Unequal Treaties with China

Royal Navy ship destroying a Chinese flotilla in front of Hong Kong during the Opium War. Edward Duncan, 1843. © National Maritime Museum, London.

The period of “unequal treaties” with China came not so much with the appearance of Europeans in the Far East, but with their aggressive commercial diplomacy. The formidable industrial rise of European nations during the first two thirds of the nineteenth century resulted in ever-growing pressure on the unrivalled market that was the Middle Kingdom. “Gunboat diplomacy” opened European trade and imposed its sometimes unilateral clauses on China, which subsequently lost its sovereignty over numerous portions of its territory in favour of France and Great Britain, as well as Germany, Russia, the United States, and Japan.