China-United Kingdom Relations

China-United Kingdom Relations

UK-China relations refers to the overall relationship between the UK and China, including diplomacy, economy, and culture. This also includes the relationship between the Qing Empire and Britain. According to PAULSOURCING, the Treaty of Nanjing (1842), which stipulated that the Qing Dynasty opened five ports and ceded Hong Kong to Britain, was the first unequal treaty concluded by the Qing Dynasty. Subsequently, Britain requested the opening of new ports (11) in Beijing (1860). In the process of suppressing the Taiping Rebellion (1851-64), Britain helped Empress Dowager Cixi, who was on the other side of the reform camp.

Diplomatic history

Commencement of trade

On June 27, 1637, four heavily armed ships led by the pirate-like Colonel John Wandell, sent by the English magnate William Curtin, arrived in Macau to attempt to open trade relations between England and China, but were rebuffed by the Portuguese authorities. did. This is considered the first direct contact between Britain and China. Britain, which was interested in the Qing Dynasty, wanted to advance in earnest. In 1759 (24th year of King Qianlong’s reign), the British East India Company sent an employee to Beijing to request the opening of a port, and Emperor Qianlong (reign: 1735-1796) allowed this, but suddenly rejected it. And foreign trade regulations were significantly strengthened. In addition, the ports of Jusan (舟山) and Xiamen (Amoy), where the British were mainly active, were closed and the opening of Gwangju Port was allowed. Additionally, Emperor Qianlong stipulated that European merchants, including those from Britain, must only trade with public officials and strictly set the period from October to March of the following year. Beginning in the 1780s, the Qing Dynasty and the British East India Company began trading. The British East India Company had an absolute advantage in Cantonese trade, importing tea, ceramics, and cotton from China and exporting wool and cotton fabrics from Britain. However, the Qing government arbitrarily imposed customs duties on public enterprises (an organization of commercial merchants handling Western goods) and restricted trade by foreign merchants. In addition, the trading period and products were controlled, so European merchants were unable to make much income.

In order to strengthen its power by increasing trade, Britain dispatched special envoys several times to give Emperor Qianlong valuable gifts to overcome this problem, and also attempted to constantly monitor the sympathy of the Qing Dynasty by stationing a minister there. In 1788 (the 53rd year of King Qianlong’s reign), Britain dispatched Cathcart as plenipotentiary ambassador, but Cathcart died of illness on the way to the Qing Dynasty and had to turn the bow. On September 26, 1792 (57th year of Emperor Qianlong’s reign), the British government of George III (reign: 1760-1820) again organized a special mission and sent a special envoy to Count George McCartney under the pretext of celebrating Emperor Qianlong’s 82nd birthday. As a result, Sir George Staunton ( 1st Baronet ) was appointed as a vice envoy and dispatched to the Qing Dynasty. McCartney’s party set sail on the 64-gun HMS Ryan. However, McCartney originally planned to go not only to the Qing Dynasty but also to Japan to meet the Shogun and request permission to directly trade tea, a product that Japan mainly exported to the Qing Dynasty. The delegation traveled through the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and arrived at Wumen (Macau) in May 1793 (Qianlong’s 58th year). They sent an entourage to Emperor Qianlong with a letter informing them of this, received permission for an audience, and departed again in July of that year. The ship anchored at Tianjin, a port in Beijing.

