Unequal treaty is the name given by the Chinese to a series of treaties signed between China (mostly referring to the Qing dynasty) and various Western powers, the Russian Empire, and the Empire of Japan during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The agreements, often reached after a military defeat, contained one-sided terms requiring China to cede land, pay reparations, open treaty ports, or grant extraterritorial privileges to foreign citizens. In boundary negotiations with neighboring countries, the People's Republic of China has contested with other countries roughly 7% of the territory that was part of the Qing dynasty at its height. With the rise of Chinese nationalism and anti-imperialism in the 1920s, both the Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China used this concept to characterize the Chinese experience of losing sovereignty between roughly 1840 to 1950. The term "unequal treaty" became associated with the concept of China's "century of humiliation", especially the Concessions in China, concessions to foreign powers and the loss of tariff autonomy through Treaty ports#Chinese treaty ports, treaty ports. Japanese and Koreans also often use this term to refer to several treaties that resulted in the loss of their sovereignty to varying degrees.


In China, the term "unequal treaty" first came into use in the early 1920s.Wang, Dong. (2005). ''China's Unequal Treaties: Narrating National History''. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books. pp. 1–2. . Dong Wang (), a professor of contemporary and modern Chinese history, noted that "while the phrase has long been widely used, it nevertheless lacks a clear and unambiguous meaning" and that there is "no agreement about the actual number of treaties signed between China and foreign countries that should be counted as 'unequal'." Historian Immanuel Hsu states that the Chinese viewed the treaties they signed with Western powers and Russia as unequal "because they were not negotiated by nations treating each other as equals but were imposed on China after a war, and because they encroached upon China's sovereign rights ... which reduced her to semicolonial status". In response, historian Elizabeth Cobbs writes in ''American Umpire'', her argument that "democratic capitalism" has never engaged in imperialism: "Ironically, however, the treaties also resulted partly from China's initial reluctance to consider any treaties whatsoever, since it viewed all other nations as inferior. It did not wish to be equal." In many cases, China was effectively forced to pay large amounts of financial War reparations, reparations, open up ports for trade, cede or lease territories (such as Outer Manchuria and Outer Northwest China (including Zhetysu) to the Russian Empire, British Hong Kong, Hong Kong and Weihaiwei under British rule, Weihaiwei to the United Kingdom, Guangzhouwan to France, Kwantung Leased Territory and Taiwan under Japanese rule, Taiwan to the Empire of Japan, the Jiaozhou Bay concession to the German Empire and concession territory in Concessions in Tianjin, Tientsin, Shamian, Hankou#Foreign concessions period, Hankou, Shanghai International Settlement, Shanghai etc.), and make various other concessions of sovereignty to foreign "Sphere of influence, spheres of influence", following military threats. The earliest treaty later referred to as "unequal" was the 1841 Convention of Chuenpi negotiations during the First Opium War. The first treaty between China and United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the United Kingdom termed "unequal" was the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842. Following Qing China's defeat, treaties with Britain opened up five ports to foreign trade, while also allowing foreign Missionary, missionaries, at least in theory, to reside within China. In addition, foreign residents in the port cities were afforded trials by their own consular authorities rather than the Traditional Chinese law, Chinese legal system, a concept termed extraterritoriality.Dong Wang, ''China's Unequal Treaties: Narrating National History'' (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2005). Under the treaties, the UK and the US established the British Supreme Court for China and Japan and United States Court for China in Shanghai International Settlement, Shanghai.

Chinese resentment

After World War I, patriotic consciousness in China focused on the treaties, which now became widely known as "unequal treaties". The Kuomingtang, Nationalist Party and the Chinese Communist Party, Communist Party competed to convince the public that their approach would be more effective. Germany was forced to terminate its rights, the Soviet Union surrendered them, and the United States organized the Washington Naval Conference, Washington Conference to negotiate them. After Chiang Kai-shek declared a new national government in 1927, the Western powers quickly offered diplomatic recognition, arousing anxiety in Japan. The new government declared to the Great Powers that China had been exploited for decades under unequal treaties, and that the time for such treaties was over, demanding they renegotiate all of them on equal terms.

