The coming of foreign nations to China in the period 1840-1940 marks a low point in Chinese power. The foreigners set about founding their own communities within China, subject to their own laws and customs, living as if still at home. At one time nearly every major city in China had such a community.
They were usually termed ‘treaty ports’, but there were cities that were not ports and some were not signed away in a treaty. Where the city had an exclusive area set aside for foreigners this was called an ‘enclave’ but in cities with fewer foreigners they lived among local Chinese people. They are also called ‘concessions’ suggesting they were given away by agreement, again this was not always the case. A ‘concession’, was a foreign leasehold where land could not be subleased back to the Chinese and only selected Chinese were allowed entry. Shanghai is a classic example, it became a treaty port in 1842 at the Sino-British Treaty of Nanjing which ended the Opium Wars. There were also cities such as Nanning, Guangxi that were given away by China without a treaty as China foresaw she would soon be forced to do so and could forestall a hostile take-over by voluntarily giving up control on her own terms.
However there were also ‘possessions’ where a foreign government had bought the land and all rights in perpetuity. The clearest example of this is Hong Kong island. In the later stages of the Qing dynasty, foreign occupancy was not restricted to cities, large areas of land were purchased under lease such as areas of Shandong. Just as important as the cities were the railways that were nearly all owned and run by foreign powers, they acted as corridors of control linking the treaty ports.
Many of the foreigners, even missionaries, continued to live under their own traditions and customs with little interest or contact with the local Chinese around them. They set up social and sport activities just as they would do at home. The local Chinese provided the domestic servants. For police and militia, the British brought in Indians and Africans rather than using local Chinese people. The glimpses of these little bubbles of Western culture within China enabled many local Chinese to appreciate both their own demeaning status but also some advantages of the foreigner's culture.
The most important Westerner in the story of treaty ports is Sir Robert Hart ➚ a man who came to be trusted by both the Chinese and the Westerners. The most senior members of the Chinese Imperial court called him 'Our Hart' even though he was born in Ulster. He administered the collection of taxes on foreign trade with fairness, discretion and honesty working as a trusted employee of the Chinese government. He supervised the opening up of many of the treaty ports choosing the personnel to run the excise and customs offices. The tax he collected for the Qing was invaluable, enabling them to pay off the interest on the ruinous indemnities exacted by foreign powers. He spoke and wrote Chinese fluently and knew all the traditions. He was a fine arbiter of any disputes that took place between the two sides. However not all Westerners took this friendly approach to relations with China.
In the larger concessions foreigners lived in their own settlements under foreign not Chinese law. Churches, hotels and clubs were built and a police force formed, all financed by a local taxation system. Many of these brick and stone built buildings survive, most notably at The Bund, Shanghai, Tianjin and Wuhan. However in the less important treaty ports, foreigners did not create their own separate area but lived among the Chinese.
Although the land was still owned by China, full rights were taken by the foreign power including, most importantly, the justice system. Crimes committed within the treaty port were tried under foreign law in a foreign administered court. There was even a British Supreme Court in China set up in 1904. This was the principle of ‘Extra-Territoriality ➚’ which lasted 1842-1943. These courts tended to be more lenient on the foreign criminals than a Chinese court would have been. Extra-territoriality extended to foreign schools and the tax system, so not many offenses were tried under Chinese law. It was the barbaric cruelty of the harsh Chinese legal system that Europeans objected to with beheading and ‘slicing’ (death by a thousand cuts ➚ 凌迟 líng chí) still in use up to 1905. They also objected to the lack of independence between state and judiciary leading to a bias towards finding in favor of the state rather than the individual, this remains an issue up to the present day.
The motives of the foreign powers was not entirely self-interest; having reached agreement to open up commercial trade they found the practicalities of doing business in China very difficult. Corruption was endemic and high local tariffs were applied arbitrarily. After the end of the Opium Wars China was forced to agree the tariffs bilaterally. The administration of the tariff system by Britons such as Sir Robert Hart ➚ across the whole of China applied the rules more fairly. It actually delivered more tax to the Qing government than if administered by the corrupt Chinese service. The foreign collection of taxes within China only came to an end in 1928, foreign governments had used the system to claw back repayment of numerous financial reparations over the years. Even the running of the Chinese Post Office network within China was run by foreigners.
