Empire careers

Working for the Chinese Customs Service, 1854–1949

By Catherine Ladds

Empire careers


  • Hardcover

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-1-7849-9370-2
  • Pages: 256
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £16.99
  • Published Date: April 2016
  • BIC Category: Colonialism & imperialism, China, Asian history, BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Workplace Culture, HISTORY / Asia / China, Society & social sciences / Sociology: work & labour, Humanities / Colonialism & imperialism, History
  • Series: Studies in Imperialism


This is the first book-length study of the 11,000 foreign nationals who worked for the Chinese Customs Service between 1854 and1949, exploring how their lives and careers were shaped by imperial ideologies, networks and structures. In doing so it highlights the vast range of people - British and non-British, elite and non-elite - for whom the empire world spoke of opportunity. Empire careers considers the professional triumphs and tribulations of the foreign staff, their social activities, their private and family lives, and how all of these factors were influenced by the changing political context in China and abroad. Contrary to the common assumption that China was merely an 'outpost' of empire, exploration of the Customs' cosmopolitan personnel encourages us to see China as a place where multiple imperial trajectories converged, overlapped and competed.

This book will be of interest to students and scholars of imperial history and the political history of modern China.


General Editor's introduction
1. Introduction: The Customs, China, and the empire world
2. The Customs mindset: Ethos, ideologies and knowledge about China
3. 'We want men and not encyclopaedias': Joining the Customs Service
4. 'That chaotic and Gilbertian Service': Working life in the Customs
5. Private lives, public reputations: The off-duty world of the Customs staff
6. Leaving the Service: Home, identity, and post-Customs lives
7. Conclusion
Select bibliography


Catherine Ladds is Assistant Professor of History at Hong Kong Baptist University

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