- For 2,200 years China was an extraordinarily durable imperial state, yet by 1557, when Portugal took possession of Macao, it became an object of European interest. Ruled since 1644 by the Qing dynasty descended from Manchu conquerors, nineteenth- century China was beset by internal convulsions and external challenges until 1912 when a nationalist revolution led by Sun Yatsen produced a republic. The first domestic upheaval, the folk-Buddhist White Lotus rebellion of 1796 to 1804, revealed both popular discontent with the Qing government and the flagging competence of its military. The Nian (1851–1868) and the Taiping (1850–1864) rebellions further weakened China and left its large territory and extensive coastline increasingly vulnerable to the predations of Britain, Japan, and Russia in particular. Indeed, the Qing’s bureaucratic rigidity and China’s educational and economic backwardness led to its humiliation as early as the Opium War of 1839–1842 with Britain, the Treaty of Nanjing and the loss of Hong Kong. After the Arrow War of 1856–1860 against both Britain and France the capital of Beijing was occupied and the Yuan Ming Yuan summer palace burned to the ground by the British. The Forbidden City was spared on the calculation that the disgrace involved might topple the Qing dynasty, which the British in particular preferred to remain in power as a weakened negotiating partner. The Treaties of Tientsin inaugurated the system of harbor treaties similar in many respects with the “capitulations” to which the Ottoman Empire had been subjected. The European powers were thereby given extraterritorial rights in harbor cities such as Shanghai and Canton, where whole districts became enclaves of European culture and legal jurisdiction, and the sovereign authority of China was in effect suspended. Further “unequal treaties” with France, Germany, Russia, and the United States further opened up China to trade while displacing Qing authority from the coastal treaty ports. In 1880, France expanded its empire in Indochina with the occupation of Hanoi and Haiphong and also sought concessions from China in Annam. When negotiations with France collapsed in 1884, the Chinese navy promptly became the victim of a catastrophic defeat by the French fleet in which virtually every Chinese warship was either sunk or destroyed by fire within scarcely more than an hour of fighting. As a consequence, French control of Indochina was consolidated. Meiji Japan (see Meiji Restoration ) then joined the competition for spheres of influence and commercial privileges and, as trophies of its victory in the Sino- Japanese War of 1894, took Taiwan, the Pescadores, and the Liaotung Peninsula. China was forced to recognize the independence of Korea, where Japan promptly established a sphere of influence. In wholly accurate anticipation of a future struggle with Japan, Russia protested the Japanese gains recorded in the Treaty of Shimonoseki. A revision in which Japan’s territorial gains were scaled back was negotiated by Japan, France, Germany, and Russia over the head of the Qing government. Dissatisfied with its lack of a presence on the Chinese coast and under the spell of its naval lobby, Germany struck next by landing troops on the Shantung Peninsula in 1896 and extracting a 99-year lease on the port of Tsingtao. In 1898, Russia gained Port Arthur - under Shimonoseki initially given to Japan - on similar terms; the same year France secured its own 99-year lease of Kwang Chou Wan. Thus China had by the turn of the century been the object of foreign competition every bit as intense as Africa. The fundamental contrast, however, was that the whole of China had at least a nominal government and was never taken over, made into a protectorate, or partitioned. Having behaved like jealous sisters in the scramble for Chinese ports, the Great Powers buried their rivalries in response to the antiforeign Boxer Insurrection in 1900 and cooperated in the comprehensive defeat of the revolt. They declined to partition the country, as each sought guaranteed maximum access to the Chinese market, along with the harbor rights entailed, at a minimal cost of administrative responsibility. The Open Door policy proposed by the United States, according to which extensive spheres of influence were forbidden to keep China open to all comers, secured the support of the British government as result of a convergence of interest. Whereas the United States as a latecomer did not want to be left out of China altogether, Britain sought to ease the direct cost of maintaining its worldwide empire and commercial interests. The Boxer Rebellion’s impact otherwise was to expose the final bankruptcy of the Qing. In 1903, Sun Yatsen praised the Fighting Fists for standing up to foreign bullies in a way that its impotent court had been unable to for the better part of a century. Thereafter China’s progress to the Revolution of 1912 gathered unstoppable momentum.See also <
>; < >; < >; < >.FURTHER READING:Hsieh, P. C. The Government of China, 1644-1911. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1925;Preston, Diana. The Boxer Rebellion: China ’ s War on Foreigners. London: Constable and Co. Ltd., 1999;Spence, Jonathan D. The Search for Modern China. New York: W. W. Norton, 1990.CARL CAVANAGH HODGE
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.