Qing Dynasty: Part 1
Early in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), long before Chinese citizenship law was formally enacted, several Westerners actually served as Chinese government officials.
Among them were the German Johann Adam Schall von Bell and the Flemish Belgian Ferdinand Verbiest. These two men were sent to China as Jesuit missionaries by the Catholic Church. They donned Qing Dynasty robes, observed Chinese ritual, and lived a Chinese lifestyle.
When Johann Adam Schall von Bell turned 30, he started to put on Chinese robes and go by a Chinese name. The Qing government granted him numerous positions, some of which included Chief Minister of the Court of the Imperial Stud, Chief Minister of the Court of Imperial Sacrifice, and Commissioner of the Office of Transmission.
He was conferred the posthumous title of Grand Master of Splendid Happiness (Guanglu Dafu) by the Yongzheng Emperor. This title is the equivalent of a grand secretary of the highest rank.
Ferdinand Verbiest was Schall von Bell’s successor. Impressed by his scientific knowledge, Emperor Kangxi adopted Verbiest as his personal tutor in the western sciences. Verbiest was also granted the title Senior Vice Minister of the Department of Public Works. After his death in Beijing, he was honored with a title equivalent to a Chinese official of the highest order.
Robert Hart of Great Britain served as the Inspector-General of China’s Imperial Maritime Custom Service. According to Robert Hart’s diary, on Oct. 18, 1864, in recognition of his outstanding performance in the suppression of the Taiping Army, the Qing government awarded him the honorary title of Mandarin of the Third Degree, and arranged for him to marry a Chinese lady so that he would be able to devote his life to China.
However, Hart ended up marrying a British lady, and maintained his British citizenship throughout his life. Though he was offered a high position with a handsome salary, and even a beautiful woman, he still didn’t choose to become a Chinese citizen.
According to records from the Qing Dynasty, during the Ili Rebellion of Xinjiang, Charles Gordon gave up his British military status to join the Qing army. He was thus regarded as a senior Chinese military officer. But then he again came under British responsibility while leading foreign military units in assisting the Qing government to quell the Taiping Rebellion.
Qing Dynasty records also document that a French engineering consultant for China’s postal agency, known only by his Chinese name Sha Haian, applied for Chinese citizenship. At first, many people speculated about his motives, but then it was discovered that he had acquired a large piece of land in Beijing’s Xizhimen District and another large piece of land near the Beijing-Hankou Railway.
As it was not easy for him to purchase large tracts of land without Chinese citizenship, Sha Haian applied to become Chinese. Even so, he never gave up his French identity. Perhaps 100 years ago, this French fellow with an entrepreneurial spirit was trying to speculate on real estate that would be worth a fortune in the future.
Related article: Qing Dynasty’s Citizenship Law