There are many modern connections between Scotland and China (see here), but equally you can find many links between the two countries in the past. Many Scots have lived and worked in China as government officials, soldiers, business people, missionaries and travellers since the early 19th century, and even earlier. As heritage is one of our "charitable purposes", and as both Scots and Chinese value the past and past connections, we hope you might find the information in this section of our website interesting as background to the long (and generally friendly) association between the two countries. Students, teachers, business people and tourists may also find it useful as context for research and visits to China and Scotland.
It is important to remember, of course, that Scots who were involved with China as government officials or servicemen were doing so as representatives of the whole of the United Kingdom, not just Scotland ! Equally, in the past many businesspeople, missionaries and other independent visitors would probably have thought of themselves as British as well as Scottish.
This "timeline" is representative, not comprehensive, and we hope to expand it in various ways in due course - corrections and additions are very welcome ! Meanwhile, we provide links to other relevant pages on the Internet, and references to books and articles for further research. Many of the books mentioned are now held in the "Scotland/China collection" in the library of the Confucius Institute in Edinburgh.
To share this page with your friends by email, Facebook, Digg, Delicious, or other social networking sites, click this button....
Event or story
William Carmichael is believed to be the first Briton to visit Macau, in south China, while he was working for the Portuguese government in Asia. This is briefly described in the book Precious Cargo (ISBN 978-0948636905).
Dr John Bell was in Beijing between December 1720 and March 1721, having travelled from St Petersburg in Russia overland to China - an epic journey ! Bell was a physician from Kirkintilloch, Stirlingshire, and one of his notable achievements was to bring rhubarb back to the UK, initially as a medicinal drug.
He later wrote a book describing his adventures, called Travels from St Petersburg to Diverse Parts of Asia, published in 1763. This is available full-text online in various formats, in two volumes - Volume One, and Volume Two. Volume Two includes most of his commentary on China. It is also available as a modern reprint (ISBN 978-1140773641) (it also includes a translation of the journal of a Mr. De Lange, a Russian who lived in Beijing in 1721-1722).
Bell describes various audiences with Emperor Xuányè, including details of his clothes and palaces, as well as that of his various princes and officials, and seemingly innumerable diplomatic dinners – some things clearly never change ! He also explores the city of Beijing and the surrounding areas, and describes shops, money, a porcelain factory, an observatory and the Great Wall. In a general section about China, Bell also touches on tea, Chinese manners, religion, their apparent neglect of some newborn children, and language. It is notable that his listing of Chinese numbers sound very similar to Mandarin usage now.
The book's text is, admittedly, old-fashioned a little tricky to read (e.g. using old fashioned 'f' symbol instead of 's'), but it is worth persisting for some fascinating early insights.
From mid 1700s
From the early days of the East India Company, Scots merchants and adventurers were at the forefront of trade in the Far East, and heavily embroiled in the controversial tea and opium trades.
The book Precious Cargo (ISBN 0948636904) tells the story of early Scottish connections with China, notably in Hong Kong and Canton (now Guangzhou) in the 18th and 19th centuries. It also explains how goods from China such as porcelain, silk and furniture became a “must have” for the fashionable Victorian consumer, illustrated with objects taken from the National Museums Collections. Finally, it also describes how Chinese designs and styles began to be used by Scottish artists and manufacturers in the late 19th century. All in all, it is a good introduction to the Scotland/China relationship.
Tom Devine, Professor of Scottish History and Director of the new Scottish Centre for Diaspora Studies at the University of Edinburgh, gave a fascinating 45 minute lecture entitled 'An Empire of Commerce: Three Centuries of Scottish Enterprise in the East' in Hong Kong in June 2010. This is now available as a YouTube video here. He covers a lot of historical ground, elsewhere in Asia as well as China, but it is a good introduction to the importance of Scottish commercial links in the region.
Scot George Bogle was involved in some very early diplomatic overtures to the Chinese Empire in around 1780. He was also the first British official to visit Tibet, an event that is still controversial today. His story is told in the book High Road to Tibet (ISBN 978-0747585473).
