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Manchu External Decline

External Wars
  • 1839 - First Opium War
  • 1857 - Second Opium War
  • 1884 - Sino-French War
  • 1894 - Sino-Japanese War
  • 1895 - Japano-Taiwanese War
  • 1895 - Battle of Concessions
  • 1900 - Boxer Rebellion
  • 1900 - Sino-Russian War

  • During the centuries when China occupied the undisputed position of first in might and first in civilization on the Asiatic continent, her habit was to use as buffer states the small countries lying immediately beyond her borders. But she always took care to avoid any responsibilities that might grow out of this arrangement. In a word, the tide of foreign aggression was to be checked by an understanding that these little countries shared the inviolability of great China, but it was understood, at the same time, that the consequences of their own acts must rest upon their own heads. But China's interpretation of "tribute" was essentially unpractical. "So long as her own advantage could be promoted, she regarded as a token of vassalage the presents periodically carried to her Court from neighbouring States, but so soon as there arose any question of discharging a suzerain's duties, she classed these offerings as an insignificant interchange of neighbourly courtesy." Such a system, having no bases except sentiment and prestige, soon proved futile in the face of Occidental practicality. Burma, Siam, Annam, and Tonking, one by one, ceased to be dependent on China and independent towards all other nations.

    Territory ConquestLost
    Lioaning 1630 1912
    Inner Mongolia 1635
    Eighteen Provinces 1644-591912
    Korea 16591910
    Burma 16591885
    Nepal 1659
    Siam 1659
    Outer Mongolia16971912
    East Turkestan1757
    The arrival of Europeans had, even before the end of the Ming Dynasty, begun to exercise a disturbing influence on the course of Chinese history. The fundamental maxim of Chinese intercourse with foreigners, was quite sufficient to explain their conduct : " The barbarians are like beasts, and not to be ruled on the same principles as citizens. Were any one to attempt controlling them by the great maxims of reason, it would tend to nothing but confusion. The ancient kings well understood this, and accordingly ruled barbarians by misrule. Therefore, to rule barbarians by miferule is the true and the best way of ruling them."

    The foreign policy of China was originally simple in the extreme. Recognizing the existence of only one supreme potentate, the Emperor of the Middle Kingdom, who as the delegate of heaven claimed universal sway, it followed that all peoples who were brought into contact with his Government were treated as on a subordinate footing. The evidence is of the clearest kind back to the earliest ages that foreigners were only admitted as "tribute bearers" and that all foreign countries were regarded as being of undoubted inferiority to the Celestial Empire.

    While China was being forced to throw open her doors, she was also being stripped of her territories, dependencies, and colonial possessions. Indeed, it may be truly said, that the process of her political disintegration began as soon as her walls of isolation failed to withstand the onslaught from the West or to protect her from the politico-economical erosions. This process of disintegration may be likened to an ailment in China's body politic. It was chronic, but it became suddenly acute towards the end of the nineteenth century, when the European Powers, after witnessing her absolute weakness and helplessness as revealed in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-5, planned for her final vivisection.

    The diplomatic history of the Manchu Dynasty can be divided into three periods. The first period covers the years from 1689, when China made the first treaty with a Western Power, to 1860 when she first consented to enter into formal diplomatic relations with the Powers at Peking. In their unbounded arrogance in dealing with all foreigners, the Chinese showed such absolute faith in their own power, and such depth of ignorance as to the relative strength of foreign states, that any idea of equality of rights of an international character, cannot possibly have found a place in their minds. All their language and acts bore this out too plainly to admit of dispute.

    The opening of China was a slow process. Up to 1842, foreign trade was largely confined to Canton with Macao as the base, except the Russian trade at the Northern frontier. The first war between China and Great Britain resulted in the opening of South China through the portals of the five treaty ports as provided in the Treaty of Nanking, 1842. The Treaty of Tientsin of 1858 effected the opening of the Yangtze. It was not, however, until 1860, that by the Treaty of Peking in 1860, North China was opened through the door of Tientsin, and the diplomatic relation with the Imperial Court was definitely established.

    Not until the occupation of the capital in 1860, when the Emperor himself had fled beyond the Wall, leaving his palace to the mercy of the Western spoiler, did the Chinese Government and people realize that their ruler was not the only great potentate in the world, and that the theory of the Hwang-ti being the one delegate of the Almighty was a fiction that could no longer be maintained. The Treaty of Peking, ratifying that concluded at Tientsin two years previously, was the formal admission that China could no longer count on the exclusive enjoyment of a world of her own, and that she must be prepared to enter the family of nations and to hold her place by means of such resources as she possessed.

