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History of China's Open Ports

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Lim, Seung Hwan
Term Paper, AP European History Class, February 2009

Table of Contents
I. Introduction
II. Before the Treaty of Nanjing
III. Treaty Ports
III.1 Treaty of Nanjing (1842)
III.2 The Second Opium War (1856 - 1860)
III.3 Chefoo Convention (1876)
III.4 Treaty of Shimonoseki (1895)
IV. Imperial Decrees to Open Ports
V. Other types of Open Ports
VI. Open Ports in the Early 20th century
VII. Open Ports in People¡¯s Republic of China
VIII. Impact of Open Ports
IX. Conclusion

I. Introduction
            After the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842, China opened itself to foreign countries and actively contacted with these countries. Open ports, ports officially opened to foreigners, served crucial role in this process. This paper will deal with the history of open ports in China, estimate their impact on Chinese politics, culture, and economy, and conclude what their most important role was in modern Chinese history.

II. Before the Treaty of Nanjing
            The first contact between Western world and China was likely to occur during the rule of the Roman Empire and Han Empire. However, this contact was done through Silk Road and very limited. Even if Europeans such as Marco Polo and Francis Xavier visited China after that period, the interaction was not very active because countries in Middle East levied heavy tax on land trade. Thus, before Jorge Alvares, a Portuguese navigator, first reached Canton (Guangzhou) through the sea, direct contact between Europe and China hardly occurred. Yet, sea trade was not activated because Ming dynasty introduced policy of isolation and opened only Canton to western foreigners.
            This trade policy of China, Canton System, not only banned the trade through Chinese ports other than Canton, but also imposed other regulations on European merchants. European merchants could not directly meet with Chinese civilians, so they had to work in association with Chinese merchants known as the Cohong. Moreover, European could stay in Canton only in Thirteen Factories, ¡°foreigner quarters¡± (1) outside of the city wall of Canton, only during the Trading season. During the off-season, European presence on Chinese soil was not permitted. This policy was based on Chinese people¡¯s belief that they are the center of the world and Europeans were inferior to them.
            Even if Portuguese seized and fortified Macau, and Dutch also did similar thing in Taiwan, Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty did not gave up this trade policy. However, because Chinese products such as porcelain, silk and tea were popular in Europe, and trade with Chinas was very lucrative, European countries, especially Great Britain, tried to make official diplomatic relationship with China and open as many Chinese ports as possible.

III. Treaty Ports

III.1 Treaty of Nanjing 1842
            In the beginning of the 19th century, Great Britain paid huge amount of silver to buy Chinese products such as tea. To compensate this trade deficit, British merchants indirectly sold opium to China. Moreover, British government took a British soldier who killed a Chinese without Qing dynasty¡¯s permission (Kowloon Incident, 1839). These misbehaviors of British people enraged the emperor of Qing dynasty, and he banned all trades with Britain. Britain depended very much on the trade so it could not withstand the China¡¯s measure. Thus, it attacked Chinese ports (First Opium War, 1839 ~ 1842), and threatened Nanjing, a crucial city to control China¡¯s Grand Canal. This made China to negotiate with Britain and they signed Treaty of Nanjing.
            The Treaty of Nanjing was the first unequal treaty for China, and forced it to build equal diplomatic relationship and yield many benefits to Britain. China opened 5 ports, Canton, Amoy, Foochow (Fuzhou), Ningpo (Ningbo), and Shanghai, and allowed British merchants to trade with any Chinese people in these ports. Britain gained the right to lease lands in these ports, and these lands were regarded as British territory. British navy could stay in these ports to protect British people and property. China also ceded Hong Kong to Britain. Most importantly, British gained extraterritoriality and the most favored nation provisions.
            This treaty nullified Canton System and decreased the importance of Canton, which held its monopolistic position for hundreds of years. Canton lost its monopoly on trade with Western countries and free trade was done in five ports opened to Britain. This unequal treaty showed other Western countries China¡¯s weakness. France also threatened Chinese government and gain same right with that of Britain and the right to evangelize Catholicism in Treaty of Whampoa. Countries like Portugal, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden also claimed their own rights and Chinese government also gave them similar rights. One of the most critical mistakes of Chinese government was to give most nations the status of most favored nation. Later, China had to give many privileges to foreign countries, because when China gave a right to a country, other countries also claimed their own rights based on the status of most favored nation.
            These events resulted in huge influx of foreign cultures including Christianity into China, especially in treaty ports. Chinese people had held their own unique culture for thousands of years, and were greatly shocked by Western ways of life. However, treaty ports enjoyed its prosperity because of active trade and factories built by foreigners, and they are still major ports in China.