Bogle worked for the East India Company under the patronage of Warren Hastings, and in 1774 was sent on a mission to reach Tibet through Bhutan. After many adventures, he finally met the Panchen Lama, then its effective ruler. According to his own journal and letters, Bogle and the Panchen became close friends and shared many discussions and socialising. Bogle himself never visited China, dying of cholera in India, but not before a Tibetan friend had reached Peking and opened the first channels of diplomatic communication between the Chinese Empire and Britain. This later led to Lord MacCartney's first abortive mission in 1793 (note that despite his name, Lord MacCartney was not Scottish but Irish).
Robert Morrison arrives in Canton (now Guangzhou) and becomes the first Protestant missionary in China. He is also remembered for the first translation of the bible into Chinese.
Liang Fa is ordained by William Morrison (see above), and baptized by William Milne (the second Protestant missionary in China), thus becoming the first Chinese Protestant minister.
The Scots trading firm of Jardine, Matheson & Co. was founded at Canton (now Guangzhou), by William Jardine, from Dumfriesshire (below left) and James Matheson from Sutherland (below right).
They were involved in the notorious opium trade with China. The firm's fortunes have been synonymous with the development of Hong Kong and foreign business in mainland China. Now simply known as Jardines, it is still in existence as a major Hong Kong conglomerate with interests including retail, property, shipping, hotels and engineering.
The official company history is online in summary here, and the Wiki page about the company and its founders is here. There is an official company history book, Thistle and Jade, published in 2008 (ISBN 978-0711228306).
This lavish work, drawing largely from the company's extensive archive now held at Cambridge University, and also including contributions from many leading historians, tells the story of the growth of the firm from its early days in Canton to modern times.
The book tells, in fact, much more than just the story of Jardines, and is an excellent introduction to the ups and downs of the British relationship with China. It is a fascinating mixture of scholarship and anecdote that tells an exciting and occasionally controversial tale of “merchant adventure”, of how influence and wealth were accumulated in the early days of trading, of the special relationship forged by Jardines with China and her people, and indeed of how Scottish business became pre-eminent in the Far East.
Former naval officer and Scottish aristocrat, William John Napier, 9th Lord Napier of Merchiston, sent to China as Superintendent of Trade. The British government wanted him to seek a settlement between British traders and the Chinese authorities at Canton (now Guangzhou), against the background of the controversial opium trade. He spent several tedious months trying to negotiate new trading terms, hampered by no Far East experience, language difficulties, aggressive British merchants, and local mandarins who were highly suspicious of him and called him “Barbarian Eye”. His mission was ultimately unsuccessful, not least at a personal level as he caught a fever and died in Macau. But he did draw attention to the barren island of Hong Kong, guarding one of the finest natural harbours in the world.
There is a biography of Napier, Barbarian Eye (ISBN 1857531167). The book is based on Napier's letters and journals, “recently...rediscovered and returned to his family”, and quoted extensively by the author who is related to the modern Napier family. Though largely biographical in character, the book also gives an insight into the story of earlier Western contacts with China, and sets some of the British political and foreign policy context. The book does suffer, however, from a lack of footnotes, perhaps surprising given it is clearly based on unique private papers – this makes further research difficult. Nevertheless, Barbarian Eye does provide a useful primer to the commercial and military background to the Opium Wars and Hong Kong's seizure by the British in 1841.
Andrew Melrose brings what is said to be the first direct, legal import of tea from China to Scotland, independently of the East India Company, into Leith Harbour, Edinburgh. Melrose's tea, in its characteristic red box, became a very popular brand.
Correspondence between Andrew Melrose and his son William, in China 1848-1853, can be found in William Melrose in China, 1845-1855: The letters of a Scottish tea merchant (ISBN 978-0950026060), published in 1973 by the Scottish History Society and occasionally available second-hand. This book gives an interesting insight into the daily life of a foreign trader in Canton (now Guangzhou) at this early period of the China trade.
This volume reproduces several hundred letters from William Melrose to his father and other correspondents between 1845 and 1855. This archive sheds new light on the import, sale and distribution of tea at this period. It touches on how the main focus for British business in China began to move from Canton to Shanghai in the early and mid 1850s, and also on the 1853 Taiping rebellion and its effect on trade. And back home, the development of the Scottish and British markets for tea can be traced. Finally, William Melrose has some critical things to say about speculators that resonate today !
