Meyer, H. (1898). China -- the cake of kings and... of emperors [Illustration]. In Le Petit Journal. Retrieved from
Meyer, H. (1898). China -- the cake of kings and... of emperors [Illustration]. In Le Petit Journal. Retrieved from
Major Imperialist events in the late Qing Dynasty
Background - The West Arrives in China, 13th Century
China, long the dominant power in East Asia, provided a fabulous – in the sense that fantastic stories of the mythic Orient were rife in Europe during the age of exploration as well as in terms of the riches it contained – destination for the explorers, sailors, merchants, and missionaries who set sail from Europe in search of fame, fortune, markets and souls to save. As elsewhere in Asia, in China the Portuguese were the pioneers, establishing a foothold at Macao (Aomen), from which they monopolized foreign trade at the Chinese port of Guangzhou (Canton). Soon the Spanish arrived, followed by the British and the French.
Initially, trade between China and the West was carried on in the guise of tribute: foreigners were obliged to follow the elaborate, centuries-old ritual imposed on envoys from China's tributary states. There was no conception at the imperial court that the Europeans would expect or deserve to be treated as cultural or political equals. The sole exception was Russia, the most powerful inland neighbor, as the Manchus who composed the ruling Qing dynasty were sensitive to the security of the northern border as it had been their original territory.
Western diplomatic efforts to expand trade on equal terms were rebuffed, the official Chinese assumption being that the empire was not in need of foreign--and thus inferior--products. Despite this attitude, trade flourished, even though after 1760 all foreign trade was confined to Guangzhou, where the foreign traders had to limit their dealings to a dozen officially licensed Chinese merchant firms.
Since initial contact, Roman Catholic missionaries had also been attempting to establish their church in China. Although by 1800 only a few hundred thousand Chinese had been converted, the missionaries--mostly Jesuits--contributed greatly to Chinese knowledge in such fields as cannon casting, calendar making, geography, mathematics, cartography, music, art, and architecture. The Jesuits were especially adept at fitting Christianity into a Chinese framework and were condemned by a papal decision in 1704 for having tolerated the continuance of Confucian ancestor rites among Christian converts. The papal decision quickly weakened the Christian movement, which it proscribed as heterodox and disloyal.
The First Opium War, 1839- 1842
Limited to the single trading port in Guangzhou (Canton), the European merchants were constrained. The British especially chafed against this restriction. Their merchant fleets had created a demand for tea and silk and porcelain in Europe and America but they had little to offer China in return. This led to a drain of silver from Europe as it was the main payment accepted by the Chinese. To remedy the situation, the foreigners developed a system whereby manufactured goods were sold in colonies in India and Southeast Asia in exchange for raw materials, which could then be sold to China. Cotton and opium became the main products. Opium was outlawed by the Qing government but entered China through the connivance of profit-seeking merchants and a corrupt bureaucracy.
Observing the drain opium caused in both money and lives, in 1839 the Qing government adopted drastic prohibitory laws against the opium trade. Illegal stocks of opium owned by Chinese dealers were seized, the entire foreign community in Guangzhou (Canton) detained, and some 20,000 chests of illicit British opium were seized and destroyed. The British retaliated with a punitive expedition, thus initiating the first Anglo-Chinese war, better known as the Opium War (1839-42). Unprepared for war and grossly underestimating the capabilities of the enemy, the Chinese were disastrously defeated, and their image of their own imperial power was tarnished beyond repair.
The Treaty of Nanjing, 1842
This treaty ended the First Opium War. It was the first of a series of agreements with the Western trading nations later called by the Chinese the "unequal treaties." Under the Treaty of Nanjing, China ceded the island of Hong Kong (Xianggang) to the British; abolished the licensed monopoly system of trade; opened 5 ports to British residence and foreign trade; limited the tariff on trade to 5 percent ad valorem; granted British nationals extraterritoriality (exemption from Chinese laws); and paid a large indemnity. In addition, Britain was to have most-favored-nation treatment, that is, it would receive whatever trading concessions the Chinese granted other powers then or later. The Treaty of Nanjing set the scope and character of an unequal relationship for the ensuing century of what the Chinese would call "national humiliations."
The Taiping Rebellion, 1851- 1864
After the Firs Opium War, matters were made worse in China by a series of large-scale natural disasters. The Qing government did not offer much aid. Combined with economic tensions and the anti-Manchu sentiments, widespread unrest occurred. South China soon became the setting for the largest uprising in modern Chinese history – the Taiping Rebellion.
Hong Xiuquan, a charismatic leader who formulated a blended ideology combining the ideals of pre-Confucian utopianism with Protestant Christian belief soon gained thousands of followers who were heavily against the Manchus and the Qing government. In 1851 Hong Xiuquan and his followers launched an uprising in Guizhou Province. This rebellion Hong proclaimed the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace (Taiping Tianguo, or Taiping for short) with himself as king. Its purpose was to reconstitute a legendary ancient state in which the peasantry owned and tilled the land in common; slavery, concubinage, arranged marriage, opium smoking, foot binding, judicial torture, and the worship of idols were all to be eliminated.