III.2 The Second Opium War (1856 - 1860)
            Despite Treaty of Nanjing and following treaties, imperialistic countries wanted more privilege and opened ports. In 1856, Qing officials boarded Arrow, a Chinese-owned ship which was registered in Hong Kong and suspected of piracy and smuggling, and arrested its crews. British officials in Canton asked Chinese government to release sailors because the ship was registered in Hong Kong, a British territory. Moreover, British government insisted that Chinese officials mocked British ensign. These conflicts caused war and Britain asked the Second French Empire, the United States and the Russian Empire to join in its side (The Second Opium War, 1856 ~ 1860). Finally, China surrendered and signed Treaty of Tianjin in 1858.
            In Treaty of Tianjin, China had to pay reparation, and permit foreigners to establish diplomatic legation in Beijing. It also opened ten more ports: Danshui, Hantou, Jiujiang, Nanjing, Niuzhuang, Qiongzhou, Shantou, Tainan, Zhenjiang and Zhifu. The increase in the number of treaty port was important, but the more important point was that all foreign vessels gained the right to navigate Yangtze River freely. The five treaty ports mentioned in the Treaty of Nanjing, very near to sea, were technically sea ports, and the influence of western merchants was limited to coastal areas in many cases. However, after the Treaty of Tianjin, inland ports such as Hantou and Jiujiang was also opened and the influence of western merchants could extend into the Chinese inland ports due to the right to navigate Yangtze River freely.
            After another foreign encroachment and unequal treaty, Chinese emperor ordered to increase the defense force in Tianjin. When British and France envoy demanded to continue their sail to Beijing, Chinese government rejected this. In response, British forces forcibly sailed into the river to Beijing and caused military conflict. Finally, Anglo-French force attacked China again, and burned the Summer Palaces. Chinese government again had to sign on Convention of Peking.
            In the Convention of Peking, China had to open one more treaty port, Tianjin, but this event was very significant. Tianjin was outer port of Beijing, the capital of China, so foreign ships could access directly to Beijing through Tianjin.

III.3 Chefoo Convention (1876)
            In 1875, Augustus Raymond Margary, a British diplomat sent to China to explore overland trade routes between British India and China, was killed in Tengyue, and this murder conflict a diplomatic conflict between Britain and China (Margary Incident, 1875).
            This conflict was solved by Chefoo Convention between Sir Thomas Wade and Li HongZhang in 1876. This treaty included number of items which are not related to the incident. This treaty opened ports such as I-ch'ang, Wu-hu, Wen-chou, Pak-hoi and so on.

III.4 Treaty of Shimonoseki (1895)
            In 1890s, Qing dynasty and Meiji Japan fought over Korea, and this finally caused the war between two countries. Unlike many people¡¯s expectation, Japan which successfully strengthened itself through Meiji Restoration defeated China and forced China to sign Treaty of Shimonoseki (The First Sino-Japanese War, 1894 - 1895).
            In the Treaty of Shimonoseki, China had to open Chongqing, Hanzhou, Shashi, and Suzhou to Japan and permit Japan to operate factories in these ports. Also, Japanese ships gained the right to navigate freely on Yangtze River, and Chongqing, one of the treaty ports in the Treaty of Shimonoseki, was actually located inland. China also ceded the full sovereignty of Taiwan, Penghu groups, and Liaotung peninsula to Japan, and ports in these cities automatically become Japanese territory.
            This treaty made the failure of Self-Strengthening Movement of China and its corruption evident, and many other imperialistic countries asked China to give more benefits to them and open more ports. It opened Sze-mao in the French Convention in 1895, San-shui and Ten-yueh in Anglo-Chinese Convention in 1897, Kiao-chou in German Convention, and Changsha in the Treaty of Shanghai in 1903.

