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Special Collections Subject Guides: China

Chinese Studies at Special Collections & Archives

Our collections offer rich resources on the politics, culture and business of nineteenth and early twentieth century China.

The Hart Collection (MS15) is our most extensive manuscript collection relating to China. It is complemented by a number of associated manuscript collections (Wright MS16, Piry MS19), books and digital resources.

China map

Map from Barry, A. 'Lecture on railway enterprise in China' London: Waterlow, 1901

Sir Robert Hart (1835-1911)

Sir Robert Hart was the Inspector General of the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs Service from 1863 to 1908.  Born in Portadown, County Armagh, Hart graduated from Queen's College Belfast in 1853.  After graduating, he was nominated by Queen's for a position in the British Consular Service in China and left to become a student interpreter in Hong Kong at the age of 18. Following positions in Ningpo and Canton, Hart left the British Consular Service in 1859  to work for the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs Service. In 1863, aged 28, Robert Hart was appointed Inspector-General, a role which he held until 1908. Hart made a substantial contribution to China's imperial politics and the modernisation of its economy during his time as Inspector General.    

The Hart Collection was donated to Queen's by his great-grandson, the last Sir Robert Hart, in 1970. It contains 77 volumes of personal diaries that Hart kept during his time in China (1854-1908), over 7,800 items of personal and work related correspondence, as well as an extensive collection of photographs - over 700 individual photographs, 20 albums, and 170 glass slides. The collection provides an invaluable insight into Hart's professional and personal life, as well as the politics and relationships between China and the western powers at the time. Further detail on the contents of the MS15 Hart Collection can be found online on our webpages.

The Hart Diaries - MS15/1

 

Diary pages from MS15/1

The diaries are undoubtedly the most important documents in the Hart Collection and comprise 77 volumes that cover the years 1854-1908. They were taken out of Hart's Peking office by a well-meaning colleague before it, his house and their contents were destroyed during the Boxer disturbances and are, therefore, the only papers which date from before 1900. It is interesting to note, however, that Hart subsequently professed to regret this particular rescue.

Further details on the diaries can be found on the MS15 manuscript listing. 

Volumes 1-8 and 31 are also available to view online here.

Dr Kath Stevenson discusses the ongoing Robert Hart Transcription Project on the QUB Centre for Public History blog

 

Hart Photographs - MS15/6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         A Roman Catholic cathedral in Tientsin following the Boxer Rebellion (MS15.6.6.07)

The photographs within the Hart Collection include c. 700 individual black and white photographs in various sizes, 20 photograph albums, and 170 glass slides. As most of Hart's earlier photographs were destroyed during the Boxer Rebellion, most of these photos date from 1900 onwards.  The photographs display many people and events related to Hart's life and career. A substantial number of photos are of family, garden parties, diplomats, customs officials, and the aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion.

A total of 64 photographs from the collection are available to view online here with further photos included among our online digital exhibitions.

The 167 glass slides in the collection have also been digitised and can be viewed here

China's Imperial Eye

Aglaia de Angeli and Emma Reisz, China's Imperial Eye: Photographs of Qing China and Tibet from the Sir Robert Hart Collection, Queen's University Belfast (Belfast, 2017).

​Published in 2017, China's Imperial Eye​ by Dr Aglaia de Angeli and Dr Emma Reisz showcases 14 photographs of Qing China and Tibet in the MS15 Hart Collection with accompanying essays. 

It is available to order online and from the QUB Welcome Centre.

Sir Edgar Bruce Hart (1873-1963)

Bruce Hart was the son of Sir Robert Hart. Bruce Hart's travel diary (MS49) describes a journey overland from Peking to Paris, completed by Bruce Hart from 17 June to 31 August in 1894. The diary comprises two volumes and includes pencil drawings.

A pencil drawing from the entry of 13 July 1894

Alphonse Théophile Piry (1851-1918)

Piry (second from left, back row) with Robert Hart and others, in Hart's garden. (MS19/27/9B)

Alphonse Théophile Piry (1851-1918) was a Frenchman and keen photographer who served as a government official under Sir Robert Hart in the Imperial Customs Service of China. He occupied a number of official positions under Hart including Commissioner of Customs, Lappa, c 1898. He went on to become the first Postmaster General of the Imperial Chinese Post Office when this was formed as a separate entity from the Customs Service in 1911. He held this position until his retirement from office in 1915.

Further links and material

Contact Us

Special Collections & Archives

The McClay Library |  Queen's University Belfast | 10 College Park | Belfast | BT7 1LP

028 9097 6333 | specialcollections@qub.ac.uk

Head of Special Collections & Archives: Deirdre Wildy | 028 9097 6218 | d.wildy@qub.ac.uk