English Lessons

The Pedagogy of Imperialism in Nineteenth-Century China

English Lessons

Book Pages: 416 Illustrations: 41 illustrations, 3 tables, 3 maps, 5 figures Published: December 2003

Author: James L. Hevia

Asian Studies > East Asia, History > Asian History, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

Inserting China into the history of nineteenth-century colonialism, English Lessons explores the ways that Euroamerican imperial powers humiliated the Qing monarchy and disciplined the Qing polity in the wake of multipower invasions of China in 1860 and 1900. Focusing on the processes by which Great Britain enacted a pedagogical project that was itself a form of colonization, James L. Hevia demonstrates how British actors instructed the Manchu-Chinese elite on “proper” behavior in a world dominated by multiple imperial powers. Their aim was to “bring China low” and make it a willing participant in British strategic goals in Asia. These lessons not only transformed the Qing dynasty but ultimately contributed to its destruction.

Hevia analyzes British Foreign Office documents, diplomatic memoirs, auction house and museum records, nineteenth-century scholarly analyses of Chinese history and culture, campaign records, and photographs. He shows how Britain refigured its imperial project in
China as a cultural endeavor through examinations of the circulation of military loot in Europe, the creation of an art history of “things Chinese,” the construction of a field of knowledge about China, and the Great Game rivalry between Britain, Russia, and the Qing empire in Central Asia. In so doing, he illuminates the impact of these elements on the colonial project and the creation of a national consciousness in China.


“Hevia’s analysis brilliantly introduces fresh comparative perspectives on old topics in Western-Chinese interactions. . . . [T]his book should be extremely enlightening for students of all empires, and essential for those who want to put China back into world history.” — Peter C. Perdue , Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History

“Hevia’s book will remain important for many years to come.” — J.Y. Wong , Journal of Asian Studies

"[A] vital work not only for China scholars but also for scholars of British imperialism and the general history of colonialism. Hevia's ability to coax original insights from a vast array of sources . . . marks him as one of the most imaginative and sophisticated historians of China writings today. Seldom is a gauntlet thrown with so much skill, and with so much reward to the reader." — Ruth Rogaski , American Historical Review

"A worthwhile look at the British efforts to subdue, teach, and learn the limits of their imperial reach in relation to another empire." — May Caroline Chan , Interventions

"[A]n engagingly written analysis. . . ." — Paul Bailey , History

"[I]nspiring. . . . [T]his is a highly successful book that has effectively bridged the gap between late Qing studies and postcolonial scholarship. Moreover, in light of the ongoing American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, this work inevitably gives us another opportunity to reflect upon the nature of American overseas "nation-building" projects as well as U.S. claims of having the moral high ground of spreading freedom and democracy to the rest of the world." — Tong Lam , Journal of World History

"A product of 15 years' meticulous and extensive research, this impressive book challenges current Western and Chinese scholarship. . . . Highly recommended." — G. Zheng , CHOICE

"Prodigiously researched, English Lessons combines readable theoretical analysis with terrific detail. . . . [N]o one will be able to think about Britain in China or China today, in quite the same way as before. . . . Hevia makes an entirely original contribution to the history of British global imperialism and of what Britain was really doing in China in the century before 1949." — Joanna Waley-Cohen , The China Quarterly

"There is hardly a more appropriate time than now to read James Hevia's inspiring new book. . . . This is a significant book with important implications on Chinese studies, postcolonial studies, and historiography in general. . . . [T]his is a highly successful book that has effectively bridged the gap between late Qing studies and postcolonial scholarship." — Tong Lam , Journal of World History

Hevia's study. . . deserves high accolades. His fresh interpretative framework, deft use of historical sources, and lucid stylistic representation are examples of excellent scholarship." — Q. Edward Wang , Journal of British Studies

“I am very positive about this book because James L. Hevia’s efforts to move beyond a ‘China-centered approach’ are fresh and innovative. His chapters on the Boxers and their aftermath are the best part of the book. By reconstructing the polychromatic, global imperialist context circa 1900, Hevia thus builds on more recent views that have been drawn mainly from Chinese sources. Rather than essentialize ‘Western imperialism’ and ‘China's victimization’ in black and white, Hevia presents a more penetrating account of Euro-America's ‘civilizing mission’ before and after 1900.” — Benjamin A. Elman, Professor of East Asian Studies and History, Princeton University

“James L. Hevia takes the notion of imperial discipline and pedagogy beyond metaphor to precise illustration and explanation. With the help of a wonderfully selected set of prints and the mastery of an unusual set of archives, English Lessons manages to make of the familiar story of British imperialism in China something new and startling.” — Marilyn B. Young, Professor of History, New York University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

James L. Hevia is Chair of the Curriculum in International and Area Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His book Cherishing Men from Afar: Qing Guest Ritual and the Macartney Embassy of 1793 (published by Duke University Press) won the Joseph Levenson Prize from the Association for Asian Studies.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations and Tables ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Abbreviations xvii

I. Introduction: Imperialism, Colonialism, and China 1

Part I: Opium Wars and Treaties of Peace, Friendship, and Commerce 29

2. The Arrow War, 1856-1860 31

3. Violence and the Rule of Law in China, 1856-1858 49

4. Beijing 1860: Loot, Prize, and a Solemn Act of Retribution 74

Part II: Reterritorializing China, 1861-1900 119

5. Constructing a New Order 123

6. The Qing Empire in the Era of European Global Hegemony 156

Part III: Making China Perfectly Equal 185

7. A Reign of Terror: Punishment and Retribution in Beijing and Its Environs 195

8. Desacralizing Qing Sovereignty, 1900-1901 241

9. Mnemonic Devices: Memorializing the West as Victim and Hero 282

10. The Return of the Repressed, Recirculations, and Chinese Patriotism 315

Postscript 346

Bibliography 351

Index 375
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3188-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3151-3
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