After the end of the first Opium War in 1842, Britain signed the first major international treaty with China: the Treaty of Nanjing ➚. Other foreign powers wished to receive similar rights to trade with China. Britain foresaw continuing squabbles whenever a new treaty was signed and to prevent further complications in October 1843 signed the Treaty of the Bogue ➚ in which she was granted ‘most favored nation’ status. In this treaty China agreed that any concession made to another foreign power would apply equally to Britain. In the 1860s America and France got in on the act to also obtain ‘most favored nation’ status with China. The principle applies in general to world trade to the present day ➚.
The treaty port system bolstered the spheres of influence within China where foreign governments had a free hand: France in Yunnan and Guangxi; Japan in Fujian; German in Shandong; Russia and then Japan in Manchuria; Britain in the whole Yangzi valley from Shanghai to Chongqing. There was also a network of missionary stations where isolated Christian missions were founded deep into Chinese territory; the treaty port system providing any necessary military and material support for them.
The Boxer Rebellion and the Siege of the Legations ➚ in Beijing put the foreign powers in complete ascendency over a weak Qing government. They could demand control over whichever cities they liked. In 1898 they started demanding not just cities but extensive areas of land as well.
By 1900 most large cities in China had an enclave, the exception being the north-west of China and Beijing itself. Beijing had a large legation quarter ➚ adjoining the south-east corner of the Forbidden City. Great Britain had the largest legation which is now the home of the Ministry of State Security. The number of treaty ports reached its peak at about this time. In 1906 The total Chinese population within treaty ports was estimated at nearly 7 million; but foreigners account for only about 36,000 (Japanese 40%; British 24%; American 9%; Portuguese 8%). They provided a place of refuge from government, out of the reach of the Imperial regime. A free press and free access to Western literature made the larger cities hot beds of revolution. It is easy to understand why these large population centers immune to Chinese laws posed a threat to government.
The Chinese Republican movement was fueled by a rising tide of resentment of this slicing up of China ‘like a melon’. They could see that the numerous enclaves posed an obstacle to national integration and sought their immediate return to Chinese rule. When the Republic was founded in 1912, the up-swelling of anti-foreign sentiment led to riots. The new republican regime swept away the olds laws that had given some legitimacy todemands for Extra-Territoriality. China was a new modern state and treaty ports were now an anachronism. Britain after some military posturing voluntarily gave up Hankou, Hubei and Jiujiang, Jiangxi. There then followed other cities: Zhenjiang, Jiangsu; Xiamen, Fujian and Weihaiwei, Shandong in 1930.
In the 1920s, even though Chiang Kaishek wanted to get back all foreign run territory within China his reliance on foreign aid weakened his position. It was only when the Allies needed China to throw her weight against Japan that they conceded ground. In 1943 the Allied leaders at the Cairo conference ➚ agreed to the return of all foreign enclaves within China on Allied victory. Although full control was lost, the foreign powers still maintained a high level of control particularly in Shanghai. It was Mao's PRC that put an end to all foreign influence, shutting the doors to the rest of the world for over 20 years.
Here we present a time line of important events concerning foreign contacts with China and the setting up of the treaty ports and concessions.
|1516||Portuguese explorer Rafael Perestrello ➚ landed on southern Chinese coast.|
Portuguese Fernão Pires de Andrade ➚ arrived at Guangzhou Canton WG and negotiates with local merchants.|
Early trading begins on islands in Pearl River Estuary.
