Chinese-Britain trade relations in the 1860s

Chinese-Britain Trade Relations in the 1860s

Chinese defeat at the Second Opium War ended with the Treaty of Tientsin, which was signed between the British and French Empires with the Qing Dynasty of China. Twelve additional treaty ports were opened including Tientsin, Hankow, Chinkiang, Kiukiang, and Shanghai and “… extraterritoriality was extended; the entire interior of China was made accessible to foreign travellers; above all, foreign shipping was now allowed to enter the river Yangzi [Yangtze] – China’s main artery for traffic between the coast and the interior” (Osterhammel 191). Chinese trade with the West during this decade was dominated by the British and opium was the primary trade item. Although the British were the most prominent, many other foreigners also entered the opened port cities of China. Initially, the foreign population in these cities was composed of merchants, but missionaries, diplomats, and even travelers were permitted to enter China.

After the Treaty of Tientsin, the Chinese government realized they did not possess adequate weaponry or the technology to expel foreigners from their land and, as a result of their unsuccessful attempts, they were now subjected to unbalanced terms. Instead responding negatively to the British and other foreigners on Chinese land, the Chinese government “…adopted a more cooperative attitude in dealing with them…the government had come to accept its inability to do so [to remove the foreigners], and had consequently decided that strict adherence to the terms of the treaties was the best means of containing the foreigners and of avoiding incidents which they might exploit” (Brown 179). As a result, Sino-foreign interaction increased exponentially during the 1860s.  

Perhaps China’s acquiescing nature here can be attributed to their realization of Western superiority in technology: “…it took the Chinese two decades [the stretch  from the First Opium War in 1842, to the Second Opium War of 1860] of experimentation to finally appreciate that they had to import from the West both its technology and its engineering tradition, two important components of which were technical drawing and machine tools.” (Wang 32). In other words, the Chinese lacked a much needed standard process for implementing new technologies, such as the steam engine, along with the machinery required to build it. Therefore, British aid was necessary for the advancement of technology in China.

Despite China and Britain’s improving trade relations, this period did not improve China’s economy, nor did it deteriorate it. However, Chinese trade with Britain did increase Sino-foreign contact, which sparked a demand for Chinese exports and created an abundance of foreign goods in China, not to mention the technological techniques the Chinese acquired from the West (Brown).

- Kue Xiong

Works Cited

Shannon R. Brown. "The Partially Opened Door: Limitations on Economic Change in China in the 1860s." Modern Asian Studies 12.2 (1978): 177-92. Web. 28 April 2015.

Osterhammel, Jürgen. British business in China, 1860s-1950s. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989. 189-216. Web. 3 May 2015.

Wang, Hsien-Chun. "Discovering Steam Power in China, 1840s-1860s." Technology and Culture 51.1 (2010): 31-54. Web. 28 April 2015.