History of Foreign Powers Who Have Held Territories in China

History of Foreign Powers Who Have Held Territories in China
Feb 23, 2015 By Elaine Pang , eChinacities.com

With China poised to overtake, or already overtaken (depending on who’s doing the research) the US as the world’s largest economy and flexing her political muscle on every front, the idea of foreign powers holding sway here does seem a little foreign. Yet throughout history, dynasties rise and fall and the Middle Kingdom is not immune from that. China’s boundaries have been fluid throughout her long history, conquering foreign territories and having parts of her territory conquered by foreign powers. Hong Kong and Macau may be the most well-known territories controlled by foreign powers but parts of the Mainland have come under foreign rule at one time or another.

St. Sophia Cathedral, Harbin
Photo: deirdre

1) Britain è Hong Kong
Returned to China on 1 July 1997, Hong Kong is probably the most well-known part of China to have come under foreign rule. Originally inhabited by fishermen and farmers, Hong Kong is today a vibrant metropolis, a fusion of Chinese and Western influences. Ceded to the British under three separate treaties, the Treaty of Nanking (1842), the Treaty of Beijing, (1860) and the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory (1898), Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories came under the UK’s control. The cession of Hong Kong was a direct result of the Opium Wars, which themselves were brought on when China resisted the opium trade by publicly seizing and destroying British opium stock. While Hong Kong Island and Kowloon were ceded to the British in perpetuity, the treaty on the New Territories had a 99-year lease.

Hong Kong was returned to China under the “One country, two systems” formula, promising a large degree of autonomy after 156 years of British rule. But Beijing’s attempt to control nominations for the 2017 elections sparked off widespread demonstrations. This “Occupy Central” movement was a catalyst in Beijing’s blocking of a delegation of British lawmakers from re-visiting the former colony, 30 years post-handover.

2) Portugal è Macau
The first and last European settlement in the Far East, Macau was colonized by the Portuguese in 1557. Originally lent as a trading post, Macau became self-administered in the 1840s. Subsequently, the Sino-Portuguese treaty of 1887 signed between the Qing Dynasty and Portugal made Macau a Portuguese territory again till 1999. Similar to Hong Kong, Macau is now a SAR under the “One country, two systems” formula, promising economic freedom and a high degree of autonomy in matters other than foreign and defense affairs for at least 50 years after the transfer.

Relations between China and Macau have been relatively stormy throughout, up until the former’s turbulent times in the 19th and 20th century. Controversial happening between the two countries include the Portuguese using Macau as a base to sell Chinese in to the slave trade and the Chinese massacre of Portuguese pirates. But Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms and the resolution of Macau’s future have smoothened ties in modern times. China is currently Portugal’s ninth largest trading partner.

3) Taiwan è Japan
Originally a province of China, Taiwan was ceded to Japan under the Treaty of Shimonoseki when Qing China lost the first Sino-Japanese War. Taiwan, including the Pescadores, became a dependency under the Empire of Japan in 1895. In 1945, the fall of the Empire after World War II returned Taiwan to the Republic of China (ROC).

As Japan’s first overseas colony, much effort was taken to make Taiwan a showpiece. Among the various initiatives undertaken by the Japanese to modernize Taiwanese society, the main thrust of these efforts were directed at the “three vices”, namely opium, feet binding, and Queues (the ponytail for men favoured during the Qing Dynasty). Aside from a few small incidents during the initial period of the Japanese rule, Taiwan largely enjoyed stability during the 50 years, resulting in population growth and raised living standards.

4) Germany è Qingdao – Kiautschou Bay Concession
Going in further into the Mainland, part of Qingdao had been conceded to Germany between 1898 to 1914. Even in those days, capturing the Chinese market was a priority in Western eyes, although Germany was a late entrant. The Kiautschou Bay Concession was an area of 552 sq km, comprising the old main street of Tsingtao (Qingdao) previously occupied by fishermen and farmers who sold their property and relocated eastwards, sometimes against their will. The impoverished fishing village was rebuilt with wider streets, electricity and sewage systems, drinking water supply (a rarity in Asia those days) and new housing and government buildings. Schools were built giving the area the highest per capita student enrolment in China. Most famously, the Germania Brewery, today’s Tsingtao Brewery, was established in 1903. After establishing Qingdao as a model colony, German influence extended to other areas of the Shandong Province.

Qingdao has since embraced her colonial past in an effort to boost tourism, a move that has upset some Chinese scholars.

5) Russia è Heilongjiang
Further up north, in a province known for its bitterly cold winters, part of Heilongjiang had been ceded to Russia briefly between 1858 and 1860. The Qing government gave up all land beyond the Amur and Ussuri Rivers, creating its present northern border. Previously closed to Han migration, the area was opened up to counteract Russian influence, resulting in the Han Chinese becoming the dominant people group in the 20th century.