As well as their business dealings, the letters also give a well-rounded picture of the social life and other day-to-day activities of a young Scottish merchant in China. Many other Scots living in Canton and Hong Kong are mentioned, and the vagaries of the mails, the weather and the problems of shipping are all covered in considerable detail. Mails, for example, were a key factor, with a letter to the UK and its reply taking around four months. This placed a considerable responsibility on the shoulders of William Melrose to use his judgement on the spot rather than being directed, in detail, by his investors at home. He was pretty successful, too, in what could be a difficult trade, with the Melroses and their partners making around £30,000 of profit on turnover of £194,000 between 1848-1854.
One Scottish regiment, the 26th Regiment of Foot (later The Cameronians) was part of the British Army force involved in the "First Opium War" between Britain and China. Between 1840 and 1842, they were involved in actions at Chusan (now Zhoushan) and Ningbo in Zhejiang ; Canton (now Guangzhou), Whampoa and Cheumpee in Guangdong ; Amoy (now Xiamen) in Fujian ; Shanghai ; and Chin-kiang (now Zhenjiang) and Nanjing in Jiangsu. They suffered over 700 casualties, mainly due to disease.
This is a controversial and complex period of history, which can still arouse strong emotions, and various accounts are available on the web and in books. For example,
here is a classic British-centric military account, with a good bibliography. This article, from the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding, is fairly balanced. The
Wikipedia page can be used, but with care.
One excellent book on this period is The Cree Journals (ISBN 0906671361), which reproduces the journals and drawings of a doctor (of Scottish extraction) serving with the Royal Navy at this time.
The illustration above is from this book, and shows the heights above Canton in 1841, near where the 26th Foot was stationed.
Robert Fortune (1813-1880) was born in Kelloe, Berwickshire, and in 1842 was sent to China by the Royal Horticultural Society to collect plants – this is the story of his journey. He is probably best known for introducing Chinese tea plants to the Darjeeling region of India. Most of the initial batch of plants died, but a second expedition was successful, and the knowledge gained was instrumental in the later development of the Indian tea industry.
He wrote a book of his journeys, Three years wanderings, available as a modern reprint (ISBN 978-1115174305) and also full text online. This travelogue covers his journeys in 1843-1845 to Hong Kong, Amoy (now Xiamen), Formosa (now Taiwan), Ningpo (now Ningbo), Shanghai, Canton (now Guangzhou), and Foochow (now Fuzhou), amongst other areas. He also devotes several chapters to a description of Chinese tea plants and the growing and manufacture of tea, as well as related geographic and economic topics such as climate, agriculture, silk and cotton.
He was one of the first foreigners to visit Shanghai after it was opened to trade in 1843, and his comments are often quoted - "Shanghai is by far the most important station for foreign trade on the coast of China...no other town with which I am acquainted possesses such advantages ; it is the great gate to the Chinese empire". Fortune predicts it will become more important than Canton, which it soon did. No doubt he would have been fascinated to visit the 2010 Shanghai Expo !
There is also a modern biography, For all the tea in China (ISBN 978-0099493426). This new book draws on his own works, his official correspondence with his employers, the East India Company, and other papers. It places his botany in a wider context, describing his acquisition of Chinese tea plants and expertise for India as “the greatest theft of trade secrets in the history of mankind”.
The author also argues that “tea exemplifies the grand theory of empire ; it could create a new class of consumers for British products while simultaneously expanding access to foreign products for Britons”. Equally, she identifies how it led to developments in shipping techniques ; changes in manufacturing, for example of porcelain ; and improvements in public health in Britain due to the growth of tea drinking.
In terms of Fortune himself, the book adds a little detail, but suffers from the complete lack of any private papers. What archives might have existed were burnt by his wife after his death, for reasons that remain unclear. Nevertheless, For all the tea in China is an enjoyable and easy read about a fascinating Scottish connection with the country.
James Legge (1815-1897), missionary and the first translator of the works of Confucius and many other classic Chinese texts into English, lived in Hong Kong. His work has been described by his modern biographer as "the greatest single achievement of Western Sinological scholarship in the nineteenth century". Another writer makes the ambitious claim that Legge was "perhaps the most important intellectual, among both foreigners and Chinese, in 19th century Hong Kong".
Huang Kuan (sometimes known as Wong Foon) studied at the University of Edinburgh, becoming the first Chinese to enter higher education in Europe. He began by studying literature, but quickly changed to medicine, and graduated with a doctorate in 1857.
Returning to China, Dr Huang worked at the Canton Medical School and began to carry out new types of surgery.