Portuguese settlements founded at Xiamen Amoy WG and Ningbo.
|1521||Ming dynasty navy beat the Portuguese at Battle of Tunmen ➚.|
|1542||At Ningbo, in reprisal against raids of Portuguese into neighboring towns, a large Chinese army massacred ➚ the community at Ningbo, 800 killed and the fort was raised to the ground.|
|1544||Portuguese ejected from port of Xiamen.|
|1557||Permission granted to Portugal to land and erect warehouses at Macau, probably as a reward for Portuguese defeat of Japanese and Chinese pirates in the estuary. It was not a formal colony, the land was still ‘owned’ by China.|
|1565||Andrés de Urdaneta of Spain starts lucrative trade over the Pacific between Manila and Mexico. The goods went overland and onwards to Europe. Manila in turn received goods from Chinese boats. The Spanish did not have a port in China itself. The galleons were huge - 2,500 ton - and carried the newly found silver of Mexico and South America to pay for silk, porcelain and spices. The vast riches held in the great shops made them prey to countless pirates - off the Philippines and off the Californian coast.|
|1582||Portugal pays 500 taels in silver as rent for Macau.|
|1603||The Spanish put down a revolt by the Chinese who greatly out numbered them, ended up massacring the whole Chinese population of Manila of about 20,000 people.|
|1637||Englishman Captain John Weddel ➚ visits Guangzhou, capturing a fort, and sets fire to a town, raising the Royal Standard on Chinese soil but is blocked by the Portuguese and fails to open trading links with China.|
British East India Company ➚ establish first factory (warehouse) at Guangzhou.|
During the 18th century the East India Company operated a large warehouse at Macau.
|1730||The Qing government decreed that all trade must be through Guangzhou, with very limited Spanish trade at Xiamen. Foreign ships were only allowed into harbor during the trading season, at other times they had to stay at Macau. Foreign hostility over these restrictions to trade grew during the period 1760-1842.|
|1740||The Chinese community at Batavia ➚ in Java massacred by the Dutch after they started a revolt over poor pay and conditions. Over 10,000 Chinse people were killed.|
|1756||Frederick Pigou a director of the British East India Company suggested Shanghai a suitable site for development.|
|1808||Macau occupied by a British garrison on the pretext of possible attack by France during the Napoleonic wars ➚. At the end of the war Britain emerged as the super-power in the area, master of the seas and had grown rich from her Indian trade. She looked on China as the next India, ripe for exploitation.|
|1815||The Spanish Galleon trade between Manila to Acapulco came to an end with the independence of Mexico and the direct trade with China by European countries at Macao.|
The British community in Guangzhou forced to move to Macau because of the trade in Opium was declared illegal.|
13th Oct. As a reprisal the British capture the port of Ningbo.
Jan. Hong Kong Island partially ceded to Britain.|
27th Aug. British capture port of Xiamen during the First Opium War.
Shanghai pays ransom of 1,000,000 taels in silver to escape British bombardment.
10th Mar. Chinese attempt to retake Ningbo from British at night but rebuffed with loss of many Chinese lives.|
29th Aug. Britain wins the First Opium War and the Nanjing Treaty ➚ is signed. Under its provisions British subjects were allowed to carry out trade without let or hindrance. Consulates were opened and the Royal Navy allowed access to ports. Derogatory comments about British people as ‘barbarians’ in Imperial correspondence to stop. Guangzhou hong system ➚ was to be closed and outstanding merchant debts paid off. British Navy were stationed at Ningbo until treaty terms were complied with.
Signing and sealing of the Treaty of Nanking. 1908 Image by Arnold Wright available under a Creative Commons License ➚
The treaty formally opens the first proper ‘treaty ports’ for British trade: Guangzhou, Shanghai, Xiamen, Fuzhou and Ningbo. Hong Kong fully ceded as a colony. Trade now starts to move from Macau to Hong Kong as it was under firm British jurisdiction.
Xiamen (Amoy) had had a long history as port going back to 800CE; Gulangyu Island just off the mainland became the site of most foreign settlement.
At Shanghai the foreign powers chose land between the Chinese city and Suzhou Creek (Wusong River); this waterfront eventually became the famous Bund ➚ area. To begin with it had three foreign concessions: British, French and American located along the Huangpu River. The French chose the land to the south nearer Chinese city, while America chose land on the north side of the creek.
August. British navy sail up Yangzi river as far as Nanjing. Port of Zhenjiang captured which is at junction with Grand Canal.
