The Scramble for China: Foreign devils in the Qing Empire, 1832-1914

The Scramble for China: Foreign devils in the Qing Empire, 1832-1914 (2011 ) New: Now available on Kindle,

The blurb: “In the early 19th century China remained almost untouched by Britain and other European powers – ferocious laws forbade all trade with the West outside one tiny area of Canton. Anyone teaching a European to speak Chinese was executed. But as new technology began to unbalance the relationship, foreigners gathered like wolves around the weakening Qing Empire. Would the Chinese suffer the fate of much of the rest of the world, carved into pieces by the Europeans? Or could they adapt rapidly enough to maintain their independence? Humiliated by military disaster, racked by rebellions that cost millions of lives and ultimately invaded during the Boxer Rebellion by thousands of foreign soldiers, it looked as though the colonial Scramble for Africa was about to be followed by the Scramble for China.

This extraordinary new book tells this epic story both from the European (mainly British) point of view and the Chinese. The degradation of China in this period is crucially important to understanding China today, whose government and people are steeped in stories of this terrible time and never wish to appear weak again. The Scramble for China is both highly original and brilliantly written – it reimagines these encounters between two equally arrogant and scornful civilizations, whether from the point of view of a Chinese governor or a British soldier. It is an epic of squalor, romance, brutality and exoticism, and it changed the world.


“At every airport bookshop, the business traveller is offered shelves of volumes that purport to tell us how an emerging, powerful China will deal with the world, and how the rest of us should make the most of the commercial opportunities opened up by its rise. Those who wish to understand these issues more closely might be better advised to read this fair and fascinating account.” Chris Patten Financial Times.

“Meticulously researched, this is an authoritative study of a “dark, complex phase in modern China’s history”. The Guardian.

“Powerful, astute and readable … meticulously researched in contemporary English-language records and journals, and written with flair and feeling, its rhetoric eschews rant and is never misplaced” John Keay, Literary Review

“Compellingly erudite and clear-sighted history”, Dominic Sandbrook Sunday Times