IV. Imperial Decrees to Open Ports
            Between 1842 and 1895, China opened about 100 ports and trading sites, but only 22 of them was opened by unequal treaties with other countries. This fact suggests that China opened many ports voluntarily, mainly by imperial decrees, and shows that Chinese also felt the need for change and modernization.
            In accordance with an imperial decree in 1898, Ching-wang-tao was opened in 1901, and after the Tianjin became technically foreign concession, it served as the chief port of Hebei province. China also opened Nan-ning in 1907 in accordance with imperial decree in 1899. Other ports such as Yo-chou and San-tuao were opened by imperial decrees. As mentioned before, there were much more open ports which were opened voluntarily.

V Other types of Open Ports
            Open ports can be still categorized into several groups based on how they were opened. Even though treaty ports and voluntarily opened ports were very common types of open ports, there were other ports opened by different ways
            Some territories were alienated from Chinese territory and ceded to imperialistic countries. Hong Kong and Kowloon was originally given to Britain, Maritime Provinces to Russia, and every port in Taiwan to Japan at one time
            Tianjin was originally one of the treaty ports, but many imperialistic countries, such as Britain, France, Japan, Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Italy and Belgium, mainly France, built their concessions in Tianjin between 1895 - 1900. These concessions were Chinese territories in name only, and were ruled by foreign countries. Even if Hong Kong and Kowloon was originally ceded to Great Britain, in 1898, the treaty was changed that New Territories including Hong Kong and Kowloon was leased from China for 99 years as a concession.
            Shanghai was originally one of the treaty ports, but Shanghai International Settlement, built in 1863 by the merger of British and American settlement, was semi-autonomous settlement ruled by council elected by the foreign plutocracy.

VI Open Ports in the Early 20th century
            In 20th century, after the Boxer Rebellion, many imperialistic countries concerned about ¡°fair play¡± in China. United States Secretary of State John Hay prepared Open Door notes which suggested that Britain, Germany, and Russia would not interfere with treaty ports and do not hinder other countries trade by levying higher harbor or railroad charge against foreign goods. At first, some countries agreed with this, but intense competition and many secret treaties nullified Open Door Policy. This situation showed that imperialistic countries competed intensely in China and China itself had no control of its own territory.
            After the fall of Qing dynasty and certain chaos, KMT fought against warlord in Northern China (Northern Expedition 1926 - 1927). During the Northern Expedition, anti-imperialism campaigns were widespread especially in open ports. In open ports, publishing industry and newspapers were thriving because of western influence; thus, nationalistic opinions were interchanged through diverse media. These campaigns were often violent, and many foreign countries returned their privileges; ¡°at Hankow and Jiujiang (February 1927), Zhenjiang (1929), Weihaiwei (1930) and Amoy (1930), and the Belgian concession at Tianjin (1931)¡±. (3)
            In the early twentieth century, before the World War 2, the open ports continued its economic growth. Despite internal havoc, the business community could expand investment by implementing new technologies from European countries or Japan and relying foreign and domestic credit. Moreover, the Nanjing government increased its revenue and issued large amount of bond; this policy encouraged the finance industry of open ports, where many wealthy investors could buy bonds. Open ports also started to serve as food exporters. While local regions were being destroyed because of civil war, suburb areas of open ports, which were protected under foreign influence, developed farming and became the major source of farming production. The economic gap between local area and open ports became wider and larger local population flowed into open ports. Actually, in the some open ports in 1920s, 65 to 70 percents of the population were male because of migrated workers.
            The invasion of Japan returned the economic development of open ports into nearly previous state. In the absence of political stability, active government support and peace, many investors retrieved their investment. Actually, treaty ports had not received much support for government; the government only provided law and order. However, during the war, KMT government could not even provide these basic things. Some areas which could avoid the deleterious impact of war at first enjoyed immediate economic boom. For example, after the industry of Shanghai was destroyed, Hong Kong, its main competitor, enjoyed sharp increase in production. However, the extended war destroyed infrastructure. Japan, which occupied most of ports, imposed war-time economic laws such as trade regulations and rationing, and some battles were even fought in open ports; thus, cities which prospered for a while could not avoid the destructive impact of war in conclusion.