By 1867 Dr Huang was deputy chief of Boji Hospital, and in 1875 he became joint Chairman of the West-South Medical Bureau. He died in 1878.
A statue of the young Huang now stands in the grounds of the Confucius Institute in Edinburgh. This article from Zhuhai (his home city) has some more details of his life.
Scottish shipyards on the Clyde (and in Aberdeen and other ports) produced many of the famous "tea clippers", including Cutty Sark, launched in 1869, and later steamships for the China trade.
The steamship Scotland, owned by Lindsay and Co., was the first ocean going merchant ship to reach the city of Hankow (now part of Wuhan), 600 miles upstream from the coast on the Yangtze River.
At this stage, however, we are not yet sure if Lindsay is a Scottish company (although the name implies it may be), or that the ship was built in Scotland (although it is very likely, given the prominence of Scottish shipbuilding at the time) - but the name is encouraging !
The banking firm now known as HSBC was founded by Scot Thomas Sutherland as the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. He was then working for the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, and realised that there was considerable demand for local banking facilities in Hong Kong and on the China coast and he helped to establish the bank which opened in Hong Kong in March 1865 and in Shanghai a month later.
More information about the bank's early days can be found on their official history page, and a 40 page pdf on their development in Asia (and worldwide) can be found here. A four volume history entitled The History of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, by Frank H.H. King, was published by Cambridge University Press between 1987 and 1991.
James Watson worked for the Chinese Maritime Customs medical service in Newchwang (now Yingkou), and as the first Western doctor to practice in northwestern China. There is an article on his life here.
Wang Tao, a noted Chinese writer and translator, lived in Scotland with James Legge (see above), with whom he had worked in Hong Kong. Wang Tao travelled widely, including to Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Huntly, Dundee and Glasgow, and wrote Jottings from Carefree Travels about his experiences. There is a modern biography in English, Between Tradition and Modernity: Wang T'ao and Reform in Late Ch'ing China (ISBN 978-0674068759), which is sometimes available second-hand.
John Thomson from Edinburgh was the first significant social photographer to work in China - see this Wiki page. He travelled widely in Hong Kong, Macau, Guangdong, Fujian, Shanghai and Beijing, and up the Yangtze, and according to one commentator, he is "regarded as the most eminent photographer to have visited China in the 19th century". He took photos of all aspects of Chinese life, and his views of ordinary people demonstrate that his sympathies appeared to lie with the deprived and humble.
He produced four books about China. The first was Views of the North River, published in Hong Kong in 1870 - this is very rare. The second was his four-volume Illustrations of China and its people, published in London in 1873 for £12 - equivalent to probably about £1,000 now ! This can be found in some libraries.
A popular version, The Land and People of China, was published in New York in 1876 - this is available as a modern reprint (ISBN 9781110297887), as well as being found in libraries or second-hand. This was written not long after the massive disruption caused by the 1860 Taiping Rebellion, and reflects a certain amount of pessimism about the country's difficult situation. It is, to some extent, written in the style of a traditional geography textbook, with sections on physical features, history, population, cities, social conditions, art, religion, architecture, government, language, etc. Unlike his other books, however, this volume has very few photos – Through China with a camera has more. All in all, the book is a good snapshot of late Qing China.
The final book, Through China with a camera, was published in London in 1898, and again is available as a modern reprint (ISBN 9781144007889), or via libraries or second-hand shops. This book has around 80 black and white photos from throughout China, from his visits to Hong Kong, Canton (now Guangzhou), Amoy (now Xiamen), Formosa (now Taiwan), Foochow (now Fuzhou), Ningpo (now Ningbo), Shanghai, the Yangtze River, Peking, and Tientsin (now Tianjin), amongst other places. Unlike The land and the people of China, which reads more like a geography textbook, Through China with a camera is more of a “rough guide”, with commentary, as he goes along, on a wide variety of topics. His photos also cover a wide range, including not just mandarins and temples, but gamblers, tea dealers, street industries, a knife grinder and even a travelling chiropodist.
His photos are now held at the Wellcome Library in London. There have been various recent exhibitions of his work. A description of a 2003 event in a London gallery can be found here ; this site has information from one held at the National Library of Scotland ; and this article covers an event in London. A beautiful large format book of around 150 of his photos was produced in 2010, entitled China through the lens of John Thomson, 1868-1872 (ISBN 9786167339009), was produced after the exhibition in China.
