“La Belgique a pris sa place dans le Céleste Empire”. Emmanuel de Wouters als diplomatiek adviseur in het semikoloniale Qing-China (1895-1899)

After the Sino-Japanese War of 1895, Western powers began to more aggressively impose themselves on the semi-colonial Qing Empire. This inter-imperial competition certainly did not prevent cooperation and continuous exchange of imperial practices, and these powers found each other in imposing a joint discourse of modernity. To pay lip service to a certain "standard of civilization", the leaders of such semi-colonial states appointed Western diplomatic advisers. The Chinese government also recurred to these foreign "experts”, who occupied ambivalent positions within both the Western system of exploitation and expansion and the modernization projects of the semi-colonial entities that hired them. Very little is known, however, about their unique semi-official function. Based on new historiographic insights within the fields of New Diplomatic History and New Imperial History, this research examines the role of one of these mediators: the Belgian Knight Emmanuel de Wouters d'Oplinter, who was appointed as "legal adviser" by the Zongli Yamen, the Chinese office of Foreign Affairs.