British and French forces, who preferred to deal with the China they knew in the form of the Qing Dynasty rather than with the mixed behavior and ideals of the Taiping leadership, came to the assistance of the imperial army. This resulted in Qing indebtedness to Western help as well as a loss of prestige internally. Before the Chinese army succeeded in crushing the revolt, however, 14 years had passed, and well over 30 million people were reported killed.
Further Western Encroachment – More Unequal Treaties
A variety of treaties during the following years continued to increase Western influence, power, and economic control in China. What follows is a brief rundown of some of the major treaties.
Treaty of Aigun, 1858
This treaty created the modern border between Russia and Manchuria in Northeast China. While China was engaged in – and losing – the Second Opium War, Russia threatened to open a second front unless China agreed to Russian demands. Russia gained approximately 231, 660 square miles of territory from China as a result along with open trade along the border.
Treaty of Tientsin, 1858
This document, signed by Great Britain, France, Russia, and the United States as well as China, ended the first stage of the Second Opium War (1856-1860). China had to open further ports to foreign trade (11 in all), permit foreign legations into the previously closed capital in Beijing, permit missionary activities, pay an indemnity to Britain and France (the primary opponents in the war) and legalize the importation of opium.
Convention of Peking, 1860
As a result of the conclusion of the Second Opium War, in which British and French troops had entered the Forbidden City in Beijing, treaties were signed with Britain, France and Russia. Basically, it was at this point that the Emperor officially ratified the Treaty of Tientsin. Additionally, China leased the region known as Kowloon on the island of Hong Kong to Great Britain, at the time with no conclusion to the lease.
Margary Affair and Chefoo Convention, 1875-1876
On February 21, 1875, British junior diplomat Augustus Raymond Margary and his staff were murdered in Tengyue during a return to Shanghai. The resulting diplomatic crisis allowed the British to exert pressure on the Qing government. The incident was resolved by the signing of the Chefoo Convention treaty. While ostensibly designed to rectify the Margary Crisis, the British were able grab other, unrelated concessions. These included further extraterritorial privileges for British subjects in China as well as outlawing some import taxes on British goods and opening more treaty ports.
Treaty of Tientsin (1885)
This treaty ended the Sino-French war (1884-1885). China was required to recognize French control over the region now known as Vietnam in its stead. This initiated gradual French acquisition of the territory that became known as French Indo-China.
Treaty of Shimonoseki (1895)
This treaty ended the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and was concluded between Japan and China. China had to cede control over Korea, Taiwan, and part of the Liaodong Peninsula to Japan. China also had to pay a war indemnity, open ports to trade, and grant Japan most-favored-nation treatment. This treaty was particularly crushing for China because Japan had once been a tributary state and because Japan had been able to modernize and resist the worst impacts of Western imperialism while China had not.
Second Convention of Peking, 1898
This was an update to the first Convention of Peking (1860) and gave the British full jurisdiction over their leased territory in order to secure military defense and security. The British also were granted a 99 year lease over the ‘New Territories of Kowloon’ which increased the size of their colony on Hong Kong.
Open Door Policy, 1899
Proposal by the United States sent via Secretary of State John Hay to France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Japan, and Russia, which called for each nation to uphold Chinese territorial and governmental integrity. What this really meant is that the United States, which did not have a particular sphere of interest in China, was afraid of being blocked in trade. It called on the other nations to not use their spheres of interest to block free use of treaty ports for trade.
The Boxer Rebellion, 1899- 1901
As anti-foreign and anti-Christian sentiment continued to increase, members of the Qing government offered secret backing to secret societies known as Yihetuan (Society of Righteousness and Harmony). The movement has been better known in the West as the Boxers (from an earlier name--Yihequan, Righteousness and Harmony Boxers). In 1900 Boxer bands spread over the north China countryside, burning missionary facilities and killing Chinese Christians. Finally, in June 1900, the Boxers besieged the foreign legations in Beijing and Tianjin, an action that provoked an allied relief expedition by the offended nations. The Qing declared war against the invaders, who easily crushed their opposition and occupied north China. Under the Protocol of 1901, the court was made to consent to the execution of ten high officials and the punishment of hundreds of others, expansion of the Legation Quarter, payment of war reparations, stationing of foreign troops in China, and razing of some Chinese fortifications.
Shanghai Xinhong Cultural Development Co.Ltd. (2010). The opium wars and the unequal treatis in the Qing dynasty.
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Wertz, R. (2013). Pre-modern era. In Exploring Chinese history. Retrieved from http://www.ibiblio.org/chinesehistory/contents/01his/c02s03.html