Towards the end of the unequal treaties

After the Boxer Rebellion and the signing of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902, Germany started to reassess the policy approach towards China and in 1907 suggested a German-Chinese-American agreement that never materialised. Thus China entered the new era of ending unequal treaties on March 14, 1917 when it broke off diplomatic relations with Germany, and declared war on August 17 of the same year. These acts voided the unequal treaty of 1861, resulting in the reinstatement of Chinese control on the concessions of Tianjin and Hankou to China. In 1919, China refused to sign the Peace Treaty of Versailles and, on May 20, 1921, eventually secured with the German-Chinese peace treaty (Deutsch-chinesischer Vertrag zur Wiederherstellung des Friedenszustandes), considered the first equal treaty between China and a European nation. Many of the other treaties China considers unequal were repealed during the Second Sino-Japanese War, which started in 1937 and merged into the larger context of World War II. The United States Congress ended American extraterritoriality in December 1943. Significant examples did outlast World War II: treaties regarding Hong Kong remained in place until Transfer of the sovereignty of Hong Kong, Hong Kong's 1997 handover, and in 1969, to improve Sino-Soviet Relations 1969–1991, Sino-Soviet relations in the wake of Sino-Soviet border conflict, military skirmishes along their border, the People's Republic of China reconfirmed the 1858 Treaty of Aigun.

Japan and Korea

When the American Commodore Matthew C. Perry, Matthew Perry reached Japan in 1854, it signed the Convention of Kanagawa. Its importance was limited. Much more important was the Treaty of Amity and Commerce (United States–Japan), Harris Treaty of 1858 negotiated by U.S. envoy Townsend Harris. Korea's first unequal treaty was not with the West but instead with Japan. On 1875, Ganghwa Island incident happened which led Japan to send Captain Inoue Yoshika and the warship Japanese gunboat Un'yō, ''Un'yō'' displaying military might over Korea. This forced Korea to open its doors to Japan by signing the ''Japan–Korea Treaty of 1876''. The unequal treaties ended at various times for the countries involved. Japan's victories in the 1894–95 First Sino-Japanese War convinced many in the West that unequal treaties could no longer be enforced on Japan. Korea's unequal treaties with European states became largely null and void in 1910, when it was Korea under Japanese rule, annexed by Japan.I. H. Nish, "Japan Reverses the Unequal Treaties: The Anglo-Japanese Commercial Treaty of 1894," ''Journal of Oriental Studies'' (1975) 13#2 pp 137-146.

Mongolia, China, and Russia

Selected list of treaties

Imposed on China

Imposed on Japan

Imposed on Korea

See also

* Western imperialism in Asia * Concessions in China * List of Chinese treaty ports * Sick man of Asia * Century of humiliation * Client state * Puppet state * Most favoured nation * Normanton incident, ''Normanton'' incident



*Michael Auslin, Auslin, Michael R. (2004)
''Negotiating with Imperialism: The Unequal Treaties and the Culture of Japanese Diplomacy.''
Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
OCLC 56493769

OCLC 300287988
*Nish, I. H (1975). "Japan Reverses the Unequal Treaties: The Anglo-Japanese Commercial Treaty of 1894". ''Journal of Oriental Studies''. 13 (2): 137–146. *Perez, Louis G (1999). ''Japan Comes of Age: Mutsu Munemitsu & the Revision of the Unequal Treaties''. p. 244. *Ringmar, Erik (2013). ''Liberal Barbarism: The European Destruction of the Palace of the Emperor of China''. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. *Wang, Dong (2003). "The Discourse of Unequal Treaties in Modern China". ''Pacific Affairs''. 76 (3): 399–425. *Wang, Dong. (2005). ''China's Unequal Treaties: Narrating National History''. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books. . *Fravel, M. Taylor (2008).
Strong Borders, Secure Nation: Cooperation and Conflict in China's Territorial Disputes
'. Princeton University Press.

Primary sources

*Henry Wager Halleck, Halleck, Henry Wager. (1861). iarchive:internationalla01hallgoog, ''International law: or, Rules regulating the intercourse of states in peace and war''. New York: D. Van Nostrand
OCLC 852699
*Korean Mission to the Conference on the Limitation of Armament, Washington, D.C., 1921–1922. (1922). ''Korea's Appeal to the Conference on Limitation of Armament.'' Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office
OCLC 12923609
*Fravel, M. Taylor (2005)
Regime Insecurity and International Cooperation: Explaining China's Compromises in Territorial Disputes
''International Security''. 30 (2): 46–83. Doi (identifier), doi:doi:10.1162/016228805775124534, 10.1162/016228805775124534
ISSN 0162-2889
{{Authority control 19th century in China 19th century in Japan 19th century in Korea Boxer Rebellion History of European colonialism Foreign relations of the Qing dynasty Free trade imperialism History of the foreign relations of Japan Lists of treaties Treaties of the Joseon Dynasty Unequal treaties, Foreign relations of the Empire of Japan China–Russian Empire relations