Scramble for China
Why was there a ‘scramble for China’? How did the unequal treaties come to be?
After their defeat in the First Opium War, China was forced to sign the Treaty of Nanjing (1842) which ceded Hong Kong Island to the British, gave Britain access to other Chinese ports and gave them Most Favoured Nation status which recognized the differences in the Sino-British trading partnership.
These commercial treaties were supposed to be renewed after 12 years. However, China’s dislike for foreigners and the opium trade meant that it avoided renewing them.
The Second Opium War (1856-1860) saw the Chinese humiliatingly defeated again when the British and French decided to use military action to force the Chinese to renew the treaties and further open up trade in China.
The resulting Treaty of Tientsin (1858) forced China to open their county up fully to trade, legalized the opium trade, allowed the establishment of foreign embassies in Peking (Beijing) and granted Christians full civil rights. It also ceded Kowloon to the British.
China’s humiliating defeat to Britain in the Opium Wars resulted in other foreign powers wanting to establish their own spheres of influence in the country.
Foreign powers forced China to lease them territories where they could establish concessions– areas with trading ports that were under colonial administration.
In 1898, a scramble for new concessions began.