Unrest in Guangzhou over the terms of the Treaty of Nanjing. A poster was produced decrying the actions of the British:
“The injuries, deceits, cruelty and evil acts of the British resident barbarians are as numerous as the hairs of the head. Now they seek to coerce the government. They have long wished to enter our city; and our governors, from their kindness and benevolence, have given in and issued a proclamation granting permission to enter. They have not considered that the British barbarians, born and raise in noxious regions beyond the bounds of civilization, have the hearts of wolves, faces of tigers and cunning of foxes, plan to take our province and only seek to enter the city to spy out the land.”British Captain Balfour ➚ sent to Shanghai to inaugurate settlement. By end of 1843 there were only 23 foreign residents and their families. Agricultural land at Shanghai bought from local Chinese for residences and warehouses. Initially the international settlement was under British protection, most notably during the Taiping Rebellion.
5th April. Ningbo (Ningpo) in Zhejiang inaugurated as British colony.
Portugal seeks more autonomy for Macau but blocked by Chinese authorities.|
3rd July. Treaty of Wangxia (Macau) ➚ American Caleb Cushing ➚ negotiates same trading rights with China as given to Britain.
|1849||Macau Governor Amaral ➚ tortured and decapitated by Chinese in retribution for building road over Chinese land.|
During the Taiping Rebellion, many treaty ports in southern China came under threat. Shanghai was put under British military jurisdiction. The Chinese part of Shanghai was taken by the rebels 7th Sept 1853 to 17th Feb 1855. Many Chinese cities were attacked and decimated with great loss of life. Foreign trade was severely disrupted. Eventually the foreign powers took sides with the Qing government and helped bring about its victory. The conflict reinforced the view of foreign powers that they needed control of ports in China.|
|1855||Shanghai trade beginning to flourish, it had 438 visits by ship (72% British) with 76 million tons of tea and 55,000 bales of silk exported. The Shanghai British and International concessions are set at 9 sq miles [23 sq kms] and the French concession 4 sq miles [10 sq kms].|
|1856||15th Dec. Chinese people attack foreign residences in Guangzhou caused by resentment of Opium War settlement.|
29th Dec. To quell disorder, Sir Charles Straubenzee ➚ took Guangzhou and it was occupied by Britain until October 1861 in retaliation for attacks. Considerable trade moves from Guangzhou to Shanghai to escape the unrest.|
June. On China's defeat in the Second Opium War the Treaty of Tianjin ➚ cedes more territory. There were actually four treaties not just one. Great Britain, France, Russia, and the United States were given the right to have permanent legations in Beijing. Permission given for foreigners to travel everywhere in China including on religious missions. Limit on taxes was set at 5%. The Yangzi river was opened up for trade: “British merchant ships shall have authority to trade upon the Great River”. Most favored nation treaties give America and other countries equal rights to Britain. Eleven new treaty ports created, four of them inland including Hankou, Nanjing
Shantou (Swatow), Guangdong a small village until opened up to trade.
Zhenjiang strategic but captured by Taipings 1st April 1853 and heavily damaged. Hankou became more important and not developed as treaty port.
Haikou (Qiongzhou) , Hainan
Niuzhuang (Yingkou), Liaoning opened 1861
Yantai (Zhifu), Shandong (aka Chefoo) opened 1861
Tamsui, (Taipei) Taiwan opened
Tainan, Taiwan opened
Nanjing, although not strictly a treaty port, is mentioned in the Tianjin treaty. Nanjing was then the Taiping capital and not under Qing control and there was much destruction before it was recaptured - its trade moved to Shanghai.
Macau was formally leased to Portugal and Hong Kong ceded as a possession to Britain.
|1858||7th Nov. Lord Elgin ➚ leader of the British expedition reaches Hankou.|
|1859||Shamian Island (Shameen) divided between French (40%) and British (60%) concessions. It was a sandy bank just to the south of the city of Guangzhou.|
Yantai, Shandong (Chefoo) occupied by French on their way to Beijing.|
Convention of Beijing ➚ opens Tianjin as a treaty port with concession areas for Britain; France and the United States. Ceded Kowloon, Hong Kong to Britain in perpetuity and legalized the coolie trade ➚ - Chinese laborers on foreign ships. Foreigners allowed to travel unimpeded throughout China.
