* Adam Matthew Publications. Imaginative publishers of research collections.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
News  |  Orders  |  About Us
* A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z  

Manuscript Records of Traders, Travellers, Missionaries & Diplomats

Part 7: The Diaries of G E Morrison (1862-1920), Peking correspondent of The Times from 1897, and political advisor to the President of China, 1912-1920, from the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

China Through Western Eyes makes available the original manuscripts of a wide variety of western traders, travellers, missionaries and diplomats who visited China between the Macartney Embassy to China in 1792 and the onset of World War II some 150 years later.

The seventh part covers the diaries of George Ernest Morrison (1862-1920) from the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales. Morrison published one volume relating to his travels in 1895, and his correspondence was edited by HM Lo in 1976 and 1978. This is the first time that his private diaries have been made widely available.

Morrison was born in Geelong, Australia in 1862, son of the founder of the College. He was educated there, at Melbourne University - where he failed his exams - and Edinburgh University. He qualified as a doctor in 1887. As a student Morrison had travelled widely, and returned to Australia via Spain, the USA and the West Indies. In 1893 he left Australia for Hong Kong, and the next year travelled from Shanghai to Rangoon. He published this adventure in London in 1895, as An Australian in China: being the narrative of a quiet journey across China to British Burma. A meeting with the editor of The Times of London led to his appointment as a secret correspondent in Siam. In 1897 he became resident correspondent in Peking. He travelled widely through China in the next fifteen years, visiting, if Tibet is not counted, every province. His diaries contain detailed accounts of Morrison's travels, meetings and experiences in China during the last years of the rule of the Ching dynasty. As a perceptive guide into the activities of Western (and Japanese) diplomats, businessmen, and missionaries, and as an indicator of their impact on both China as a country and the Chinese as individuals, the diaries are an under-utilised resource. The run of diaries is complete from 1899.

Morrison was present in Peking during the Boxer Uprising and was reported dead. Reel 20 contains copies of Morrison's articles as published in The Times from January to August 1900, mostly relating to the Boxer Uprising. He supported the Japanese during the Russo-Japanese War, and reported their entry into Port Arthur in 1905. He represented The Times at the Portsmouth conference the same year.

Morrison left The Times in 1912 and became political adviser to Yuan Shih-K'ai, President of the recently declared Chinese Republic. Shih-K'ai's policy was to strengthen China (against internal decay and external encroachment) by reforming the bureaucracy, the educational system and the economy. But an attempt to bolster his authority by assuming the mantle of Emperor in late 1915 failed as his military supporters were unenthusiastic. Following Shih-K'ai's death in 1916, China slid into the period of the warlords as competing generals fought for power. Morrison documents some of the politics of the Presidential court, in relation to internal struggles and its attempts to find answers to the difficulties that pressed increasingly hard. Potentially positive events such as the elimination of German possessions at the start of World War One need to be contrasted with increasing pressure from Japan, such as the Twenty One Demands of 1915.

Morrison married his secretary Jennie Wark Robin in 1912; they had three children. Morrison died in Sidmouth, England, on 30 May 1920.

These diaries are important not just because they offer an unusual insight into Chinese politics and life in the first two decades of the twentieth century. They offer information on the nature of Britain's imperial reach at the periphery of formal power. This includes information on negotiations with local political leaders, on the use and abuse of economic and fiscal power, and the perception of gender and race. They illustrate the rising importance of journalists and the improvements in communications, both of information and of transport.

The diaries offered do not run in a straight chronological sequence. Sometimes, notably in relation to the Boxer Uprising, Morrison rewrote and redrafted his recollections. On other occasions, Morrison switched from notebook to notebook, or used different notebooks for different purposes, and therefore the order is confused. This is particularly true of his time as political adviser. Finally, before 1899 the sequence is incomplete.

Morrison was an experienced and perceptive journalist whose reports helped mould British (and Western) understandings of Western involvement in China. Of Australian birth and a journalist for a British newspaper, Morrison demonstrates the geo-political fact of the British Empire. As a political adviser Morrison helped influence the decisions made in the early years of the Chinese Republic. His importance as an interpreter of China to the outside world was early recognised. Some of his diaries were edited, but not published, soon after his death. The Oriental Library in Tokyo acquired his library. It published a two part catalogue in 1924. In 1932 Chinese residents in Australia founded an annual series of lectures on China in his honour.


Digital Guide

PDF Flyer

* * *
* * *

* *© 2022 Adam Matthew Digital Ltd. All Rights Reserved.