Sir Robert Hart Project

Sir Robert Hart (1835-1911), Inspector General of the Imperial Customs from 1863 to 1908, was a key figure in China’s nineteenth-century history and its relations with the West.

Hart was the only Westerner in the latter half of the nineteenth century to occupy a senior official post in China’s metropolitan bureaucracy, a position which gave him daily access to China’s highest officials in the Grand Council and Zongli Yamen.

Sir Robert Hart built the first Western-style administrative institution in China, the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs (CIMC). He also played a crucial role in China’s imperial politics, significantly influencing its internal reform and diplomatic policy. It is impossible to write about the foreign policy or international trading relationships of the late Qing Empire without reference to Hart.

The Hart Collection at Queen’s University Belfast is a major source of information about Sir Robert Hart and about Sino-Western relations in the late Qing period.

The project includes the transcription of much of the Hart collection, with key elements to be made available online.

Dr Emma Reisz and Dr Aglaia De Angeli in the School of History are currently engaged in research on this collection, alongside the team at Special Collections in the Queen’s University Library, led by Deirdre Wildy, and with support from Digital Humanities at Queen’s.

The School has an established collaboration with the Institute of Modern History in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing and has hosted visiting researchers from CASS including Dr Zhang Zhiyong, Prof. Cui Zhihai and Ms Jia Yajuan.