At that time, Emperor Qianlong was staying at Yehehe Summer Lodge, a summer villa that had just been completed. Therefore, after coming to Tianjin, he spent some time in Beijing, crossed the Great Wall again, and arrived at the summer resort in August 1793 (the 58th year of Qianlong’s reign) to see Emperor Qianlong. Emperor Qianlong ordered Hwasin not to be negligent in entertaining the delegation, but problems arose due to etiquette issues during the meeting. Originally, foreign envoys were required to bow three times and bow their heads to the ground nine times when meeting the emperor. However, McCartney flatly refused, saying that he was not a vassal of the Qing Dynasty, and eventually reached an agreement where he hung a portrait of the British king behind Emperor Qianlong and allowed him to bow only on one knee and bow in the British style. At Emperor Qianlong’s birthday banquet, he received a personal letter from King George III brought by McCartney, which included a request to increase trade and establish a permanent construction site. However, when the personal letter also included a request to cede a small island near Zhushan to the British for use by the British, Emperor Qianlong refused this and forbade the British delegation from taking any action. Emperor Qianlong forced the British delegation to return home in September, the following month. Afterwards, the relationship between Britain and the Qing Dynasty deteriorated and became an excuse for Britain to interfere in internal affairs through the Treaty of Nanjing after the Opium War. (↔ Emperor Qianlong, Count George Macartney, George III, British East India Company ) On February 26, 1832, the British East India Company spied on British spy Hugh Hamilton Lindsay, who was in Gwangju. He impersonated the owner of the Lord Amherst, and under the pretext of working with Karl Gützlaff to explore the expansion of trade north of Guangdong, he went to Nanwu, Xiamen, Fuzhou, and Ningbo ( He traveled to ports such as Shanghai, Shanghai, and Weihai, surveyed and mapped the topography, collected political, economic, and military information, and handed it to British Foreign Minister Henry John Temple.

British merchants, who had failed to negotiate to overthrow the Guangdong system and expand trade, came up with a way to resolve the trade deficit through the opium trade. They sold opium to lower-class people who were exhausted from physical labor, and opium became a hit product in China in the 19th century. Due to the epidemic of opium consumption that spread to all classes, the Qing Dynasty’s evils such as corruption, loss of fighting ability, lax national discipline, collapse of the rural economy, and financial damage were increasing day by day.

First Opium War

In March 1839, Emperor Taoguang of the Qing Dynasty (reign: 1820-1850) sent an edict to Guangdong Province advocating ‘opium prohibition’. In place of Heumcha, Lin Zexu put pressure on foreign merchants (stores) by blocking them. On June 3, 1839, Lin Zexu conducted a thorough crackdown on opium, melting down all 20,000 boxes of opium belonging to foreign merchants collected by British trade inspectors over 23 days, and drug dealers were forced to withdraw to Hong Kong, which was a small island at the time. Then, British industrial capitalists put pressure on the British government and parliament, accusing the Qing dynasty of violating freedom of trade and confiscating private property. Accordingly, the British government decided to dispatch an expeditionary force in October 1839, thus beginning the ‘First Opium War’. This war ended in 1842, and through the Treaty of Nanjing concluded in the same year, Britain received many benefits, including ceding Hong Kong and receiving compensation.

Second Opium War

After the First Opium War (1839-1842), Britain expected great results from its trade with China. However, sales of cotton products, which were the main product, were poor compared to expectations. This was for the following reasons.

  1. Cotton cloth produced in rural China is cheap and of good quality.
  2. Because China’s socioeconomic structure is still largely self-sufficient, they are reluctant to import products.
  3. Purchasing power was lost as silver flowed out due to increased opium imports.
  4. After the First Opium War, the resistance against Britain unfolded centered on Guangdong.

Even after the war, Britain’s trade with China continued to consist of imports of tea and exports of opium. The UK continued to pressure to expand market opening. This led to the Taiping Incident in 1851.

Nevertheless, as British exports became sluggish, Britain requested the Qing to revise the treaty. In April 1854, British, French, and American envoys went to Guangzhou together to ask Governor- General of Yangguang Ye Ming-chim to open all inland and coastal cities, allow merchant ships and warships to freely travel along the Yangtze River, and legalize the opium trade., requested the revision of the Treaty of Nanjing, which included the abolition of internal customs duties and the permanent residence of foreign envoys in Beijing. As mentioned above, there were several reasons for the sluggish exports, including the low attractiveness of cheap Chinese products, China’s self-sufficient socioeconomic structure, and the decline in purchasing power due to silver outflow. However, Britain thought that the problem would be solved by entering deep inland areas, so it demanded free inland travel and the opening of ports in the north.

