Treaty ports

Treaty ports were the port cities in China and Japan that were opened to foreign trade mainly by the "unequal treaties" with the Western powers, as well as cities in Korea opened up in similar fashion by the Japanese Empire.[1]

1899 commercial map of China showing treaty ports

Chinese treaty portsEdit

The British established their first treaty ports in China at the conclusion of the First Opium War by the Treaty of Nanking in 1842. As well as ceding the island of Hong Kong to the United Kingdom in perpetuity, the treaty also established five treaty ports at Shanghai, Canton (Guangzhou), Ningpo (Ningbo), Foochow (Fuzhou), and Amoy (Xiamen). The following year the Chinese and British signed the Treaty of the Bogue, which added provisions for extraterritoriality and most favoured nation status for the latter country. Subsequent negotiations with the Americans (1843 Treaty of Wanghia) and the French (1844 Treaty of Whampoa) led to further concessions for these nations on the same terms as the British.

The second group of treaty ports was set up following the end of the Arrow War in 1860 and eventually more than 80 treaty ports were established in China alone, involving many foreign powers.


Foreigners all lived in prestige sections newly built for them on the edges of existing port cities. They enjoyed legal extraterritoriality, as stipulated in the unequal treaties. Foreign clubs, racecourses, and churches were established in major treaty ports. Some of these port areas were directly leased by foreign powers such as in the concessions in China, effectively removing them from the control of local governments.[2]

Western images of the Chinese treaty ports focus on the distinctive geography of the “bund,” a long narrow strip of land in a prime location on the waterfront where the businesses, offices, warehouses and residences of all foreigners were located. The Shanghai bund was the largest and most famous. The North Riverbank in Ningbo (nowadays known as the Old Bund), was the first in China, opening in 1844, 20 years before the Shanghai bund. A typical bund contained British, German, French, American, Japanese and other nationals.

Even a modest pay scale would allow them to have numerous Chinese servants. The bund was a self-governing operation with its own shops, restaurants, recreational facilities, parks, churches. courts, police, and local government. The facilities were generally off-limits to the natives. The British, who by far dominated foreign trade with China, normally were the largest presence. Businessmen and officials typically brought their own families with them and stayed for years but sent their older children back to England for education.

Chinese sovereignty was only nominal. Officially, the foreign powers were not allowed to station military units in the bund, but in practice, there often was a warship or two in the harbor.[3]

Chinese capitulation treatiesEdit

The treaty port system in China lasted approximately one hundred years. It began with the 1841 Opium War and ended with the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. The major powers involved were the British, the French, and the Americans, although by the end of the 19th century all the major powers were involved, including Latin American countries and the Congo Free State. It is not possible to put an exact date on the end of the treaty port era. The Russians relinquished their treaty rights in the wake of the Russian revolution in 1917, and the Germans were forced to concede their treaty rights following their defeat in World War I.

Norway voluntarily relinquished its treaty rights in a capitulation treaty of 1931. The three main treaty powers, the British, the Americans, and the French, continued to hold their concessions and extraterritorial jurisdictions until the Second World War. This ended when the Japanese stormed into their concessions in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor at the end of 1941. They then formally relinquished their treaty rights in a new "equal treaties" agreement with Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Government in exile in Chungking in 1943.

Meanwhile, the pro-Japanese puppet government in Nanking signed a capitulation treaty with the Vichy French government in 1943. This was not recognized by Free French leader Charles de Gaulle. In 1946, in order to induce the Chinese to vacate the northern half of French Indochina, de Gaulle signed a capitulation treaty with Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist (Kuomintang) government.

Whatever residues of the treaty port era were left in the late 1940s were ended when the communists took over China in 1949.

Major treaty portsEdit

For encyclopedic details on each treaty port, see Robert Nield's China’s Foreign Places: The Foreign Presence in China in the Treaty Port Era, 1840-1943 (2015).

Current province or municipality Cities Date Foreign concession holders
Shanghai Shanghai 1842–1946 Greater Shanghai had three sections: These comprised the Shanghai International Settlement of the   United Kingdom and the   United States, the   French Concession and the Old City of Shanghai.
Jiangsu Province Nanjing (Nanking) 1858
Jiangxi Province Jiujiang
Hubei Province Hankou, now part of Wuhan (Hankow) 1858–1945   United Kingdom; later   France,   Germany and   Empire of Japan
Shashi   Japan
Hunan Province Changsha 1937–1945   Japan
Sichuan Province Chongqing (Chungking)
Zhejiang Province Ningbo (Ningpo) 1841–1842   United Kingdom
Wenzhou   United Kingdom
Fujian Province Fuzhou (Foochow) 1842–1945   United Kingdom, then   Japan
Xiamen (Amoy) 1842–1912   United Kingdom
Guangdong Province Guangzhou (Canton) 1842–WWII   United Kingdom; then   Japan
Shantou (Swatow) 1858   United Kingdom
Haikou (Qiongshan) 1858
Guangxi Province Beihai 1876–1940s?   United Kingdom,   United States,   Germany,   Austria-Hungary,   France,   Italy,   Portugal,   Belgium
Yunnan Province Mengzi
Shandong Province Yantai
Hebei Province Tianjin (Tientsin) 1860–1902   United Kingdom,   United States,   Russia,   Germany,   Austria-Hungary,   France,   Italy,   Portugal,   Belgium
Liaoning Province Niuzhuang 1858
Jilin Province Changchun
Heilongjiang Province Harbin 1898–1946   Russia,   United States,   Germany; later   Japan and the   Soviet Union
Aihun   Russia,   Soviet Union
Manzhouli   Russia,   Soviet Union
New Taipei City Tamsui 1862
Tainan Tainan 1858   France

