1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hart, Sir Robert

HART, SIR ROBERT, Bart. (1835-1911), Anglo-Chinese statesman (see 13.30), left China in July 1907 after 45 years of service as inspector-general of the Imperial Maritime Customs. A year before his feelings had been hurt and his authority diminished in the eyes of the customs service, by the action of the Chinese Government in appointing high Chinese officials to be “administrators” of the service, with control over the inspector-general and his staff; and although the Peking authorities made partial amends for the discourtesy thus shown him, by declining his resignation and by increasing his titular rank while on leave of absence, the remaining years of his life were undoubtedly affected by recollection of the lack of appreciation thus displayed by those whom he had served so long and so loyally. After 50 years of residence at Peking and complete absorption in Chinese affairs, a life of enforced leisure in England had a depressing effect upon his spirits and his health. The book which he wrote, after the Boxer rising, in 1901, remains his only published work; he declined to write his memoirs, and by his will left instructions to his executors which apparently preclude all hope of his voluminous diaries being used for biographical or historical purposes. Despite the disappointments of his later career, Sir Robert Hart left a name in China whose greatness will endure; his life's work stands out against the confused background of Chinese affairs as that of one who combined the qualities of an administrator with something of the poetic temperament and the mind of a specula- tive philosopher, a figure as picturesque in its way as that of Gordon or Cecil Rhodes. The multifarious activities of his career were reflected by the large number of honours and decorations conferred upon him by European sovereigns, rulers and learned societies; at the time of his death, he was the possessor of 13 grand crosses. By imperial edicts every high honour in the gift of the Chinese throne had been bestowed upon him, including the Double Dragon and the Peacock's Feather. He was a junior guardian of the heir-apparent, and his ancestors had been retrospectively ennobled for three generations. He died at Great Marlow on Sept. 20 1911. (J. O. P. B.)