History Optional Paper- 2 Solution – 1984: Q.5 (c)

Q.5 (c) “The  Treaty  of  Nanking  is  the  basic  act  in  the  imposing  but  unstable  structure  of international relations which governed China for a hundred years.” Comment.


The Treaty of Nanking (August 29, 1842) is the agreement which marked the end of the First Opium War between the United Kingdom and China.

  1. It was the first of the Unequal Treaties signed by China with a foreign power in which British citizens in China gained immunity from prosecution under Chinese law.
  2. China paid the British an indemnity, ceded the territory of Hong Kong, and agreed to establish a “fair and reasonable” tariff. British merchants, who had previously been allowed to trade only at Guangzhou (Canton), were now permitted to trade at five “treaty ports” and with whomever they pleased. The treaty also granted Britain any rights in China that China might grant to other countries.
  3. The British were granted the right to occupy Hong Kong in perpetuity; this was their sole outright territorial acquisition. In Hong Kong they acquired a base from which trade could be conducted and in which ship maintenance and shelter could be provided

The  main purpose of treaty was forcibly  to  break down China’s isolation and to compel her to trade with European nations and also to teach the Chinese that far from being superior to all other nations of the world she was actually inferior.

The Treaty of Nanking set the pattern for treaties China later signed with other foreign forces. Other Western powers, such as the US and France, immediately came to China, demanding rights similar to those acquired by the British. Treaties were immediately signed with these powers. These treaties provided for the abolishment of the officially sanctioned and controlled system of trade, the opening of a number of ports to foreign trade, extra-territoriality, most-favoured nation status for Western powers, the cession of Hong Kong to Great Britain.
These treaties ended the Qing’s monopoly of trade for nearly 100 years during which foreign trade in China was subject to official government approval with regard to location, market entry, trade organization, rules, and at times, the quality and quantity of the products traded. The treaties established the basic pattern for China’s relations with the West for the next century. China was forced to abolish the trade restrictions on the matter of commerce within them. In addition to Britain, the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and Austria demanded special concessions inside China and privileges for their traders and missionaries. Westerners were placed under the legal jurisdiction of their own consuls. They actually fixed Chinese import duties. China could not interfere with the opium traffic.

 Imposing  structure of the international relation which governed China for a hundred years was also unstable. Westerners wanted more privileges and Chinese officials and local groups made efforts to resist unfair demands which led to many wars and rebellions like Second Opium War (1856-1860), Sino-Japanese War, Revolution of 1911, the Boxer Rising, rise of communist party etc.

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