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In Session: Sociocultural Dimensions of Transregional Intelligence Gathering in East Asia, 1450-1850
4: Interweaving Social Connections and Intelligence Networks: Lu Xinlan in the Qing and British Camps in Eastern Zhejiang during the Opium War
Friday, March 26, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong
The Opium War between the Qing and British empires in 1839–1842 was an intelligence war. This paper explores the competing yet partly overlapping Qing and British intelligence networks across a commercially and culturally prosperous region of wartime China with a local administrative and social elite as the pivot. It presents a case of how the social world of spies and double agents was intertwined with the intelligence activities of two fighting powers. This paper interweaves the Opium War and local society and calls for attention to wartime intelligence as a field of the social history of China and East Asia at large. Lu Xinlan was a native of Ningbo prefecture in eastern Zhejiang. Before the war, he assisted grain tax affairs in the sub-bureaucracy and enjoyed extensive connections with local officials, gentry, and merchants as well as respectability among the local population. Serving the British expedition immediately after their taking of Ningbo’s prefectural seat in October 1841, Lu was entrusted by the new magistrate Karl Gützlaff to help govern the occupied city. Lu's administrative experience, financial knowledge, and social connections facilitated British rule in Ningbo. As a local elite Lu occupied crucial positions in both the Qing and British intelligence networks in Zhejiang, and he played significant roles in the failed Qing counterattacks of March 1842. The case of Lu Xinlan demonstrates the complexity and diversity of local responses to the Opium War.