The 23rd International Conference on Computational Linguistics (COLING 2010)






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Unequal treaty

   Unequal treaty is the name given by the Chinese to a series of treaties signed with Western powers, Russian Empire and Empire of Japan during the 19th and early 20th centuries by Qing dynasty China after military attacks or military threats by foreign powers.

Starting with the rise of Chinese nationalism and anti-imperialism in the 1920s, the Kuomintang and Communist Party used these concepts to characterize the Chinese experience in losses of sovereignty between roughly 1839 to 1949. The term "unequal treaty" became associated with the concept of China's "century of humiliation", especially the concessions to foreign powers and loss of tariff autonomy through the treaty ports.

In many cases, China was effectively forced to pay large amounts of financial reparations, open up ports for trade, cede or lease territories (such as Outer Manchuria and Outer Northwest China (including Zhetysu) to the Russian Empire, Hong Kong and Weihaiwei to Great Britain, Guangzhouwan to France, Kwantung Leased Territory and Taiwan to the Empire of Japan, the Jiaozhou Bay concession to the German Empire and concession territory in Tientsin, Shamian, Hankou, Shanghai etc.), and make various other concessions of sovereignty to foreign "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 Great Britain 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 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 Chinese legal system, a concept termed extraterritoriality. 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.

After World War I, patriotic consciousness in China focused on the treaties, which now became widely known as "unequal treaties". The Nationalist Party and the 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 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. In the face of Japanese expansion in China, however, ending the system was postponed.

Most of the treaties China considers unequal were abrogated 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 Hong Kong's 1997 handover, and in 1969, to improve Sino-Russian relations, China reconfirmed the 1858 Treaty of Aigun.

When the American Commodore Matthew Perry reached Japan in 1854, it signed the Convention of Kanagawa. Its importance was limited. Much more important was the Harris Treaty of 1858 negotiated by U.S. envoy Townsend Harris.

The unequal treaties ended at various times for the countries involved. Japan's victories in the 189495 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 annexed by Japan.


Temple of Heaven
Forbidden City
Summer Palace
Beijing National Stadium
Beijing National Aquatics Center
National Centre for the Performing Arts