Leased territoriesEdit

In these territories the foreign powers obtained, under a lease treaty, not only the right to trade and exemptions for their subjects, but a truly colonial control over each concession territory, de facto annexation:

Territory Modern Province Date Lease holder Notes
Kwantung Liaoning 1894–1898   Imperial Japan Now Dalian
1898–1905   Imperial Russia
1905–1945   Imperial Japan
Weihai Shandong Province 1898–1930   United Kingdom
Qingdao Shandong Province 1897–1922   German Empire
New Territories Hong Kong SAR 1842; 1860; 1898–1997   United Kingdom These are the territories adjoining the original perpetual Hong Kong concession and its 1860 Kowloon extension
Guangzhouwan Guangdong Province 1911–1946   France Now Zhanjiang

Japanese treaty portsEdit

Japan opened two ports to foreign trade, Shimoda and Hakodate, in 1854 (Convention of Kanagawa), to the United States.[4]

In 1858, with the Treaty of Amity and Commerce designated four more ports, Kanagawa, Hyogo, Nagasaki, and Niigata. The treaty with the United States was followed by similar ones with Britain, the Netherlands, Russia and France. The ports permitted legal extraterritoriality for citizens of the treaty nations.

The system of treaty ports ended in Japan in the year 1899 as a consequence of Japan's rapid transition to a modern nation. Japan had sought treaty revision earnestly, and in 1894, signed a new treaty with Britain which revised or abrogated the previous "unequal" treaty. Other countries signed similar treaties. The new treaties came into force in July 1899.

Korean treaty portsEdit

Following the Ganghwa Treaty of 1876, the Korean kingdom of Joseon agreed to the opening of three strategic ports and the extension of legal extraterritoriality to merchants from Meiji Japan. The first port opened in this manner was Busan, while Incheon and Wonsan followed shortly thereafter. These cities became important centers of mercantile activity for traders from China and Japan until Korea's colonization by Japan in 1910.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ William C. Johnstone, "International Relations: The Status of Foreign Concessions and Settlements in the Treaty Ports of China" American Political Science Review (1937) 31#5 pp. 942-948 online
  2. ^ Peter Hibbard, The Bund Shanghai: China Faces West (Odyssey Illustrated Guides, 2007)
  3. ^ Robert Nield, China’s Foreign Places: The Foreign Presence in China in the Treaty Ports (2015) Online.
  4. ^ Nakabayashi, 2014
  •   This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "China". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

Further readingEdit

  • Bickers, Robert, and Isabella Jackson, eds. Treaty Ports in Modern China: Law, Land and Power (Routledge, 2016).
  • Bracken, Gregory. "Treaty Ports in China: Their Genesis, Development, and Influence." Journal of Urban History 45#1 (2019): 168-176. online
  • Deuchler, Martina.Confucian Gentlemen and Barbarian Envoys: The Opening of Korea, 1875-1885 (University of Washington Press, 1977).
  • Hibbard, Peter The Bund Shanghai: China Faces West (Odyssey Illustrated Guides, 2007)
  • Hoare. J.E. Japan's Treaty Ports and Foreign Settlements: The Uninvited Guests, 1858–1899 (RoutledgeCurzon, 1995) ISBN 978-1-873410-26-4.
  • Johnstone, William C. "The status of foreign concessions and settlements in the Treaty Ports of China." American Political Science Review 31.5 (1937): 942-948. Online
  • Nakabayashi, Masaki. "Imposed Efficiency of Treaty Ports: Japanese Industrialization and Western Imperialist Institutions." Review of Development Economics 18.2 (2014): 254-271. Online
  • Nield, Robert. China’s Foreign Places: The Foreign Presence in China in the Treaty Ports (2015) Online
  • Tai, En-Sai. Treaty ports in China:(a study in diplomacy) (Columbia university, 1918) Online.
  • Taylor, Jeremy E. "The bund: littoral space of empire in the treaty ports of East Asia." Social History 27.2 (2002): 125-142.
  • Wright, Arnold. Twentieth century impressions of Hongkong, Shanghai, and other treaty ports of China: their history, people, commerce, industries, and resources (1908) online
  • Zinda, Yvonne Schulz "Representation and Nostalgic Re-invention of Shanghai in Chinese film." in Port Cities in Asia and Europe (2008): 159+.

Primary sourcesEdit

  • Cortazzi, Hugh, ed. Victorians in Japan: In and around the Treaty ports (A&C Black, 2013), Anthology of primary sources.
  • Dennys, Nicholas Belfield. The Treaty Ports of China and Japan. A Complete Guide to the Open Ports of Those Countries, Together with Peking, Yedo, Hongkong and Macao. Forming a Guide Book & Vade Mecum... With 29 Maps and Plans (1867).

External linksEdit