VII Open Ports in People¡¯s Republic of China
            The term ¡°open ports¡± or ¡°treaty ports¡± were hardly used after the imperialism era and the establishment of People¡¯s Republic of China, but these ports still served important role in some way. During the Mao¡¯s rule, isolationism made open ports in Chinese mainland less important. Foreign investment stopped because of communist rule. Government capitals were mainly invested in inland to balance economic development in the country, and relatively wealthy open ports cities were heavily taxed to support inland region¡¯s economic development. This policy decreased the economic efficiency, and the growth rate from 1972 to 1977 was a half of that from 1952 to 1957. However, ports which were still under the foreign control prospered because their competitors under communist¡¯s control became dysfunctional. For example, ports such as Hong Kong became the trade hub.
            Deng Xiaoping, next leader of People¡¯s Republic of China, implemented open door policy, different from that of John Hay. The main points of this policy were to trade with capitalist countries, and ameliorate the relationship with these countries. Deng claimed ¡°One country, two systems system¡± and nominated several ports as special economic zone, and many old open ports such as Shanghai functioned as the center of trade, finance, and economic development as before. Also, foreign power returned leased territory to China; Great Britain returned Hong Kong in 1997 and Portugal returned Macau in 1999. However, these ports is enjoying autonomy under the ¡°One country, two systems system¡±

VIII Impact of Open Ports
            Unlike many people¡¯s expectation, Chinese open ports positively influenced China in some ways. Open ports served as efficient trade root for merchant from imperialistic countries, because they could hardly make connection with local distributors in other areas. The increase in trade with Western countries through open ports increased the Chinese government budget. Although the budget was still not enough to pay for all modernization costs, five percent tariff on foreign goods increased the Chinese government¡¯s budget which had been limited by its own nature. Another important source of income was likin, ¡°an internal transit tax first levied in 1858 on grain carried along the Grand Canal and gradually applied by almost all provinces on almost all commodities¡± (4) Many open ports included inland ports near river, so budget raised by likin was quite large and supported regional military development. Despite objection of treaty ports powers, this tax also doubled imperial revenue in 1880s and 1890s compared to that in mid-century. Also, because open ports were free of Chinese government¡¯s corruption and exploit, they served as centers for Chinese capital and industrial development. Many Chinese bankers in open ports learned modern banking system from foreigners. Unfortunately, even if these developments affected the whole Chinese economy in the long run, these economic influences were often limited to coastal areas in the short run because of many regulations still exist in inland China.
            From cultural and social perspective, open ports also served as models for western-styled cities. Although traditions such as racism and discrimination still existed, open ports with lighted streets and public transportation were impartially ruled by law and order. Also, western education, medicine, social service and philosophy brought by missionaries ameliorated lives of Chinese people living in open ports. Government support for education was also concentrated on open ports schools which taught new subjects such as English. These ports helped gradual inflow of western culture into Chinese society; ¡°they were the center of modernity in terms of education, publication, business and thought¡± (5) However, because the local inland areas were modernized much slower, the great cultural gap existed between local inland areas and open ports.
            Open ports influenced on Chinese social class. The growth of commerce and industry in open ports, much faster than that of inland regions, created a new class of commercial elites in China. These elites had knowledge about imported commercial procedure, modern technologies, and western style military organization. Sons of local landowners thus came to city to learn westerner¡¯s practical knowledge essential to belong to commercial elite class. Other types of technicians emerged in open ports. Traditional Chinese handicraft makers could make a product by themselves, but new semi-skilled makers could only do part of the process because of specialization. These new technicians competed with traditional technicians. These changes influenced Chinese society very much, but were so slow that it was not evident.
            Open ports were base for technological and organizational military transformation in China. Modern weapons were produced in Chinese shipyard or arsenal in open ports under the supervision of foreigners. However, the military reform was not perfect, so Chinese military was still inferior to those of Russia and Japan.
            From the political perspective, open ports somewhat decreased the Chinese central government¡¯s power. Unequal treaties and opening of ports began the ¡°treaty ports era¡± (6), the status that China is not colony but under the heavy influence of foreign powers. Because China was so large, any imperialistic country could not make it colony, but these countries instead competed each other to exploit China without the responsibility as mother countries such as subsidy or construction of railroad for free. In series of crisis such as Taiping Rebellion, western people could help Chinese central government fast trough open ports and actually saved some ports from insurrection by themselves, but these assistances were mainly to maintain profitable status quo. Foreigners in open ports also helped local powers or aroused the competitions between regions for profit. Foreigners in open ports said that they would help the throne but they actually weakened the power of the dynasty. However, because open ports were mainly related to economic profit, the direct political influence on Chinese central government by open ports was not very significant, and some people even argue that there was no clear connection between Chinese domestic affairs and economy.
            After the colonial period, open ports still served important function in the modernization of China. Although they did not fully function during Mao¡¯s rule, Deng¡¯s open door policy enabled them to function efficiently as the connection between foreign developed countries and China. Some of these ports now function as both trading center and finance center. Hong Kong is one of the centers of Asian finance, and Shanghai has Shanghai Stock Exchange, the world¡¯s fastest growing stock exchange.