There was an exhibition of Thomson's photographs at the Burrell Collection in Glasgow between 3 February and 12 June 2011.
James Gilmour worked for the London Missionary Society in and around the city of Kalgan (now Zhangjiakou) between 1870 and 1891, amongst the Mongol people in what are now the provinces of Hebei and Inner Mongolia. Gilmour came originally from Cathkin in Glasgow. He wrote a book on his experiences, Among the Mongols, available as a modern reprint (ISBN 9781120144959) and also full text online.
His book aims, he says, to present “whatever is most noteworthy and interesting in the home life, manners and customs, occupations and surroundings, modes of thought, superstitions and religious beliefs and practices of the Mongol tribes who inhabit the eastern portion of the plateau of Central Asia lying between Siberia to the north and China on the south”. This he does admirably, covering topics as varied as tent life ; the relative merits of horses, camels, and ox carts as modes of travel ; Mongol food ; wedding traditions ; justice ; dress and medicine. Gilmour also compares and contrasts Christianity with Mongolian Buddhism, with – as he is a Christian missionary - predictable conclusions. However, his analysis is interesting.
Although he does not mention much about “China proper”, his close observation of a race that are now an important ethnic minority the country are a useful contrast to other more traditional missionary texts.
Patrick Manson (1844-1922) was born in Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire, and is best known for as the founder of tropical medicine as a recognised medical field, and for establishing the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. However, he began his work on parasitology in the Chinese treaty port of Amoy (now Xiamen), where he worked between 1871 and 1884 as a doctor for the Imperial Maritime Customs. Manson spent his early years researching filaria, a small worm that causes elephantiasis. This later led, with help from other scientists, to the discovery that malaria is spread by mosquitoes, one of the most important medical discoveries of recent times.
Manson was also responsible (with James Cantlie, see below) for establishing the Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese, now part of the University of Hong Kong. While working in the colony between 1883-1889, he also helped to set up the Dairy Farm Group, the first dairy business in Hong Kong, and which still exists.
There is a fairly recent biography of Manson, Patrick Manson - father of tropical medicine, by his relative Sir Philip Manson-Bahr, published by Thomas Nelson in 1962. It is out of print but can be found second-hand or in libraries. Only part of this book relates directly to his time in China, but Manson clearly drew on his Chinese experience extensively in his later work, both in terms of medicine and his sensitivity to many different races.
James Stewart-Lockhart (1858-1937), served as a colonial official in Hong Kong - Lockhart Road, in Wanchai District, is named after him. He served as Registrar General and Colonial Secretary, and was instrumental in the acquisition and early administration of the New Territories in 1898. In 1902 he moved to work in Wei Hai Wei (see below).
Stewart-Lockhart was born in Ardsheal in Argyll, in north-west Scotland, and was educated at George Watson's College (coincidentally, one of the Trust's award partners - see here and here).
A good biography of Stewart-Lockhart, Thistle and Bamboo, was published in 1989, but has been out of print for many years. However, thankfully, it has been reprinted by the Hong Kong University Press (ISBN 9789888028924) - see see here to order from the publishers. It is also now available in the UK, see here. There is an article on his life here, from the 1972 issue of the Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society.
There is an article about Shiona Airlie's book on Stewart-Lockhart, and related topics, on the Scotland China Association website here.
Explorer Archibald Ross Colquhoun journeyed from Canton (now Guangzhou) through the provinces of Kwangsi (now Guangxi) and Yunnan, and on to Burma. He described his trip in the book Across Chyrse – being the narrative of a journey of exploration through the south China border lands from Canton to Mandalay, available as a modern reprint (ISBN 9781144162984). He was mainly interested in the prospects for trade links between India, Indo-China, Burma and China as well as geographical exploration.
The writer tells his story in considerable detail, describing seemingly every small town that they pass through, initially by boat, then on foot. His accounts of Kwangsi and Yunnan are notable for descriptions of some of ethnic minorities living there, such as the Miao people, Lo-Los and others. Many of the areas visited by Colquhoun, especially in Yunnan, had rarely been traversed by Europeans, and the book is a fascinating insight into a foreigner's first impressions of an unknown part of China, and, indeed, of the locals' first impressions of a foreigner.