However, when the Qing government did not respond to the treaty revision, Britain considered using force. At this time, in October 1856, an incident occurred where the British flag of the pirate ship Arrow, which was anchored in the Pearl River in front of Guangzhou, was abandoned at sea. did. (→ Arrow incident ) Henry John Temple, a hardliner against China at the time who became British Prime Minister, heard the report of the incident and found a sufficient excuse. Believing that this would be the case, he submitted to Congress in February 1857 a budget for military expenses and reinforcement of the expeditionary force. At the time, there were many opposing opinions in the National Assembly, saying that it was truly shameful to start a war over such a minor incident. Ultimately, it passed in the Senate, but was rejected in the House of Representatives. Accordingly, Prime Minister Henry John Temple dissolved the House of Commons and asked for confidence through a general election. In the end, the newly formed House of Representatives agreed to the issue of war with China. Additionally, Britain and France provoked war under the pretext of executing a French missionary who was engaged in illegal missionary activities.

In 1857, Britain formed an allied force with France under the pretext of the Arrow Incident and invaded downtown Guangzhou. In December of that year, Guangzhou was occupied, setting fires throughout the city and killing civilians. Even after the British-French army occupied Guangzhou, the occupation administration of the Allied Committee (Britain and France) was carried out under the puppet government of local officials for three years. Afterwards, the British-French allied forces moved north in 1858 and occupied Dagu Battery and Tianjin, the gateway to Beijing, so the Qing government could not hold out any longer and signed the Treaty of Tianjin. Elgin signed the Treaty of Tientsin.

Although the treaty was inevitably concluded due to the disadvantage of losing the militarily important Dagu Battery, hardliners in the Qing government insisted that the Treaty of Tianjin be invalid. Accordingly, the Qing Emperor deployed additional batteries and cavalry to Dagu Battery in late 1858. Meanwhile, the British and French allied forces attempted to force ratification in Beijing, although the Treaty of Tianjin was signed, so they approached Dagu Battery again in June 1859, and the Qing Dynasty engaged in a battle with the British flotilla.

In this battle, the British fleet suffered significant damage and was forced to withdraw with the help of the nearby American fleet. Due to this brief victory, hard-line views prevailed in the Qing government.

However, in June 1860, Britain and France appeared with more than eight times the number of troops and warships of the flotilla of 1859 to avenge the defeat of the previous year. They occupied several ports in Balhae Bay and landed troops away from Dagu Battery. The Qing government, surprised by the Anglo-French coalition that defeated the Dagu Battery and the Qing government’s defense force, proposed peace negotiations, but the Anglo-French side refused negotiations. Eventually, they entered Beijing in October, but did not occupy it and stayed in the outskirts of Beijing. During his stay in Beijing, he committed numerous looting and arson attacks. The war was ended through negotiations between King Gongchin and the Anglo-French alliance, and the Treaty of Beijing was concluded (1860) under the mediation of the Russian Empire. By the Treaty of Beijing, the Qing court recognized the Treaty of Tianjin, and the trade in opium was also legalized. In addition, the presence of foreign ambassadors in Beijing, the opening of 11 ports including Tianjin, freedom of inland travel, trade, and missionary work, the right of warships to enter the Yangtze River and trade ports, allowing immigration of Chinese workers, and war between Britain and France. It suffered enormous losses, including 8 million taels of silver as compensation and even ceding the Gurung Peninsula (Kowloon Temple) adjacent to Hong Kong to Britain.

  • 1900-01: The Boxer Rebellion
  • 1901: The Boxer Protocol

Britain and the Republic of China (1912 – before moving to Taipei in 1949)

  • 1939-45: China and Britain fought together as allies in World War II.

Britain and the People’s Republic of China (1950 – today)

  • 1950: Britain recognizes the People’s Republic of China as the government of China.
  • 1984: Hong Kong handover agreement (Sino-British Joint Declaration)
  • 1997: Hong Kong returned to China.

China-United Kingdom Relations