Down in China

A man from county Down kept a diary during his years in China from 1854 to 1910.

They detail his efforts to find his feet while ‘roughing it in Hong Kong’ and searching for the relevance of his Wesleyan faith in the ‘anything goes’ Western attitude to China.

That in itself might make it worth reading the 77 volumes of his diary now stored in Queens University. However he went on to set up the Chinese Customs Service, post office and light house system. He also establish a brass band for Chinese musicians. In the process he became the most influential and respected Westerner in China at a crucial period of its modernisation.

The individual, of course, was Robert Hart, even today the most famous Irishman in China.

Born in 1835 in Portadown, he studied at Wesley College Dublin and Queens University Belfast. On graduating he was nominated for the British Consular Service in China and the rest is history.

Hart never forgot his roots and promoted a number of Irishmen to important positions and tried to help establish diplomatic relations between Imperial China and the Vatican.

He claimed he ‘did well for Western powers while doing good for China.’

You can follow his progress in China by viewing his diaries online thanks to Queens University.

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