P2. Diplomacy and Foreign Relations in Modern China

Session: Session 1, 12:00 – 1:30 pm, Friday 9/29

Category: Individual Papers

Location: Excellence

Chair: Yuheng Yan (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)

Paper Presenters: Samuel Green, Michel Hockx, Cory Willmott

Li Hongzhang’s World Tour Diplomacy

Speaker: Samuel Green
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: Mississippi State University/John Wiley & Sons
Abstract: In the spring of 1896, Li Hongzhang embarked on a world tour across China through the Russian Empire, Germany, Great Britain, the United States, Canada, and then a return to China. Li’s trip was not without precedent: indeed, he met with both former Secretary of State William Seward in 1869, and former President Ulysses Grant in 1878 on their world tour stops in China. Li’s trip around the world showcased his foreign policy initiative on behalf of the Qing Dynasty. Global transportation innovations enabled statesmen to traverse the oceans and continents with greater speed and convenience than ever before. Li’s visits utilized such technology, and he specifically toured industrialized areas of North America and Europe with an eye to modernizing Chinese industry in a similar fashion. While Kwang-ching Liu, Samuel Chu, and Stephen Halsey made great strides towards understanding Li Hongzhang’s role as a modernizer, Li’s world tour connects his domestic and foreign policies together quite succinctly. Following the Sino-Japanese War in 1895, Li sought foreign favor against Japanese encroachment into China and the industrial means by which the Qing Dynasty could resist Japan. This presentation contextualizes Li’s actions in both domestic Chinese history and global foreign relations.

Stories of May Fourth

Speaker: Michel Hockx
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: University of Notre Dame
Abstract: The standard narrative of the May Fourth Movement holds that students in Beijing were moved to demonstrate on May 4, 1919, because of the impending signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which would transfer German concessions in Shandong province, especially in and around Qingdao, to Japan. The slogan huan wo Qingdao (“give us back our Qingdao”) was one of the most famous slogans of the Movement. The standard narrative also tells us that the May Fourth Movement was successful because, after a month of demonstrations and boycotts, in June 1919, the Chinese delegation at the Paris Peace Conference refused to sign the Treaty.   However, the standard narrative does not tell us what not signing the Treaty meant for the status of Shandong. The “Shandong Question” appears ultimately irrelevant to the historical account of the May Fourth Movement. The main outcome of the May Fourth Movement is national solidarity and a national challenge to the imperialist powers. In that larger process, Shandong was initially a catalyst, but eventually insignificant.  In this paper, archival materials are discussed alongside scholarly narratives from Europe, the PRC, and the USA in order to reconstruct the process by which Shandong was restored to Chinese sovereignty, and to try and understand why the diplomatic solution to the Shandong Question has failed to make an impact on the May Fourth master narrative.

Prizes, Playmates and Presents: Pandas at the West China Union University, Sichuan, 1936-1941

Speaker: Cory Willmott
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Abstract: Passions flared up in the United States and China over the fate of Le Le and Ya Ya, who had been on loan to the Memphis Zoo before Le Le died in February 2023 and Ya Ya returned to China in April 2023. Millions of Chinese tracked Ya Ya’s arrival in Shanghai as one of their national treasures repatriated. Few animals have ignited the interest of children, adults, scientists and diplomats worldwide more than the Giant Panda, a species of bear found only in the mountainous bamboo forests of the western borderlands between Sichuan and Tibet. A hundred years ago, these iconic animals were virtually unknown to Western science. However, when the interior of China was opened to foreigners through the 1858 Treaty of Tientsin, curiosity and desire piqued as reports of the mysterious animal began to appear in English language travelogues and scientific journals. By the 1930s, the West China Union University (WCUU), jointly run by five Protestant missions in Chengdu, Sichuan, provided the perfect staging environment for panda hunters on their way to and from the western interior and North America. After the famous Giant Panda shot dead by the Roosevelt brothers in 1929, at least ten live baby Giant Pandas sojourned at WCUU awaiting transport to foreign zoos. Interdisciplinary analyses of missionaries’ writings about these pandas unravels controversies surrounding them and sheds light on science in empire-building and diplomacy in the context of rising Chinese nationalism. These episodes provide a timely back story to today’s panda diplomacy.