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Biography and the making of transnational imperialism: Karl Gützlaff on the China coast, 1831–1851

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journal contribution
posted on 2018-06-18, 09:13 authored by Thoralf KleinThoralf Klein
This essay challenges the ‘methodological territorialism’ and ‘methodological nationalism’ prevalent in recent studies of imperial biographies, examining the role of the German Karl Friedrich August Gutzlaff (1801–1851) in establishing a transnational form of free-trade imperialism in China. A native of Prussia and a missionary by training, Gutzlaff was first posted in the Netherlands East Indies before associating himself with British interests on the China coast. However, his loyalty was not limited to one imperialist power. In the 1840s, Gutzlaff promoted German trade with China, and at certain points of time he also supported American as well as Scandinavian interests. In addition to making a name for himself as a cultural broker and promoter of free trade and diplomatic representation, he also became involved with various forms of imperialism, from the more fluid commercial variant to the more formalised power structures of territorial rule. The case of Gutzlaff therefore lends itself to a reflection about the permeable and shifting boundaries of empires. Moreover, it calls for a reassessment of German imperialism in the period before 1871, showing how Germany’s involvement with ‘Western’ global expansion was palpable and not merely confined to the realm of colonial fantasy.



  • Social Sciences


  • Politics and International Studies

Published in

Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History


KLEIN, T., 2018. Biography and the making of transnational imperialism: Karl Gützlaff on the China coast, 1831–1851. The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 47 (3), pp.415-445.


© Taylor & Francis (Routledge)


  • AM (Accepted Manuscript)

Publisher statement

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History on 29 October 2018, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/03086534.2018.1539726.

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