Signing off on the ‘unequal treaties’

U.S. and U.K. representatives sign new equal treaties with the ROC in 1943. (CNA 05/20/1943)

It is seventy years ago this week that British and Chinese diplomats in China’s war-time capital Chongqing (Chungking), signed an agreement that abolished the privileges and rights in China that had been acquired by the British through and since the 1842 Treaty of Nanjing. The process of the securing of those privileges is the major theme of The Scramble for China.

The new treaty was ratified in a brief ceremony in Chongqing on 20 May 1943. It was partly academic at the time, for many of those British possessions and interests not already surrendered to the Chinese government since early 1927 — the international settlements at Shanghai and Xiamen (Amoy), and the British concession at Tianjni (Tientsin) — were largely under the control of the Japanese. But the new agreement was symbolically hugely important, and was accompanied by a similar US-China treaty. Such symbolism was also not lost on the Japanese occupiers, who also arranged for the Shanghai international settlement to be surrendered to China on 1 August 1943, although in that case to the collaborationst government of Wang Jingwei.

The 1943 Anglo-Chinese treaty is rather less well-known than the 1842 Nanjing Treaty, or the 1858 Treaty of Tianjin, the founding documents of the system of ‘treaty ports’ and concessions in China, not least because it was secured by the Nationalist Government of the Guomindang, and so sits awkwardly alongside narratives which accord the leading role in the rolling back of foreign imperialism in China to the Chinese Communist Party.

North China Herald Online … at last

I have been making use of Shanghai’s North China Herald newspaper (1850-1941) for over years, mainly in the shape of the steadily crumbling copies in the library of the School of Oriental and African Studies. Recently I have been working with the Leiden publisher Brill, who have had this set of the paper scanned, and are preparing a full-text searchable edition. Pester your library for it.

The Herald (北華捷報) predated the North China Daily News 字林西報by 14 years, but thereafter became the weekly edition of that daily, the biggest selling English-language newspaper in China. It was edited by, amongst others, R. W. “Bob” Little, brother of the more famous Archibald John Little, who pioneered steam navigation of the Upper Yangzi river. The Little family letters were an important source in my book The Scramble for China.

All human life is here in the Herald, and death too. There are court cases and gossip; lists of ships’ passengers and the racing results: polemical editorials and verse; news of ‘outrages’ and ‘outport’ parties; cartoons and inquests, and more.

Talk in Shanghai, 14th April 2012

I’ll be in Shanghai in mid-April, talking to the Royal Asiatic Society China at the Tavern, Radisson Plaza Xingguo Hotel 78 Xing Guo Road, Shanghai 兴国宾馆 上海市兴国路78号. Title: ‘Britain, China and India 1830s – 1947’. For more information and booking see here.