‘That racial chasm that yawns eternally in our midst’: The British Empire and the politics of Asian migration 1900-1914
Historical Research, 90:249, pp. 591-612.
In recent years, the study of the networks, ideas and identities that bound the ‘British world’ together has proved a rich field of enquiry in imperial history. This article seeks to apply those insights to an issue that dominated much of Britain’s relations with its settler colonies before the First World War: the controversies surrounding the exclusion of Asian migrants. Racial exclusion has garnered a great deal of scholarly attention in recent years. This article builds on that historiography, but also questions its inattention to the British connection, and hence to considerations of imperial power. It analyses how the debate on immigration served as a canvas on which advocates and detractors of exclusion could paint competing concepts of empire, and seeks to understand how policymakers attempted to manage the migration question through a range of spatial and diplomatic solutions. It will attempt, in sum, to show how a global empire dealt with the problems of a world that seemed increasingly divided along racial lines.