China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Between 1865 and 1871 a small group of merchants in Fuzhou were at the center of an extended diplomatic dispute between Qing authorities and British consuls. The merchants were ethnically Chinese but claimed to be British subjects, by dint of residency in Singapore, and refused to pay certain taxes citing the treaties between China and Great Britain. In the eyes of Qing local officials these merchants were Chinese: they looked Chinese, dressed as Chinese, traveled inland without passports to visit family in Fujian, and wore the queue. From their perspective, they were Fujian natives engaged in tax evasion. British authorities were ambivalent about these claims, but eventually supported them and forced a resolution.
This paper, based on archival research, uses this dispute as a case study to explore the contested identities of ethnic Chinese merchants who claimed to be British subjects in the Treaty Ports in the 1860s. Qing authorities were not only worried about tax evasion, but abuse of treaty provisions on foreign residence and extraterritorial justice. British Consular and Colonial authorities argued over the legal definition of who was a British subject and what behaviors and dress should be expected of those who they termed “Anglo-Chinese.” But it was the merchants themselves who forced British consuls to acknowledge them and support their claims. At the same time they found ways to resist pressures for conformity to British expectations, and to assert their own Chinese identity distinct from being subjects of the Qing Empire.