On this day August 29, 1842

The Treaty of Nanking, an Unequal Treaty ending the First Opium War, was signed, forcing the Chinese Qing Dynasty to give foreign trading privileges, war reparations, control of Hong Kong, and other concessions to the British.

In the wake of China’s military defeat, with British warships poised to attack the city, representatives from the British and Qing Empires negotiated aboard HMS Cornwallis anchored at Nanjing.

Signing of the Treaty of Nanjing

Signing of the Treaty of Nanjing

On 29 August 1842, British representative Sir Henry Pottinger and Qing representatives, Qiying, Ilibu and Niujian, signed the Treaty of Nanjing. The treaty consisted of thirteen articles and was ratified by Queen Victoria and the Daoguang Emperor nine months later. As one historian notes, a “most ironic point was that opium, the immediate cause of the war, was not even mentioned.

The fundamental purpose of the treaty was to change the framework of foreign trade which had been in force since 1760 (Canton System). The treaty abolished the monopoly of the Thirteen Factories on foreign trade (Article V) in Canton and instead five ports were opened for trade, Canton (Shameen Island until 1949), Amoy (Xiamen until 1930), Foochow (Fuzhou), Ningpo (Ningbo) and Shanghai (until 1949), where Britons were to be allowed to trade with anyone they wished. Britain also gained the right to send consuls to the treaty ports, which were given the right to communicate directly with local Chinese officials (Article II). The treaty stipulated that trade in the treaty ports should be subject to fixed tariffs, which were to be agreed upon between the British and the Qing governments (Article X).

The Qing government was obliged to pay the British government 6 million silver dollars for the opium that had been confiscated by Lin Zexu in 1839 (Article IV), 3 million dollars in compensation for debts that the Hong merchants in Canton owed British merchants (Article V), and a further 12 million dollars in compensation for the cost of the war (VI). The total sum of 21 million dollars was to be paid in installments over three years and the Qing government would be charged an annual interest rate of 5 per cent for the money that was not paid in a timely manner (Article VII).

The Qing government undertook to release all British prisoners of war (Article VIII) and to give a general amnesty to all Chinese subjects who had cooperated with the British during the war (Article IX).

The British on their part, undertook to withdraw all of their troops from Nanjing and the Grand Canal after the emperor had given his assent to the treaty and the first installment of money had been received (Article XII). British troops would remain in Gulangyu and Zhoushan until the Qing government had paid reparations in full (Article XII).

The Qing government agreed make the island of Hong Kong a crown colony, ceding it to the British Queen “in perpetuity” in order to provide British traders with a harbour where they could unload their goods (Article III). Pottinger was later appointed the first governor of Hong Kong.

In 1860, the colony was extended with the Kowloon peninsula and in 1898, the Convention of Peking further expanded the colony with the 99 year lease of the New territories. In 1984, the governments of the United Kingdom and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) concluded the Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong, under which the sovereignty of the leased territories, together with Hong Kong Island and Kowloon (south of Boundary Street) ceded under the Convention of Peking (1860), was scheduled to transfer to the PRC on 1 July 1997.


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