Abstracts and Event Programme: Treaty Port China in World History c.1842-1930. 27-28 January 2022.

Victoria Harbour with Hong Kong Island in the background, c.1862. Unknown artist.










Date and time: 27-28 January 2022, 08.30 to 12.30 (BST) both days.

Attendance is free-of-charge but attendees must register in order to receive the event link.  

Please register via Eventbrite by Tuesday 26 January.

The University of Portsmouth’s ‘Port Towns and Urban Cultures’ group, in collaboration with its partners Lloyd’s Register Foundation Heritage and Education Centre, Dalian Maritime University and Hong Kong Baptist University, invites participation from Postgraduate (PG) students and Early Career Scholars (ECR) on the theme of cultural influences, transfer, hybridity and otherness in Treaty Port China.

The Treaty Port system was imposed by European, and later Japanese, powers on Chinese port settlements from 1842 until the end of the Second World War. As bustling areas of trade and industry, many Chinese treaty ports became hubs of international business, and social and cultural activity which forever transformed the experiences of their residents and workers. This conference aims to explore the emerging scholarship on many aspects of Chinese port life and work.





This event is sponsored by Lloyd’s Register Foundation



Day 1 – Thursday 27 January 2022

  • 8.30am (UK time)/4.30pm (Mainland China) – Welcome and event introduction
  • 9am/5pm – 9.45am/5.45pm – Keynote 1. Professor HAN Qing, Dalian Maritime University, ‘The Survey of Ships in Ancient China.

BREAK – 15 minutes

  • 10am/6pm – 12pm/8pm – Panel session 1
    • Corey Watson, University of Portsmouth, ‘Lloyd’s Register Surveyors in China, 1869-1918: project and key themes.’
    • James Halcrow, University of Auckland/Te Whare Wānanga o Tāmaki Makaurau, ‘Internationalism and Imperialism in Xiamen (Amoy), 1840s-1914.’
    • Ivana Lam, University of Portsmouth, ‘Epidemic Disease, Warfare and Medicine in China, 1839-1901.’
  • 12pm/8pm – 12.30pm/8.30pm – Round up and end of day one


Day 2 – Friday 28 January 2022

  • 8.30am/4.30pm – Welcome and day 2 introduction
  • 9am/5pm – 11am/7pm – Panel session 2
    • Tingcong Lin, University of Hong Kong, ‘Cultural (re)productions of a utopian enclave: “performative geographies” of colonial Shameen, Canton in the late nineteenth century.’
    • Tess Gardner, Australian National University, ‘Pressing On: Treaty Port Journalist-advisers and “Donald of China”.’
    • Charlotte Steffen, University of Portsmouth. ‘Life in the Shanghai Treaty Port Customs Office as derived from the Letters of Robert Hart.’

BREAK – 15 minutes

  • 11.15am/7.15pm – 12pm/8pm – Keynote 2. Dr KWONG Chi Man, Hong Kong Baptist University, ‘The Foundations of the British Sea Power in East Asia, 1850-1937.’
  • 12pm/8pm – 12.30pm/8.30pm – Round up and end of day two.


Presenters and abstracts

Tess Gardner, Australian National University, Pressing On: Treaty Port Journalist-advisers and “Donald of China”.

In the twentieth century masses of military, political, technical, and economic advisers came to China in an attempt to influence its leaders, and yet some of the closest and most influential advisers were journalists. In this paper I describe the journalist-adviser as a particular kind of treaty port sojourner, one whose presence and influence was a direct consequence of the spread of imperialism in China and the currents of treaty port journalism. In order to become advisers, they had to step outside of the racial divisions of the treaty ports, although this did not necessarily mean that they abandoned its racialized worldview. The roles of both journalist and adviser were rarely mutually exclusive, and they operated at various points on a spectrum between the two. This is apparent in the career of the Australian journalist, William Henry Donald (1875—1946). Donald lived in China for over forty years and worked for figures such as Sun Yatsen, Zhang Xueliang and Chiang Kai-shek, making him an especially successful example of the journalist-adviser that is worth studying. Exploring the roles he played at various points on the journalist-adviser spectrum reveals the value that Chinese politicians saw in western journalists at a time when communicating with western media was vital for Chinese interests.

Biography: Tess is a PhD student at the Australian National University’s National Centre of Biography interested in the modern historical links between Australia and China. She is also a visiting scholar at the State Library of New South Wales. She is currently researching a group biography of Australian journalists in Republican China, most notably George Morrison and William Donald.


James Halcrow, University of Auckland/Te Whare Wānanga o Tāmaki Makaurau. ‘Internationalism and Imperialism in Xiamen (Amoy), 1840s-1914.’