IX Conclusion
            Open ports were located in geographically advantageous areas, so many of them, such as Nanjing, Shanghai and Canton, have maintained their status as major ports for over hundred years. They were the center of cultural change, social development, and economic progress. Foreigners visited China through open ports, or sometimes directly ruled them. Missionaries in these ports brought western style education and philosophy into China. Open ports successfully connected China from outside world.
            Although many people emphasizes the importance of open ports in politics and culture, open ports were mainly served as the center of Chinese economic modernization. Most of actions done by Chinese and foreigners in these ports aimed at profit. Because of war and isolationist policy of Mao, they did not serve their function for a while, but they connected outside developed nations to less-developed China and led its economic development except those periods. Trade was mainly done in open ports, and Chinese brought technologies and western banking system through open ports. This development resulted in the development of the farming in their suburb areas also. Although they could not influence the whole China at once, they have led gradual economic change in China. Open ports have served this function as the center of economy from Qing dynasty to modern People¡¯s Republic of China. Thus, it would be reasonable to argue that open ports were mainly the center of Chinese economic modernization.


(1)      Thirteen Factories, Wikipedia
(3)      Gilbert 1981, 239
(4)      Gilbert 1981, 36
(5)      Gilbert 1981, 37
(6)      Gilbert 1981, 44


Note : websites quoted below were visited in February 2009.
1.      Baig Yang. ¸Ç ¾ó±¼ÀÇ Áß±¹»ç ¡¸ñéÏÐìÑÞÈ˵¡¹from Chinese to Korean. Seoul: Changhae. 2005
2.      Bulliet, Richard W. ¡°The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global History, Volume 2¡± Brief Second Edition, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003
3.      Ganse, Alexander. ¡°Handbook World History¡± Fifth Edition. Korea: KMLA, 2008
4.      Moise, Edwin E. ¡°The Present & The Past Modern China, A History¡±, New York: 1996
5.      Rozman, Gilbert. ¡°The Modernization of China¡±, New York: The Free Press, 1981
6.      Welsh, Frank. ¡°A Borrowed Place: The History of Hong Kong¡±. New York: Kodansha America, 1994
7.      Wright, David C. ¡°The History of China¡±. United States of America: Greenwood Press, 2001
8.      Treaty ports and extraterritoriality in China, 1921?22. Abbey, Philip R.
9.      Map of the Extension of Treaty Ports in China 1843 ~ 1900. Cornet, Christine and Henriot, Christian
10.      History of Hong Kong, 1929 - 1941. Ganse, Alexander. WHKMLA
11.      History of Hong Kong, 1967 - 1984. Ganse, Alexander. WHKMLA
12.      Treaty Ports in China, Encarta
13.      Canton System, Wikipedia
14.      Chefoo Convention, Wikipedia
15.      Concession, Wikipedia
16.      First Sino-Japanese War, Wikipedia
17.      Margary Affair, Wikipedia
18.     : Nanning, Wikipedia
19.      Northern Expedition, Wikipedia
20.      Open Door Policy, Wikipedia
21.      Qinhuangdao, Wikipedia
22.      The Second Opium War, Wikipedia
23.      Thirteen Factories, Wikipedia
24.      Treaty of Nanjing, Wikipedia
25.      Treaty of Whampoa, Wikipedia
26.      Treaty Ports, Wikipedia
27.      Special Economic Zone of People¡¯s Republic of China, Wikipedia

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