"Opium Pushing and Bible Smuggling": Religion and the Cultural Politics of British Imperialist Ambition in China

Doctoral Dissertation


In the early decades of the nineteenth century, British missionaries disrupted the century-old tea-trade triangle by their insistence on penetrating the closed Chinese empire. Their cultural knowledge made these missionaries attractive potential allies for merchants while also giving accounts of their mission a literary appeal. Although missionary writing was intended for specifically Evangelical audiences, the influence of these works extended to popular culture and into the crafting of foreign policy for the Opium War as the political situation in China intensified due to opium trafficking.
The first chapter traces the scholarly traditions on mission and imperialism, and the missionary movement in China. It also shows that two differing perspectives on mission and empire derive from competing subcultures in early-nineteenth-century Britain: middle-class popular culture and the growing Evangelical subculture. The second chapter adapts the notions of “imagined communities” and an “imperial archive” for considering ways in which Evangelicals created literatureÌ¢âÂ"an “Evangelical Archive"Ì¢âÂ"that formulated and maintained their conceptual unity both at home and with their missionaries and converts abroad. Aimed at recruiting missionaries, encouraging believers, providing ethnology, and garnering support, mission narratives first emerged from the difficult mission context of China. The third chapter contrasts Evangelical representations of China with those by Thomas DeQuincey, Jesuit missionaries, and travel writers. Encoding spiritual terms for both spiritual and material subjects of attention, mission narratives assisted in coloring China as dark and depraved in opposition to Christianity’s enlightening brightness. The fourth chapter examines the work of Charles Gutzlaff, Journal of Three Voyages, and demonstrates a shift in the Evangelical approach to both British culture and foreign peoples, and thus a refiguring of the relationship between mission and empire. The chapter also shows how the distribution of the Gospel in China and the circulation of Gutzlaff’s writing in Britain provided justifications for the Opium War, while at the same time they revealed a growing division of opinion among Evangelicals regarding cooperation with commerce and government. The dissertation argues that the mission in China represents a shift in British thinking about mission and empire, which reflects the achievement of Evangelical hegemony in British culture.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-04052008-172638

Author Benjamin Louis Fischer
Advisor Joseph A. Buttigieg
Contributor Joseph A. Buttigieg, Committee Chair
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline English
Degree Name PhD
Defense Date
  • 2008-02-29

Submission Date 2008-04-05
  • United States of America

  • culture

  • empire

  • evangelical

  • evangelism

  • missionaries

  • gutzlaff

  • civilized

  • missionary

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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