China and Inner Asia
University of Toronto, United Kingdom
This paper traces British imperial agents’ efforts to triangulate the relationship of Chinese migrants, the Qing state, and their own empire from 1800 to 1860. British agents, I argue, repeatedly found themselves awed by the scope and scale of Chinese mobilities, and the wealth they produced. Tantalized by absence of the Qing state in their affairs, they strove for ways these mobilities could be directed towards their own imperial projects, particularly the dissemination of British capitalist manufactures, the smooth flow of Opium from British India eastward, and the enrichment of British planters in the colonial Caribbean. In their efforts to reorganize Chinese mobilities these agents consistently articulated their decisions as being in the service of a universal order of liberal freedoms, and at times did indeed enable new pathways of mobility for Chinese migrants. But in order to produce freedoms for British and other white Euro-American subjects, I argue, these actors consistently chose to subordinate and dismantle those of racialized Chinese, and in doing so enabled some of the most abusive mobilities in China’s modern history.