Review: Professor Robert Bickers

On Friday 28th April, we were lucky enough to have Professor Robert Bickers from the University of Bristol give a talk on China’s 20th Century History and the Role of the West. 

Not only is Professor Bickers a member of the Department of History and Historical Studies at the University of Bristol, but he is also a part of the Colonialism Research theme at the Centre for the Study of Colonial and Postcolonial Studies. Specialising in modern Chinese history and the history of colonialism, Professor Bickers has written a plethora of critically acclaimed books, such as Britain in China (1999) and Getting Stuck in for Shanghai: Putting the Kibosh on the Kaiser from the Bund (2014).

This talk provided the audience with a unique insight into the close involvement of the West throughout China’s tumultuous, fascinating history. Among the multitude of new pieces of information presented to the audience during the talk, one part that was especially memorable was about Sir Francis Aglen (1869 – 1932), a prominent Old Marlburian who was heavily involved in the Chinese government at the time. As an Inspector-General of the Chinese Maritime Customs, Sir Aglen was highly regarded by fellow members of the Marlburian Club in Shanghai. It was extremely interesting to see how widespread the influence of Marlborough is.

One of the highlights of the talk was definitely regarding the Western influence on Chinese film and art during the 1930s, what with the likes of Ma Xingchi and Huang Wennong’s striking artwork, and the undeniably racist nature of content from “Fu Manchu”.  The audience was also enraptured by Professor Bicker’s descriptions of Mavis Lee’s humiliating experience in Hong Kong during extreme political unrest and Fu Cong’s supervising of a Chinese film intended as propaganda. Another highlight was Professor Bicker’s fascinating descriptions of the changes experienced by China during the Cultural Revolution, especially regarding the rejection of anything considered to be “bourgeoisie”.

Accompanied by crisp, iconic photographs and cartoons throughout, Professor Bicker’s talk took the audience back in time and prompted us all to think more deeply about the complex nature of the interaction between China and the West throughout history.

Katya Yan (MO L6)

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