to his query. The question of how a cadre of foreigners from Europe, the United States, and Japan had, by the 1920s, gained independent control of the Chinese Customs can be traced back in the history of China's foreign relations to at least the middle of the nineteenth century. Events over the next half-century as the Western world embarked on a conscious project of implanting itself onto the Chinese political and economic landscapes would only serve to further complicate the position occupied by foreign settlers in China. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the Chinese Maritime Customs Service came into existence as a foreign administered, yet nonetheless Chinese, institution. The CMCS began with the signing of the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 and was finalized in the settlement at Tientsin in 1859. Over the next fifty years of institutional expansion, the CMCS elaborated its administrative hierarchy and increased the scope of its effective regulatory control. After the Revolution in 1911, the CMCS gained an even greater control over Customs revenue and continued as a conspicuous foreign presence in China up to the end of the system of extraterritorial privileges in 1943. While the CMCS continued under foreign leadership until the founding of the People's Republic in 1949, its range of actions was much circumscribed as compared to the autonomous authority it held in China in years past. With a focus on the years from the turn of the century up through the end of the 1920s, this paper will study the strategies for institutional survival employed by the Chinese Maritime Customs Service. The CMCS justified its foreign face with assertions of Chinese moral and political immaturity and proposed to take up the role of teacher to child-like Chinese pupils. Continued claims of the Chinese inability to achieve moral improvement thus perpetually postponed the prospect of a fully Chinese CMCS and required an extended period of foreign tutelage. As will be seen, however, foreigners' continual interaction with their Chinese subordinates did not come without a cost. Deeply entangled in this process were the ways that the foreign CMCS staff simultaneously sought to procure and secure their own place in the CMCS. In order for foreigners in the CMCS to make sense of their position in China and answer the question, "why are we here at all?," however, they first had to determine the defining characteristics of who "we" were. Foreigners in the CMCS constructed their identities largely in contrast to the Chinese and social conventions in the treaty ports aimed to promote Western traditions and reject the influences of Chinese culture. Equally important to the foreign definition of identity, however, was the intricate social structure of the foreign community. While the hierarchical order of the CMCS created intractable rifts between upper and lower level employees, social stratification nonetheless provided a measure of cohesiveness in the foreign community that helped to differentiate Westerners from their Chinese neighbors and coworkers. When the terms used to define the distinct characteristics of those at the bottom of the foreign social structure began to overlap with the terms used to mark out the lines of racial difference however, racial and social boundaries began to blur. Their identities thus threatened, foreigners in the CMCS invested even more social energy into the maintenance of racial distinction. Throughout the first twenty-five years of the century, then, foreigners constructed themselves and the Customs Service in stark opposition to their Chinese hosts. By the late 1920s, however, the Chinese, and foreigners themselves, were no longer satisfied by the answers the CMCS and foreigners had proposed to the question of "What does it mean and why are we here at all?" en
dc.description.sponsorship Haverford College. Dept. of History en
dc.language.iso en_US en
dc.subject.lcsh China. Hai guan zong shui wu si shu -- History
dc.subject.lcsh China -- Foreign economic relations
dc.title The House that Customs Built: How Foreigners Found Their Place in the Chinese Maritime Customs Service en
dc.type Thesis (B.A.) en
dc.rights.access Haverford users only

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