    Up to this time the government, with that contemptuous disregard of everything relating to the Outer Barbarians which belongs to them, had relegated the management of foreign affairs to the Li fan Yuan, or "Colonial Office." That is to say, European affairs were classed with the trivial concerns of Mongolian and Central Asian nomads. The continuation of this system was plainly impossible now that relations with foreign governments had become closer, and it was determined therefore to establish a bureau, called the Tsungli Yamen, or "Yamen of General Superintendence," which should serve the purposes of a foreign office.

    The second period of the diplomatic history of China dates from the close of the war with Great Britain and France (1857-1860) to the end of the war with Japan (1894-1895), covering a span of thirty-five years. This distinctive feature is the gradual loss of China's dependencies. As if Western aggression worked from outside, the opening of China was followed by the loss of her dependencies; the integrity of her own soil was not threatened until the period ensuing. During this period China lost no less than nine dependencies,-the Liuchiu Islands to Japan in 1881, the Western parts of Hi to Russia in 1881, Tongkin and Annam to France in 1885, Northern Burma to Great Britain in 1886, and Sikkim to the same in 1890, and Korea, Formosa, and the Pescadores, to Japan in 1895. For centuries China had surrounded herelf with a cordon of dependencies which were to protect her from assault from the outside world. But now a large number of these dependencies were taken away and China was exposed to the onslaught of Western Powers.

    The third period of the diplomatic history of China dates from the close of the Chino-Japanese War (1895) to the beginning of the Chinese Revolution (1911). It is a period characterized by the international struggle for concessions. Hitherto China had fought with Western Powers, and although she had been beaten several times, she was nevertheless not considered so weak as to attract the unscrupulous aggression of the West. In fact, during the Chino-French War of 1884-1885. the Chinese army stood her own ground very well. But the war with Japan changed the opinion of the world. Japan was considered a secondary power in Asia. By one stroke she brought the giant to the ground. This was a victory of one Asiatic state over another. The world became convinced that China was following in the wake of Africa and that the nations should lose no time in taking what they could.

    The humiliating experiences of 1895 and of 1900 showed the Chinese that in war they were no match for the Westerners. The loss of territory to France, to England, to Germany, to Russia, to Japan, within the last few years, and the aggressive threats of the representatives of most of these powers at different times, convinced them that China, as a territorial and governmental entity, would soon cease to exist if they did not make themselves able to resist foreign aggression; have convinced them, therefore, of the absolute necessity of adopting foreign learning so far as it is necessary to strengthen them for war.

    A foreign war voluntarily declared by China became every day less and less probable. Her experiences have been such as not to incline her to take the risk of encounter with any first-class power. The interests of commerce have come to be such that no second class power would be allowed to imperil them by attacking China, nor would China be permitted to provoke a war. This restriction on her liberty may be taken to imply that her sovereignty was impaired.

    Still another form of the impairment of China's sovereignty is the sphere of influence, or the sphere of interest. These two terms have been used interchangeably, but some distinction may be made between them. Spheres of influence generally carry a political significance, while spheres of interest usually connote preferential economic exploitation. The technical meaning of the term sphere of interest is an area or territory within which a nation claims the primary right of exploitation of commercial and natural resources. The term sphere of influence is by some thought to refer to a certain degree of political control, however slight it may be.

    Germany first created her sphere of interest in Shantung by the seizure of Kiaochow and the subsequent Convention of March 6, 1898. Russia followed suit and established her sphere of influence in Manchuria and Liaotung by the occupation of Port Arthur and Talienwan and the Convention of March 27, 1898. France obtained her sphere of interest in Yunnan, Kwangsi and Kwangtung; how Great Britain won the recognition of her sphere of interest in the Yangtze Valley and Tibet. Japan extended her influence over Fukien. In consequence of the Russo-Japanese War, Japan succeeded to Russia in South Manchuria and Liaotung as her sphere of interest, while Russia retained North Manchuria as her sphere. By the agreements of 1907 and 1910, while there was no specific mention as to any division of sphere of influence, it was generally understood, at least from subsequent actions, that Russia regarded North Manchuria and Outer Mongolia as her sphere of interest, and Japan South Manchuria and Eastern Inner Mongolia.

    Until checked by the Chinese Revolution of 1911, the diplomatic history of China was marked by a series of unscrupulous attacks on the sovereignty and integrity of China. And this onslaught could not but produce the most strenuous reaction on the part of the Chinese, which manifested itself in the rise of Chinese nationalism. In its first blind reaction, it took the form of the Boxer Uprising, by which the Chinese, and especially the Manchu rulers, thought that they could liberate themselves from the deadly intrusions of the West. Finding this impossible, as evidenced in the disaster of 1900, the next reaction took the form of the Chinese Revolution of 1911, by which the Chinese wrested the reins of government from the incompetent hands of the Manchus and sought to find shelter in their own republican form of government.

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    Page last modified: 20-11-2011 19:12:18 ZULU