The British China Story

China under Xi Jinping is keen on narratives and story telling. But the stories that the country has told have raised questions about what the counternarratives are by other partners associated with it internationally. Of these, the Sino British story is amongst the longest established, the best documented, and the most complex and rich in terms of its contents, at least amongst Western countries.

We know broadly what the Chinese narrative is about Britain and its role in the country’s modern history. That is told through stories of humiliation and victimisation that are now standard parts of the school curriculum in China. But what is the British response to this – what is Britain’s version of the China story? In this talk, Professor Brown will refer to research he did in 2022 to 2023 during a year long sabbatical about the creation of a British narrative on China. This covers the period from 1570 when the first documented awareness in English of China appeared, up to the present day, and has resulted in the first single volume account of Britain’s relations with China from the start to today. Taking this longer term approach exposes new shapes and forces and developments that have driven this relationship, one that could be argued sits at the very heart of global modernity as it brought two entirely different cultural, economic and political forces in direct encounter with each other in ways which are still having an impact to the present day.

Kerry Brown is Professor of Chinese Studies and Director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College, London. He is an Associate of the Asia Pacific Programme at Chatham House, London, an adjunct of the Australia New Zealand School of Government in Melbourne, and the co-editor of the Journal of Current Chinese Affairs, run from the German Institute for Global Affairs in Hamburg.