The area later came under Japanese rule from 1932 to 1945 as the puppet state of Manchukuo, a result of the 1904–1905 Russo-Japanese War. Upon the Japanese defeat, communist wrested control and used Harbin as a base for conducting initial phases of the Chinese Civil War.

The Sino-Soviet rift of 1960 resulted in armed clashes along the Sino-Russian border over land disputes. Military action subsided after that but the land dispute was only resolved in 2005 through agreements between the two countries. Today, the capital city of Heilongjiang, Harbin, is known for its Russian legacy, as well as a gateway in today’s Sino-Russian trade.

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Keywords: foreign powers China foreign territories in China


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Interesting article

Mar 01, 2015 20:55 Report Abuse



What about France and Japan? At least research the topic before writing an incomplete article.

Feb 25, 2015 15:41 Report Abuse



I just wish people would stop litter...and honking....then China would be on the right path... If the government would just focused its censorship on limiting peoples right to litter, and honk...that would be a Chinese dream...I love the nightlife...I like to boogie..on the disco

Feb 25, 2015 12:33 Report Abuse



'I just wish people would stop litter...and honking....then China would be on the right path...' Unfortunately these weren't in the 'china dream' they had for the past 30 years.

Feb 28, 2015 17:30 Report Abuse




Feb 24, 2015 03:51 Report Abuse



World's largest economy means nothing when you have the lowest quality of people.

Feb 23, 2015 20:42 Report Abuse



'With China poised to overtake, or already overtaken (depending on who’s doing the research) the US as the world’s largest economy and flexing her political muscle on every front,...' With its 1.3 billion population, even if we accept China's corruption based thus vastly inflated GDP as an indicator, it means little for the vast majority when its GDP per capita is below Peru; with Iran, Iraq and Montenegro as neighbors. The 1.3 billion figure is also false, a retired government enterprise worker responsible for pension fund calculations told me that two years ago. He said with his factory the reported employee figure he saw seriously fell short of the record he kept, something to do with looking good (face) with productivity. He estimated the population of china should be over 2 billion.

Feb 23, 2015 12:17 Report Abuse



What about Mongolia and... ALL OF CHINA? They conquered it... TWICE.

Feb 23, 2015 11:14 Report Abuse



beat me to it. it is now rationalised by seeing mongolians as a Chinese ethnic minority, so it "doesn't count". Requirements for being Chinese: "looks like Han. Nationality not relevant."

Feb 23, 2015 22:12 Report Abuse



And this is where CCP ethnic nationalism comes into play, and why it's so important. Hong Kong : "Under British rule, our economy prospered, and we enjoyed far more freedom than Mainlanders. We didn't have worry that we'd be 'reeducated' for saying anything bad about the government, and now, live in a place where people are far more civilized than then the Mainland." CCP : "But... that was oppression. You were controlled by gol dern f'rners!" HK : "So... cops who'll give you a beatdown for the lulz, a one-party system with no elections or any accountability to the people, severely restricted press, severely controlled education, censored Internet, and lack of free speech... that's not oppression?" CCP : "Well... our leaders look like our subjects (well, 95+% of 'em, but minorities don't count anyhow), so when we curbstomp Chinese civil rights, then it's totally cool."

Feb 23, 2015 09:52 Report Abuse




Feb 23, 2015 08:21 Report Abuse



The Germans also started The Tsingtao Brewery (in 1903, by The Anglo-German Brewery Co. Ltd.) which produces the famous Tsingtao beer. Still beats any local beer imo.

Feb 23, 2015 15:33 Report Abuse



My favorite Kaiser Wilhelm quote is how he wanted to punish China so severly for the boxer rebellion that for 1000 years they would be afraid to look cross eyed at a German.

Feb 24, 2015 11:25 Report Abuse



Glad you're also a fan of turn-of-the-century Germanic militarists. The Kaiser was one of the best. My other favorite is Conrad von Hotzendorf.

Feb 24, 2015 13:53 Report Abuse



Summary: Any part of China that was subject to foreign occupation has benefited from drastically increased standards of living, education, culture, human rights and economic development. Which is why China must resist Western values. Good article, Elaine Pang. I hope you don't go to prison.

Feb 23, 2015 02:10 Report Abuse



Colonisers always make as much effort as possible to make their settlement beautiful/successful or whatever, in order to legitimise their immoral imposition, theft of land etc from the natives. The net result of colonising enterprises is generally catastrophic for the host country.

Feb 26, 2015 20:48 Report Abuse



By that reasoning it's okay to steal someone's car if you take better care of it then they do.

Mar 01, 2015 19:38 Report Abuse