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AN IMPERIAL NOMAD AND THE GREAT GAME: THOMAS FRANCIS WADE IN CHINA* James L. Hevia In the second half of the nineteenth century, Great Britain was engaged in strategic warfare on the Asian land mass. This was not a shooting war, but a cold war, a war of position designed to check or contain imperial Russia and protect British interests that stretched from the Caucasus, around the southern edges of Eurasia, to the eastern provinces of China. In the "Far East" theater of operations, the worst case scenario for British strategists would be the collapse and partition of the Qing empire, with the Russians the only conceivable beneficiary in such a catastrophe.1 More than a struggle of muscle or military technology, this sort of limited warfare was a contest of wits, what Arthur Conolly dubbed the Great Game,2 later immortalized by Rudyard Kipling in Kim.3 Played out in that vast expanse of territory stretching in an arc from the Amur River region of Manchuria to Afghanistan in the southwest, the Great Game required a "vigilant and scrutinizing eye"4 capable ofgathering in and evaluating information *I wish to thank Judith Farquhar, Tani Barlow, John Henderson, Lionel Jensen, and this journal's reviewers for many helpful suggestions. Portions of this article were presented at the American Historical Association's annual meeting in San Francisco, California, January 1994. 1TlIe literature on Russian-British rivalry in Central Asia is extensive. The classic articulations of the British position can be found in Rawlinson 1875 and Boulger 1879 and 1885. For what might be termed the official history of this rivalry, see the appropriate sections in Ward and Gooch 1923, vols. 2 and 3. On Russian concerns, see the various references to Anglo-Russian rivalry in Fletcher 1978. In the portion of T. F. Wade's correspondence to the Foreign Office used throughout this paper, he mentioned the danger of partition; see Public Record Office, Foreign Office Archives, 17/748:397 (cited hereafter as FO). 2Cited in Edwardes 1975:vii. See also Cheng 1957; Davidson-Houston 1960; Lamb 1960; and Morgan 1981. Hopkirk (1992) provides the most recent and comprehensive account. 3Although Kim was not published until 1901, Kipling demonstrated a precocious concern over a Russian threat to the British empire as early as age sixteen (1878). At United Services College, he proposed as a topic for debate, "That in the opinion of this Society, the advance of the Russians in central Asia is hostile to British Power." Cited in Wilson 1977:43. 4The phrase is from Rawlinson (1875:203). In addition to writing extensively on CenLate Imperial China Vol. 16, No. 2 (December 1995): 1-22 1 2 James L. Hevia in order to plot British moves and counter-moves. Organized into a Utopian project: the game was imagined as a means to insure that British domination in Asia would be maintained not simply through control of territory or access to technological instruments, but "through comprehensive knowledge of peoples" (Richards 1993:28). Knowledge, in turn, was produced by field agents who carried out the surveillance of native populations and terrains, and mapped unknown territories.5 It also involved more mundane operations such as the routines ofthe Asian branches of the Royal Society, and as represented by commercial accounting and census taking.6 Once gathered, the information was then transmitted, sometimes in published form, from the periphery of the British empire to trai Asia, Rawlinson served in the British colonial administration in India, translated Herodotus, wrote on Assyrian and Persian history, and published translations of Assyrian inscriptions. He also served for a time as president of the Royal Geographic Society. 5On the relationship between surveillance and colonialism, see Spurr 1993:13-27. The number of expeditions to gather information about "unknown" territories are too numerous to go into here. Two, however, are worth mentioning. The first of these is an operation launched by Thomas Montgomerie to map Tibet. It is of interest because of the way in which Montgomerie deployed local knowledge to surreptitiously carry out the project; for a discussion see Richards 1993:17-19. The other case involves Thomas D. Forsyth, whose indirect link to Thomas Wade is discussed below...


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