My paper aims to present some key themes surrounding the creation of the International Settlement on Kulangsu Island (Gulangyu in pinyin) between 1900-1903. By this time, a British Concession had already existed on the opposite shoreline in the city of Amoy (today’s Xiamen) for the past half-century. A British diplomat in the 1920s serving on Kulangsu Island claimed that the ‘international character of the Settlement made problems very difficult to handle’ and that compared to other treaty port concessions, there was little harmony in the treaty port. Future nationalist historians have argued that the lack of indigenous participation in the day-to-day municipal governance of the Settlement meant that its existence was illegitimate, and have as such avoided any serious scholarly interpretation. Prior to World War One, treaty ports such as Amoy were regarded as an essential piece of the puzzle in the imperial powers’ diplomatic power game and to a large extent depended on Chinese cooperation. My paper makes the argument that the International Settlement went a long way to mitigate tensions at the turn of the century. Modelled heavily on the Shanghai International Settlement, structures of power in Kulangsu ensured that foreign residents’ privileges could remain intact, while needing to maintain a constant accommodation and negotiation with Chinese officialdom. Unlike the concessions that were granted to foreign powers on an exclusive national basis, the Kulangsu International Settlement was characterised by a truly multinational community and no single one of the imperial treaty powers controlled the International Settlement. The contentious nature of international diplomacy and the volatile political situation in the latter decades of the Qing Dynasty’s rule in China caused much uncertainty and the Kulangsu International Settlement was a very local solution to international and diplomatic contingencies.

Biography: James Halcrow is a doctoral candidate in History at the University of Auckland/Te Whare Wānanga o Tāmaki Makaurau. His research on the Chinese treaty ports reflect his broader research areas in nineteenth and early-twentieth century China’s relationship with the West, European concepts of Asia and Orientalism, and treaty port imperialism in China and Japan.


Ivana Lam, University of Portsmouth, ‘Epidemic Disease, Warfare and Medicine in China, 1839-1901.’

In the aftermath of the Crimean War (1853-1856) and the Indian Mutiny/Rebellion (1856-1857), there was outrage towards the British government because many within the British armed forces died due to diseases such as cholera. However, there seemed to have been a lack of action taken in this matter by the British government. As this paper contends, these conflicts led the British government to implement medical and sanitary reforms within the armed forces when they fought in the Second Opium War (1856-1860) and participated in the Taiping Rebellion (1860-1862).This paper will chart and explain the transformations that occurred in regards to health and sanitary practices in China during the nineteenth century. It will also explore what lasting impact, if any, these changes had on the years after the Opium Wars. To do so, this paper will draw upon three main topics: the role and impact parliamentary and public opinion played in relation to the medical and sanitary reforms; the health and sanitary reforms made and the success it had in the preservation in the health of the armed forces; and how cholera and other infectious diseases were viewed and how these understandings affected the way medical officers diagnosed and treated the soldiers and sailors.

As a result, this paper contends that the Second Opium War ushered in vital sanitary health practices in the British forces. It will also be argued that the experiences of the Second Opium War were crucial in their own right and left a lasting legacy for future conflicts, which the British were involved in.

Biography: Ivana Lam is a full-time doctoral candidate at the University of Portsmouth, researching the history of the British military and naval medicine in China from 1839 to 1901. She will analyse how medicine and hygienic practices in the British armed forces changed and the effects of these reforms, especially in relation to the Opium Wars and the Taiping Rebellion. This work follows from her MRes in Humanities and Social Sciences (History) at the University of Portsmouth. Ivana’s research interests include the history of health, medicine, epidemic diseases, the British experience in China, the British empire, and the British armed forces.


Tingcong Lin, University of Hong Kong, ‘Cultural (re)productions of a utopian enclave: “performative geographies” of colonial Shameen, Canton in the late nineteenth century.’

This paper examines contemporaneous (predominantly English) literary and cultural representations of the identified enclave as a utopian space and their relationship with the island’s spatial formation and evolution. Late nineteenth-century treaty port Canton witnessed the establishment and development of Shameen Island as a colonial outpost and enclave. Simultaneously, literary and cultural depictions and narrations of the place produced a discourse of it as a utopian island: geographically insular and bounded, socially exclusive and harmonious, politically centralized and ordered, and technologically progressive and advantageous. These representations, while reflecting the spatial reality and imaginations, also promoted spatial practices leading to the reinforcement of the eidetic physical island. This process exemplifies the key argument of “performative geographies” in island studies in particular—and in human geography in general—that a place’s spatial representations and reality are mutually constructed. Subscribing to this theoretical framework, based on a scrutinization of these literary and cultural texts and an analysis on their dynamic interplay with the spatial reality, this article argues that cultural representations of Shameen (re)produced the colonial enclave as a utopian island, both metaphorically and practically.