12th Feb. British expedition to open consulates along the Yangzi at Zhenjiang, Jiujiang and Hankou.|
11th Mar. Hankou, Hubei opened to foreign trade by British.
Jiujiang (Jiangxi) opened by Britain but heavily damaged during the Taiping Rebellion. Remained a minor port mainly exporting tea.
9th Dec Ningbo captured by Taipings, but they tried to keep on good terms with foreigners.
Final negotiations by Portugal to buy the land at Macau end in failure.|
Jan. Shanghai under Taiping attack.
|1863||British and American concessions at Shanghai merged to form autonomous International concession. General Gordon ➚ helps with defense against Taiping rebels.|
Shanghai population was now 5,589 foreigners along with 146,051 Chinese. Of the foreigners 78% British; 8% American. Britain and Germany (Prussia) set up a ‘Supreme Court of Justice for China and Japan’ to be ultimate legal authority for disputes.
Shanghai Illustration p.356 , 1867 available under a Creative Commons License ➚
Map based on illustration on page 350 of “The treaty ports of China and Japan” by Nicholas Dennys and William Mayers. Trübner and Co. London. 1867. The ‘Foreign and Merchant Ship anchorage’ on the map became the ‘The Bund’. Access to the Yangzi river and the South China Sea is to the north-east.
|1876||21st Aug. Chefoo Convention ➚ (aka Treaty of Yantai) between China and Britain, this was a response to the murder of Captain Margary who had surveyed the route for a new railway into Burma. The convention agreed punishment of the perpetrators and restitution. It also outlawed some levies and taxes imposed by China on trade. New treaty ports were opened including Yichang (Hubei), Wenzhou (Zhejiang) (but foreign presence never established), Beihai (Guangxi), Wuhu (Anhui) .|
|1880||At Tianjin, the United States gives up their concession, but in the 1890s small concessions given to Japan and Germany. It becomes the city with most concessions (eight) demonstrating its importance as the chief port in northern China.|
France gives up control of Taiwan in another Treaty of Tianjin ➚.
Xiamen (Amoy), from Kulangsu island. 1885 Image by Edwin Joshua Dukes ➚ available under a Creative Commons License ➚
Convention on Commerce ➚ with France opened ports in French sphere of influence: Longzhou (Guangxi); Mengzi (Guangzi); Pu'er (Simao) (Yunnan); |
17th April. Treaty of Shimonoseki ➚ at end of Sino-Japanese War, China gave concessions at Suzhou (Jiangsu), Hangzhou (Zhejiang), Shashi (Hubei), Chongqing. Lushunkou (Port Arthur). The Pescadore islands and Taiwan given as possessions to Japan.
23rd April. Triple Intervention ➚ of Russia, France and Germany seek to modify terms of Treaty of Shimonoseki. As a result Lushunkou (Port Arthur) taken from Japanese control and leased to Russia as a concession. Germany took control of Qingdao area in Shandong. At this time Japan received British support as a counterweight to Russian expansionism.
|1897||Tengchong (Tengyue) (Yunnan); Sanshui (Guangdong); Wuzhou (Guangxi) opened to British trade.|
At the start of the Boxer Rebellion the Qing government was particularly weak and gave away further concessions. Britain remained the world’s only superpower. China voluntarily offered concessions (non-treaty ports) including Qinhuangdao (Hubei). However the main development was the leases for large areas of land not just enclaves in cities.|
March. Jiaozhou Bay, Shandong, around Qingdao, was leased to Germany, 193 sq miles [500 sq kms] for 99 years. Also Liaodong Peninsular, Liaoning was leased to Russia, 1,438 sq miles [3,724 sq kms] for 25 years.
May. Guangzhouwan (Guangzhou Bay), Guangzhou leased to France,325 sq miles [842 sq kms]. for 99 years.
June. The Anglo-Chinese Convention ➚ New Territories, Hong Kong leased to Britain, 306 sq miles [793 sq kms]. for 99 years.
July 1st Weihaiwei, Shandong leased to Britain, 552 sq miles [1,430 sq kms] for as long as Russia held Lushunkou (Port Arthur).
