Dividing up China

As the Qing Dynasty was crumbling and the Chinese people were at war with themselves, foreign powers swooped in to divide up the spoils, effectively dividing up the country. There were more than 80 treaty ports established in China – both on the Pacific and on major inland waterways.

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This is a map of the foreign enclaves that were established at the time, but does not yet included all 80 of the treaty ports. The important lesson to learn here is that when you here about some of the colonies that were in China, you perhaps think of Hong Kong and Shanghai, but looking at just this partial map should help you see (as it did me) the extent of the colonization prior to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.

In addition to the foreign enclaves listed here, entire provinces were controlled by specific foreign powers:

  • UK: Hong Kong, New Territories, Guangdong Province. Yangze River Valley
  • FRANCE: Yunnan, Guangxi, Hainan, and Guangdong Provinces
  • GERMANY: Shandong Province
  • RUSSIA: Parts of Liaoning and Shandong Province.
  • JAPAN: All of Dongbei (Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Inner Mongolia) and Taiwan

If you’ve still got any doubts about China being divided up between the world powers of the time, take a look at this political comic from the period: UK, Germany, Russia, France and Japan dividing up China…


The Treaty of Nanjing signaled the end of the First Opium War between the British Empire and Qing Dynasty. The treaty was signed and negotiated aboard the British gunship HMS Cornwallis while anchored at Nanjing.

Prior to the treaty, the Thirteen Factories in Canton had a monopoly on foreign trade with China. After the treaty, five ports were opened for trade:

  • Canton (Shameen Island until 1949)
  • Amoy (Xiamen until 1930)
  • Foochow (Fuzhou)
  • Ningpo (Ningbo)
  • Shanghai (until 1949)

In addition, the island of Hong Kong was made a crown colony, ceding it to the British Queen “in perpetuity”. In 1860 the colony was extended with the Kowloon peninsula and in 1898 the colony was given a 99 year lease of the New Territories.

The Treaty of Tianjin, signed at the end of the Second Opium War opened 10 more chinese ports of foreign trade including: Niuzhuang, Danshui, Hankou and Nanjing. It also opened the Yangze River to free navigation by foreigners, and secured the right of foreigners to travel freely to the internal regions of China.

In short, the Qing Dynasty was very weak in the 1850-1900 time period, and foreign powers exploited that for their own gain.

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