Biography: Tingcong Lin is an MPhil student under the supervision of Dr. Otto Heim at the School of English, the University of Hong Kong. His current research focus concerns the spatial variations of foreign districts in late imperial and modern Canton as well as their literary and cultural representations. He is also working as a research assistant for Prof. Kendall Johnson on early Sino-American relations.


Charlotte Steffen, University of Portsmouth. ‘Life in the Shanghai Treaty Port Customs Office as derived from the Letters of Robert Hart.’

The focus of this paper is an analysis of Robert Hart’s experiences with the Shanghai Treaty Port Customs Office, during the period of 1864-1876, as found through his letters. Following the Treaty of Nanking, Shanghai underwent a rapid transformation. From a small village by the sea, it became one of the most important trading ports in the world. This made it an attractive place to be for any foreigner who wished to trade such as the British, Americans or French. Where there is trade there is a Customs office and at the time China had not one but two. The traditional Chinese customs office which had existed for decades and the foreign customs inspectorate, which was first introduced in 1856. From 1864 until 1890 Robert Hart, the second Inspector-General of China’s Imperial Maritime Custom Service (IMCS), would send a weekly or by-weekly letter from China to his London agent and confidant, James Duncan Campbell. Harts’ life and work allowed him to experience the inner workings of the Customs office in a way that was not open to many people. Therefore, his letters are essential material that can enable us to understand life in Shanghai from the perspective of a person who successfully lived and worked there during a historic period of development during the city’s history. Furthermore, these letters would detail life and business at different Treaty Ports in China including Shanghai, thus offering a unique insight as to what it was like to live in Shanghai during the establishing period of the Treaty Ports.

Biography: Charlotte Steffen is a PhD Candidate at the University of Portsmouth. She holds a Masters Degree from Maastricht University in Art and Heritage: Policy, Management and Education, and a Bachelors from Tilburg University in Liberal Art & Sciences. Her areas of research are Culture and Public History.


Corey Watson, University of Portsmouth, ‘Lloyd’s Register Surveyors in China, 1869-1918: project and key themes .’      

The focus of this presentation are Lloyd’s Register (LR) surveyors who resided and worked in the Chinese treaty ports between 1869-1918. The presentation will also discuss the project which has been funded by the Lloyd’s Register Foundation to research the surveyors. Lloyd’s Register is the world’s first marine classification society and during the nineteenth century they maintained a global presence, monitoring and assessing the standards of the international shipping industry. As imperial British presence grew in China, particularly during the second half of the nineteenth century following the second Opium War, some LR surveyors found themselves far from home in places such as Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Dairen (Dalian) among others. The roles, experiences, and influence of these surveyors in China are understudied despite a growing wealth of studies on other British professional sojourners and migrants, such as the many excellent studies surrounding China’s Imperial Maritime Customs Service.

This paper will then demonstrate how the LR’s extensive digitised archive can be used to research these individuals and their roles. It will then argue that these surveyors will prove an effective lens for the historian through which several historiographical themes can be examined. Two of these themes will be addressed for this paper. For one, these surveyors naturally were at the forefront of the rapidly developing conceptualisation and regulation of maritime risk and safety during the nineteenth century, both within shipping and shipbuilding industries. The presence of these surveyors then, for example, potentially constituted the site of a cultural and scientific exchange, or at least, imposition of ideas, between Imperial Britain and China. Secondly, this paper would argue that these surveyors, as professional sojourners, are effective case studies for the idea of a fluid, integrated and interconnected ‘British world system’. Their experiences could help contribute to our historical understanding of these British imperial networks on the distant periphery of the empire, and how the people constituting them lived and saw themselves in relation to the empire and other cultures.

Biography: Corey Watson is a PhD Candidate funded by the Lloyd’s Register Foundation (LRF) that will examine and assess the impact and influence of LR surveyors in China between 1869-1918. The project will investigate not only the social and cultural dimensions of the LR’s historic operations in China; it will also consider the role of the surveyors in the developing western understandings of maritime health and safety. It will do so by drawing upon the comprehensive reports produced by these surveyors, the LRF’s extensive digitised archive, and other archival material from across the UK and in China. Corey was a winner of the 2020 BCMH undergraduate prize for his dissertation on the early nineteenth century navy and their encounters with the slave trade and has recently completed an MA at the University of Plymouth. His research interests include nineteenth and twentieth century maritime and naval history, East Asia, and the cultural encounter between Imperial Britain and non-European societies in a maritime setting.

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