Dugald Christie was another famous Scottish missionary who spent around 40 years in Mukden (now Shenyang, Liaoning Province). His life story is told in this article in Sine, the magazine of the Scotland China Association. He wrote Thirty years in Moukden, an account of the period 1883-1913, which is available as full-text online here. It is also available as a modern reprint (ISBN 9781113481535).
This was a tumultuous time in China, and Christie and his colleagues lived in Manchuria through the turmoil of the 1894 Sino-Japanese war, the 1900 Boxer Rebellion, the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese war and a serious outbreak of plague in 1911. His account covers these topics extensively, as well as the more traditional missionary stories and the work developing medical work in the area. This led in time to the establishment in 1909 of the Mukden Medical College, a connection that is still maintained by the Scottish Churches China Group.
Christie comes across as a keen observer of his Chinese hosts and friends, and appears to have developed very good relations with both successive Viceroys and Governors and with the common people. For example, his chapter 'East and West – mistaken judgements', focussing on differences, alleged and real, between the two cultures, is sensitive and sensible, and (allowing for some differences of time) could almost serve as the basis for a “cross cultural course” today.
There is an excellent long historical article about the Mukden Medical College in the Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, in two sections, Part 1
and Part 2.
Hok Tang Chan was first Chinese student at Glasgow University, studying Natural Philosophy and Chemistry. For the next 30 years most Chinese students at Glasgow studied science or engineering (including naval architecture) with a smaller number studying medicine.
James Cantlie was a Scottish doctor, born in Banffshire, who worked in Hong Kong between 1887 and 1896. He was instrumental (with Patrick Manson, see above) in establishing the Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese, which later became the University of Hong Kong, and carried out pioneering work on treating tropical diseases.
One of Cantlie's first students was Sun Yat Sen, later the first President of the Republic of China in 1911. When Sun Yat Sen visited London in 1896, he was kidnapped by the Imperial Chinese authorities and incarcerated in their London Embassy. After Sun managed to get a message to Cantlie, the doctor stirred up the British media and government and secured Sun's release.
There is a family biography, The Quality of Mercy (ISBN 0049200666), written by Cantlie's grand-daughter. This covers his China time in some detail in chapters 4-7, as well as later chapters on his association with Sun Yat Sen.
Duncan Clark, a Scot, established the first foreign firm, D. Clark & Co., in the newly-acquired territory of Wei Hai Wei. The firm ran general stores, supplied the Royal Navy, opened hotels, and operated ferry services for many years.
A paddle steamer called Pioneer, built by Denny of Dumbarton, was the first full-scale foreign merchant ship to reach Chungking (now Chongqing), 1,490 miles upstream from the sea.
James Stewart-Lockhart (1858--1937, see above) served as British Commissioner at Wei Hai Wei (now Weihai), in northern Shandong province.
George Forrest, born in Falkirk in 1873, one of the finest botanists of his generation, made seven expeditions to China between 1904 and 1932, mostly to Yunnan, as well as Tibet and northern Burma. He discovered over 1200 plants species new to science, as well as many birds and mammals.
His China trips resulted in a wealth of scientific discoveries and new horticultural gems – he brought back 31,000 specimens including new species of primula, rhododendron, iris, gentian and jasmine, as well as collecting birds, mammals and insects. The Garden is still a major source of information about Chinese botany and has a field station and a conservation project in Yunnan run jointly with Chinese scientists. Professor Balfour, Regius Keeper of the RBGE at the time, called him "unquestionably the finest collector of modern times", and "the prince of collectors". He died in Yunnan in 1932, but his legacy continues - some of Forest rhododendrons have been propagated and repatriated to Yunnan for use in the conservation of plant diversity on the Yulong Shan mountain range.
He never published a book himself, but there is a good recent biography, George Forrest : Plant Hunter (ISBN 1851494618), by Brenda McLean. This book is the first biography of Forrest for over 50 years, and contains detailed accounts of his trips, often quoting from his own letters home, and also covers the influence of his patrons and rivalries with other botanists. His prodigious efforts are shown by the appendices, which list over 50 publications, almost 200 plants he introduced to Britain that are still available today, and around 200 species of flora and fauna named after Forrest. The book also reveals some of the political and social turmoil which he saw at first hand in China, making it of interest to a wider audience.
