Date of Award

Summer 7-25-2014

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

First Advisor

Timothy B. Weston

Second Advisor

Miriam Kingsberg

Third Advisor

Kwangmin Kim

Abstract

British imperial policy in the nineteenth century often found itself stretched and challenged as local policy makers struggled to adapt to their changing circumstances, the expectations and demands of local populations, while still adhering to the goal of British imperialism. Local British officials who responded to the Taiping Civil War, 1853-1864, highlight this struggle. Great Britain created their Taiping policy in an ad hoc manner in order to balance contending opinions about the potential of the Taiping compared with the Qing in furthering British economic, social and political goals. In this pursuit of a balanced policy, I argue that local British officials relied on an integrated policy of conditional neutrality and limited intervention. While local officials worked to maintain stability during the upheaval of the Taiping Civil War, they had to contend with the differing opinions and demands of missionaries, merchants and mercenaries all of whom complicated the situation.

Missionaries, merchants and mercenaries operating out of Shanghai, which was the main hub of Western commerce and society in the mid nineteenth century, were not shy about sharing their opinions regarding what policy British officials should take. Their actions and words pushed policy makers to rely on a flexible policy, which allowed them to accommodate some demands while suppressing others. This flexible policy of conditional neutrality and limited intervention protected British interests in China, while helping to maintain a degree of separation from the belligerents to not risk further destabilizing China. They maintained this policy throughout the war, despite numerous altercations, and wars. The ad hoc nature of Great Britain’s Taiping policy was successful despite the constant pressures of local groups, and the larger politics of the British Empire that conflicted with their local policy of conditional neutrality and limited intervention.

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