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.
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), Fuchow (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.
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 by far 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 bond, but in practice, there often was a warship or two in the harbor.
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.
For encyclopedic detain on each one, 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|
|Hubei Province||Hankou, now part of Wuhan (Hankow)||1858-1945||United Kingdom; later France, Germany and Empire of Japan|
|Sichuan Province||Chongqing (Chungking)|
|Zhejiang Province||Ningbo (Ningpo)||1841-1842||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|
|Guangxi Province||Beihai||1876-1940s?||United Kingdom, United States, Germany, Austria-Hungary, France, Italy, Portugal, Belgium|
|Hebei Province||Tianjin (Tientsin)||1860-1902||United Kingdom, United States, Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary, France, Italy, Portugal, Belgium|
|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|
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|
|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|
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 years 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.
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.