Mobile Subjects: British Nationality, “Race,” and Consular Protection on the China Coast

Catherine Frances Ladds*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paperpeer-review


    This paper explores the early-twentieth-century implementation of British nationality law on the peripheries of empire as a locus for multi-layered constructions of “race”. Taking as a starting point Radhika Mongia’s assertion that passport systems emerged out of a desire to control cross-colonial mobility along “explicitly racialized” lines, this research aims to show that extra-imperial places such as the Chinese treaty ports were important sites for the trial, interpretation, and contestation of British nationality law. The codification of a more exclusive definition of British subjecthood in the 1914 Nationality Act prompted a flurry of applications on behalf of would-be Britons born in East Asia, whose legal statuses were incompatible with metropolitan attempts to formalize nationality law. In addition to considering how “Asia-born” settlers represented their racial, cultural, and political identities in their attempts to qualify for British protection, nationality, or passports, this paper also shows how consuls continued to employ flexible responses to these applications based on racialized understandings of national belonging. Far from being an abstract tool of international law, evolving definitions and enforcements of British nationality law in Asia in response to cross-colonial migration shaped the lives of settlers in East Asia in profound ways, by enabling or constraining mobility and determining access to employment and education.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2023
    EventAssociation for Asian Studies Annual Conference 2023 - Boston, United States
    Duration: 16 Mar 202319 Mar 2023


    ConferenceAssociation for Asian Studies Annual Conference 2023
    Abbreviated titleAAS 2023
    Country/TerritoryUnited States
    Internet address

    Scopus Subject Areas

    • History


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