Reginald Johnston, who had served in Hong Kong as a colonial official 1898-1906, was transferred to Wei Hai Wei in 1906 to work as No. 2 to Stewart-Lockhart (see above). He was an avid explorer of China, wrote several books about the country, and became a Buddhist. As one biographer says, “Reginald Johnston was a strange creature ; the Edinburgh lad who became a Chinese Mandarin”. He was described in his lifetime as “eccentric, a Buddhist crank and a recluse who was both adorable and difficult”.
He told the story of his time in Wei Hai Wei, from 1906-1919 and 1927-1930, and recounted the result of much of his own research into Chinese culture in Lion and Dragon in northern China, originally published in 1910 and reprinted (ISBN 978-0195837940) in 1986 and again more recently (ISBN 9781113160508). With the eye of an anthropologist and the skill of a historian, he explains the ownership of land, the structure of village leadership, festivals, the lives of women and children, religious activities (including Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism), graveyards, local superstitions, law and civil litigation, and the history of the area.
He also published From Peking to Mandalay, the account of a personal journey undertaken in 1906 to Sichuan, Yunnan and so into Burma - this is also available as a modern reprint (ISBN 9781142246563) and full text online. He was particularly keen to visit areas not before reached by Europeans, or at least Britons. Having reached Ichang on the Yangtze by steamer, he hired a native boat to continue his river journey as far as Chengdu, before travelling through the Tibetan areas in the west of Sichuan. He travelled vast distances, as well as using a dug-out canoe, rafts and railways, where available. Johnston was at this time very interested in Buddhism, and he devotes considerable space to this religion and special places such as the Buddhist shrine at Omei mountain. He concludes this book with a more general analysis of the position of China at this time, and foreign attitudes to it – he is very sympathetic to the country and its people.
In 1919, he became tutor to Pu Yi, the last Emperor of China, and told this story in his book Twilight in the Forbidden City (ISBN 978-0968045954). He quickly befriended the young man and was his informal adviser for many years, a role that did not always please the British authorities. This saga was famously dramatised in the 1987 film The Last Emperor, with Peter O'Toole playing Johnston.
There are two modern biographies - the best is Scottish Mandarin - Reginald Johnston (ISBN 978-9888139569) by Shiona Airlie, biographer of Stewart-Lockhart. This excellent book was published in October 2012 by Hong Kong University Press, and is reviewed on the SCA website here.
William Burrell, a prosperous Glasgow shipping merchant, assembled a huge collection of Chinese art and antiques, which he later donated - along with objects from other cultures - to the city. These artefacts are now housed in the Burrell Collection in Glasgow's Pollok Park. His story is told in the book Burrell - portrait of a collector (ISBN 0862670373).
Sino-Scottish Society formed at Glasgow University, “to promote interest and friendship between Chinese undergraduates and their Scots fellow-students”. An old document about the society can be seen here.
Eric Liddell is probably the best known 20th century Scot with a China connection – he worked there as a missionary from 1925 until his untimely death in 1945, in a Japanese internment camp at Weihsien (now Weifang), Shandong province. He is of course also known as the British runner who gave up the chance of 100m Olympic gold in 1924 because he would not run on a Sunday (although he did go to to win 400m gold). He was immortalised by the film Chariots of Fire. Liddell's memory is still revered in China today, both in Shandong and Tianjin (then Tientsin) where he was born in 1902 to missionary parents and later taught for some years.
There are several biographies of Liddell, but the most accessible is The Flying Scotsman - the Eric Liddell story, originally published in 1981 to tie in with the film, and reprinted in 2009.
The book covers his entire life, but the China interest really begins on page 85, when he returned to Tientsin as an adult to join the staff of the Anglo-Chinese college. He apparently “did not make remarkable progress as a teacher”, but unsurprisingly, “on the sports field it was a different matter”, as he took over the college athletics and “soon had his boys breaking records”. However, Liddell still felt the pull towards “front line” missionary work, and joined his brother at Siaochang (now Xiaozhang), Hebei province, in 1937. He worked there until 1940, notably in the hospital, helping casualties of the Sino-Japanese fighting.
By 1940, Liddell was back in Scotland on leave, and given the international situation, could well have stayed. But he returned to China, and was thus interned by the Japanese when hostilities broke out with the UK and the US in December 1941, initially at Tientsin and finally, in 1943, at Weihsien. He threw himself wholeheartedly into camp life and was loved by his fellow internees, especially the children – his death, to a brain tumour, was a blow to the whole camp. The city of Weifang commemorated Liddell's life by laying a wreath at the memorial headstone marking his grave in 2005, as part of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the internment camp.
