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The Manchu Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), External Threats

Treaty of Nanjing, Lin Zexu, Qianlong Emperor, nation clause, unequal treaties

In the late 18th century the Manchus had grudgingly accepted commercial relations with Britain and other Western countries. Trade was confined to the port of Guangzhou, and foreign merchants were required to conduct trade through a limited number of Chinese merchants. Initially, the balance of trade was in China's favor, as Britain and other countries paid for huge quantities of tea not with British goods but with money in the form of silver.

The British were intent on expanding trade beyond the restrictive limits imposed at Guangzhou. They also wanted to establish diplomatic relations with the Qing court similar to those that existed between sovereign states in the West. In the 1790s the British sent an ambassadorial mission to China headed by Sir George Macartney, who brought the emperor samples of British goods. The Qianlong Emperor was not impressed with the goods and made no major concessions. The British, for their part, saw that China’s soldiers still used traditional weaponry and thus gained a better sense of China's military vulnerability.

In order to reverse the balance of trade, British merchants during the 1780s introduced Indian opium, an addictive narcotic drug, to China. Addiction spread, and by 1800 the opium market had mushroomed, shifting the balance of trade in favor of Britain. Trade in opium was illegal in China, but British and other merchants unloaded their cargo offshore, selling it to Chinese smugglers. By the 1830s the threat to China posed by opium had become acute. Opium addiction destroyed peoples’ lives, and the drain of silver was causing fiscal problems for the Qing. Furthermore, many Qing officials, tempted by the profits they could make in the opium trade, became corrupt.

The Qing appointed Lin Zexu in late 1838 and sent him to the city of Guangzhou the following year to put an end to the illegal trade. Lin dealt harshly with Chinese who purchased opium and applied severe pressure to the British trading community in Guangzhou, seizing opium stores and demanding assurances that the British would not bring opium into Chinese waters. In response the British sent an expeditionary force from India with 42 warships and shut down the ports of Ningbo and Tianjin. The Qing negotiated with Britain, but the first settlement reached was unsatisfactory to both sides, and the British sent a second, larger expeditionary force. The Treaty of Nanjing (Nanking), concluded at gunpoint in 1842, ceded the Chinese island of Hong Kong, near Guangzhou, to Britain and opened five ports—Guangzhou, Xiamen, Fuzhou, Ningbo, and Shanghai—to foreign trade and residence. Known as treaty ports, these cities contained large areas called concessions that were leased in perpetuity to foreign powers. Through its clause on extraterritoriality, the treaty stipulated that British subjects in China were answerable only to British law, even in disputes with Chinese. The treaty also had a most-favored-nation clause, which meant that whenever a nation extracted a new privilege from China, that privilege was extended automatically to Britain.

China looked upon the Treaty of Nanjing as an unpleasant but necessary concession dictated by unruly barbarians. Eager to gain more trading privileges, Britain, aided by France, renewed hostilities against China, and during the Second Opium War (1856-1860) applied military pressure to the capital region in North China. In 1857 China was forced by Britain and France to sign the Treaty of Tianjin, which further expanded Western advantages in China. However, the Qing government declined to ratify the treaty, and hostilities resumed. A joint British-French expeditionary force penetrated Beijing, where they burned the Qing’s summer palace in retaliation for Chinese treatment of Western prisoners. With the capital occupied by foreigners, the Qing ratified the treaty in 1860.

Other countries, including Russia, Japan, and the United States, soon demanded similar treaties with China. Militarily weak, the Qing agreed to these treaties, which curtailed China’s sovereignty. In China, the treaties became known collectively as the unequal treaties. By the 1860s there were 14 treaty ports. Because the foreigners had demanded the right to impose their own laws instead of obeying Chinese laws, the concessions, especially those in Shanghai, came to resemble international cities. Foreigners in China sold imported manufactured goods that competed with Chinese products, but the treaties prohibited China from setting tariffs to protect its industries.

Beginning in 1875 the Western powers and Japan began to dismantle the Chinese system of tributary states. Japan brought the Ryukyu Islands under its control in the 1870s, and in the mid-1880s France completed its subjugation of Vietnam, and Britain annexed Burma. In 1860 Russia gained the maritime provinces of northern Manchuria and the areas north of the Amur River. Japanese efforts to remove Korea from Chinese dominance resulted in the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894 and 1895. Japan’s victory was decisive, and China was forced to recognize the independence of Korea, pay an enormous war indemnity, and cede to Japan the island of Taiwan and the Liaodong Peninsula in southern Manchuria.

Russia, France, and Germany reacted immediately to the cession of the Liaodong Peninsula, which they regarded as giving Japan a stranglehold on the most economically valuable area of China. They intervened, demanding that Japan return the Liaodong Peninsula in exchange for an increased indemnity from China. In return for their intervention, the Europeans demanded privileges themselves. Russia demanded and received the right to construct railroads across Manchuria, as well as additional exclusive economic rights throughout that region. The Qing granted other exclusive rights to railroad and mineral development to Germany in Shandong Province, France in the southern border provinces, Britain in the Yangtze River provinces, and Japan in the southeastern coastal provinces. Russia lost the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 and 1905, and thereafter most of Russia’s rights in southern Manchuria transferred to Japan. The United States, attempting to preserve its trading rights in China without competing for territory, initiated the Open Door Policy in 1899 and 1900. That policy, to which the other foreign powers assented, guaranteed the equal position of the powers with regard to trade with China, as well as the preservation of Chinese territorial integrity.



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