British-Chinese Relations in the Nineteenth Century and Alicia Bewicke Little's Novel, A Marriage in China

4897 Words 20 Pages
British-Chinese Relations in the Nineteenth Century and Alicia Bewicke Little's Novel, A Marriage in China

The year was 1842, and Britain had just finished a successful military campaign in China, a campaign that also signified a rather humiliating defeat for the Chinese army. The first Opium War reestablished Britain's profitable opium trade routes from India to China, and also established a new mode of British-Chinese relations, one that resulted in British control of the new colony of Hong Kong and semicolonial control over various treaty ports. The progressive optimism that this combined political and economic control seemed to herald for the British Empire was reflected in a piece in the newly established Illustrated London
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The story of British-Chinese relations in the nineteenth-century emerges as a story in which the British desire for chinoiserie-fantastically colored silks, aromatic teas and spices, delicate porcelain, exquisite decorative arts, and fascinating architecture-is progressively frustrated by China's limitation of foreigners to only a few treaty ports, the several attempts by the Chinese to ban or stop by force the British opium trade, and the populist destruction of European-funded infrastructure: from missionary and trade encampments to railroads later in the century.

A long-time resident of China, Alicia Bewicke Little was poised to comment on that history/story as the century ended. Her 1896 novel, A Marriage in China, is a reflection of the "imagined" history of British-Chinese relations-that is, the tone, tenor, and character of the relationship as imagined by the British. This "imagined" history-intangible and theoretical-is embodied both structurally and thematically in the novel. Structurally, the novel employs multiple plot lines and a wide variety of characters and settings as a way of representing the turbulence of the past fifty years of British policy in China. As Little historicizes
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