Jiangmen (Guangdong) opened to foreign trade.|
After end of the Boxer Rebellion Tianjin opens up concessions for Belgium, Italy, Russia and Austria-Hungary as well as the original nations.
The Treaty of Lhasa ➚ sets up British presence at Yadong on Tibet's border with India. Also at Gyangze and Gartok (on the upper Indus river).|
Changsha (Hunan), Shenyang (Mukden), Liaoning opened to foreign trade.
|1906||Chinese volunteer to open Jinan, Shandong for trade.|
The Chinese volunteer the city of Nanning, Guangxi for trade but the city was never developed.|
Many ‘treaty ports’ opened mainly in Russian controlled Manchuria Qiqihaer; Heihe (Aigun); Harbin; Jilin; Manzhouli etc.
|1911||The number of treaty ports reaches its height - over 50 and up to 100 if 'voluntary' and informal ports are counted.|
|1912||On the foundation of the Republic of China some treaty ports of little value to foreign powers were returned including Xiamen.|
|1914||German lease of Qingdao taken over by Japan when Japan joined the Allies against Germany.|
|1917||Germany and Austro-Hungary lose their concessions at Tianjin when China joins the Allies (Britain, France, Germany) in the First World War.|
|1919||28th June Treaty of Versailles ➚ returns Germany's Shandong concessions as a ‘possession’ to Japan and not to China as China had been expecting. This proved a major source of grievance that led to the May 4th movement. China refused to sign the treaty ➚ but Shandong was effectively leased to Japan as a compromise.|
At Shanghai the population in the French and International settlement combined reaches 60,000 foreigners with 300,000 Chinese; the wider Shanghai city including land outside the concessions now 3,000,000. The Chinese were given a small representation on the Shanghai Municipal council.|
Republican China did not recognize rights of the new Communist regime in Moscow so the Russian Tianjin concession was lost.
|1922||Japan gives up lease of Qingdao, Shandong|
|1924||Russia gives up rights to all concessions except for the Chinese Eastern Railway through Manchuria.|
|1925||23rd Jun. After British troops shoot on Chinese people at Shamian Island, Guangzhou British goods were boycotted in southern China until 1927.|
|1927||Local hostility under the new government led to British concessions at Hankou, Zhenjiang and Jiujiang being relinquished; they had lost their strategic value. Britain, however, maintained important base at Hankou to control traffic on the Yangzi river.|
|1928||Mexico gives up special treaty rights and concession at Tianjin.|
|1929||Aug. Belgian concession at Tianjin relinquished.|
|1930||17 Sep. Britain gives up concession at Xiamen (Gulangyu Island) and Weihaiwei, Shandong. Weihaiwei was leased only so long as Russia controlled Lushunkou (Port Arthur).|
|1938||Start of Japanese occupation of China. They avoided attacking the foreign concessions in the treaty ports, but the Chinese parts of cities were heavily damaged: as at Guangzhou and Tianjin.|
|1940||Only Italy, United States, France and Britain retain their treaty rights.|
|1941||8 Dec. Japan occupies Shanghai bringing to an end the remaining concessions there.|
|1939-1945||During World War 2 Macau remained a neutral territory. Hong Kong occupied by Japan 1941-45. In exchange for Chinese support in the war, United States and Britain at Cairo Convention ➚ agree to give up remaining treaty rights at the end of war notably Shanghai and Guangzhou. During the war Fujian province under Japanese control.|
|1945||At the end of World War 2 Japan loses all its treaty rights including the Hankou concession. Italy also gives up rights to Hankou; Shanghai and Xiamen. Russia leases a base at Lushunkou (Port Arthur).|
|1946||France gives up all treaty rights including Guangzhouwan and Hankou in exchange for French control of northern Vietnam. Only Hong Kong and Macau remained foreign controlled.|
|1954||Russia relinquishes leased base at Lushunkou (Port Arthur) Liaoning.|
|1984||Britain and China agree return of Hong Kong in the Joint Declaration ➚.|
|1997||30th Jun. Hong Kong no longer a British colony and enters 50 years of transition.|
|1999||20th Dec. Macau no longer a Portuguese colony and enters 50 years of transition. The last territory leased or owned by a foreign country in China.|
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