Liddell's achievements received more recognition around the time of the London 2012 Olympics - see for example this article about a new sports bursary from the University of Edinburgh, and this BBC article, which reports that Weifang city, where he is buried, "has plans to pay a bigger tribute...the building where he died is to be converted into a new museum with a reconstruction of Liddell's prison room and a waxwork of him inside".
1920s and 1930s
Several Scottish regiments served in British Army garrisons in China in the troubled 1920s and 1930s. For example, this photo shows the Seaforth Highlanders marching across the Garden Bridge in Shanghai in 1937, during Sino-Japanese fighting in the city.
Other units which were stationed in Hong Kong or mainland China during this period included The Scots Guards (Hong Kong and Shanghai, 1927-28) ; The Royal Scots (North China, 1928-30, and Hong Kong, 1940-41) ; The Royal Scots Fusiliers (Shanghai, 1931-32) ; The King's Own Scottish Borderers (Hong Kong, 1927-30) ; The Cameronians (Hong Kong, 1927) ; The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders (North China, Shanghai and Hong Kong, 1929-1933) ; and the Seaforth Highlanders (Hong Kong and Shanghai, 1937-40). These garrisons were there primarily to protect Britain's significant commercial interests in China at this time, and did not (thankfully) at any time actually fight the Chinese army.
It is perhaps worth noting that the guard of honour at the ceremony to return the colony of Wei-hai-wei to China, in October 1930, was found by a Scottish unit, The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders - just as that in 1997 for the return of Hong Kong was found by The Black Watch.
The 2nd Battalion, Royal Scots, took part in the defence of Hong Kong against the Japanese invasion, between 8 and 25 December 1941 - there is a brief account of the overall campaign here.
The Royal Scots suffered significant losses during the battle itself, and many of the men who were taken prisoner died later in Japanese POW camps in Hong Kong, Japan and China.
Chinese writer Chiang Yee published his book The Silent Traveller in Edinburgh (ISBN 97818418310483 for modern reprint). He lived and travelled in the UK in the 1930s and 1940s, and managed the Chinese collections at the Wellcome Institute, and this book is based on several trips to the Scottish capital.
This volume, like the others, brings an unusual and amusing perspective to familiar culture and places, based on his wanderings in all weathers, rain or shine - “the rain was by now pouring down in such torrents that I could not see the end of Morningside Road...I could not possibly show myself less persevering than the Scots, so I walked on”. The weather seems to play a large part in his memory of Edinburgh - “to be greeted on my arrival in Edinburgh by drizzling rain seemed to me an appropriate welcome”, he says, and calls the rain “my friend”.
The introduction to this reprinted edition notes three themes - “defamiliarisation”, in which Chiang “transforms a common scene into an unfamiliar sight or a normal concept into an abnormal one” ; “a profound simplicity” ; and a superb pictorial quality. Indeed, interspersed throughout the book, Chiang's delightful paintings of city scenes, such as the Botanic Gardens, Zoo, Royal Mile and Princes Street, add a Chinese style to Scottish sights. He often saw things rather differently than local tradition, for example seeing Arthur's Seat not as the traditional lion but as a sleeping elephant (and draws it thus, too – he may have a point !). Chiang Yee also climbed Blackford Hill - see more here !
Chiang was, in summer 1937, a guest in Scotland of Sir Reginald Johnston (see above), who had recruited him to teach Chinese in London three years before. Chiang spent several weeks at Johnston's last home at Eilean Righ, while “beset by worries and uncertainties” - it seems this visit, and his others, left him with a very powerful impression of Scotland.
Robert Black, originally from Edinburgh, was the British Governor of Hong Kong - biographical details are here. He was the first Scot to be appointed to the Governor's role, and was also a former pupil of George Watson's College, one of our partners !
The Scotland-China Association was established in Edinburgh in May 1966. For an account of its history up to 2006, see here and here.
Murray MacLehose, originally from Glasgow, was the British Governor of Hong Kong - biographical details are here.
David WIlson, another Scot, was the British Governor of Hong Kong - biographical details are here.
Perhaps appropriately, given Scotland's long commercial and administrative connections with Hong Kong, the British Army unit that took part in the ceremony to return the colony to China on 30 June 1997 was the famous Scottish regiment, The Black Watch.