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Chinese Customs Houses and Sino-Western Encounter in the Unequal Treaty Era (1854-1949)

PhD project title and outline, including interdisciplinary dimension:
Chinese Customs Houses and Sino-Western Encounter in the Unequal Treaty Era (1854-1949)

The Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs Service developed in the context of the Opium Wars, as China opened up to foreign trade in the nineteenth century. The customs houses were important sites of Sino-Western encounter, operating on multiple levels. Western and Chinese staff worked alongside each other; the customs service was part of the Chinese government, but the senior staff were overwhelmingly Western; within the walls of the customs houses, captains and traders were paying taxes to China via a bureaucracy dominated by Western traditions and practices. Despite their importance, the proliferation of the customs houses has never been systematically studied.

The primary output of this research will be an interdisciplinary PhD dissertation to explore the nature of Sino-Western encounter in the customs houses. The student will be supported by interdisciplinary, international supervision including history (Queen's) and anthropology (Queen's) with support in Historical GIS (Queen’s; IrAsia at Aix-Marseille University) and in material culture (China Customs Museum, Beijing). The research will be informed by the collation of a database on Chinese customs houses, comprising quantitative, textual and visual data. This PhD research will rely primarily on textual sources and visual materials held at Queen's and elsewhere.

Leading the Customs during this period of rapid expansion was Sir Robert Hart, Inspector-General from 1863 to 1908. Hart dominated the Customs and influenced Chinese society and administration far beyond it, and his life and significance are now being explored by the Sir Robert Project at Queen's. The student will also be expected to prepare papers for publication and other academic outputs to contribute to the Sir Robert Hart Project events. The PhD research will also contribute to the Sir Robert Hart project programme of public communication through websites, exhibitions and social media.

Primary supervisor: Dr Emma Reisz (HAPP)
Secondary supervisor: Dr Maruska Svasek (HAPP)
Third supervisor: Dr Aglaia De Angeli (HAPP)
External Partner/Organisation: Dr Li Haiyong (China Customs Museum)