Unequal treaty is the name given by the Chinese to a series of treaties signed with Western powers during the 19th and early 20th centuries by Qing dynasty China after suffering military defeat by the West or when there was a threat of military action by those powers. The term was later applied to treaties signed with Tokugawa Japan and to treaties imposed on Joseon Korea by the post-Meiji Restoration Empire of Japan.
Starting with the rise of nationalism and anti-imperialism in the 1920s, the Kuomintang and Chinese 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 forced opening of the treaty ports, the imposition of European extraterritoriality on foreigners living in China, and loss of tariff autonomy.
In China, the term "unequal treaty" first came into use in the early 1920s. Dong Wang, a professor of contemporary and modern Chinese history, noted that "while the phrase has long been widely used, it nevertheless lacks a clear and unambiguous meaning" and that there is "no agreement about the actual number of treaties signed between China and foreign countries that should be counted as 'unequal'." Historian Immanuel Hsu explained that the Chinese viewed the treaties they signed with Western powers as unequal "because they were not negotiated by nations treating each other as equals but were imposed on China after a war, and because they encroached upon China's sovereign rights ... which reduced her to semicolonial status". In response, historian Elizabeth Cobbs wrote, "Ironically, however, the treaties also resulted partly from China's initial reluctance to consider any treaties whatsoever, since it viewed all other nations as inferior. It did not wish to be equal."
In many cases, China was effectively forced to pay large amounts of reparations, open up ports for trade, cede or lease territories (such as Outer Manchuria and Outer Northwest China to Russian Empire, Hong Kong to Great Britain and Zhanjiang to France), and make various other concessions of sovereignty to foreign "spheres of influence", following military defeats. The earliest treaty later referred to as "unequal" was the 1841 Convention of Chuenpi negotiations during the First Opium War. China and Great Britain signed the first unequal treaties under 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 China's unequal treaties 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 of unequal treaties with China did outlast World War II: unequal treaties regarding Hong Kong remained in place until Hong Kong's 1997 handover, and in 1969, to improve Sino-Russian relations, China reconfirmed the 1859 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.
Korea's first unequal treaty was not with the West but with Japan. Taking a page from Western tactics, in 1875 Japan sent Captain Inoue Yoshika and the warship Un'yō to display military might over Korea in the Ganghwa Island incident. This forced Korea to open its doors to Japan by signing the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1876.
The unequal treaties ended at various times for the countries involved. Japan's victories in the 1894–95 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.
|English name||Chinese name|
|Treaty of Nanking||南京條約||1842||British Empire|
|Treaty of the Bogue||虎門條約||1843||British Empire|
|Treaty of Wanghia||中美望廈條約||1844||United States|
|Treaty of Whampoa||黃埔條約||1844||French colonial empire|
|Treaty of Canton||中瑞廣州條約||1847||United Kingdoms of Sweden and Norway|
|Treaty of Kulja||中俄伊犁塔爾巴哈台通商章程||1851||Russian Empire|
|Treaty of Aigun||璦琿條約||1858||Russian Empire|
|Treaty of Tientsin||天津條約||1858||French colonial empire, British Empire, Russian Empire, United States|
|Convention of Peking||北京條約||1860||British Empire, French colonial empire, Russian Empire|
|Chefoo Convention||煙台條約||1876||British Empire|
|Treaty of Saint Petersburg||伊犁條約||1881||Russian Empire|
|Treaty of Tientsin (1885)||中法新約||1885||French colonial empire|
|Sino-Portuguese Treaty of Peking||中葡北京條約||1887||Kingdom of Portugal|
|Treaty of Shimonoseki (Treaty of Maguan)||馬關條約||1895||Empire of Japan|
|Li-Lobanov Treaty||中俄密约||1896||Russian Empire|
|Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory||展拓香港界址專條||1898||British Empire|
|Treaty of Kwangchow Wan||廣州灣租界條約||1899||French colonial empire|
|Boxer Protocol||辛丑條約||1901||British Empire, United States, Empire of Japan, Russian Empire, French colonial empire, German Empire, Kingdom of Italy, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Kingdom of Belgium, Kingdom of Spain, Kingdom of the Netherlands|
|Simla Accord||西姆拉條約||1914||British Empire|
|Twenty-One Demands||二十一條||1915||Empire of Japan|
|Tanggu Truce||塘沽協定||1933||Empire of Japan|
|English name||Japanese name|
|Convention of Kanagawa||日米和親条約||1854||United States|
|Anglo-Japanese Friendship Treaty||日英和親条約||1854||British Empire|
|Ansei Treaties||安政条約||1858||United States, Kingdom of the Netherlands, Russian Empire, British Empire, French colonial empire|
|Treaty of Amity and Commerce (Harris Treaty)||日米修好通商条約||1858||United States|
|Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Amity and Commerce||日英修好通商条約||1858||British Empire|
|Prussian-Japanese Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation||日普修好通商条約||1861||Kingdom of Prussia|
|Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation between Austria and Japan||日墺修好通商航海条約||1868||Austro-Hungarian Empire|
|Spanish-Japanese Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation||日西修好通商航海条約||1868||Kingdom of Spain|
|English name||Korean name|
|Japan-Korea Treaty of 1876
(Treaty of Ganghwa)
|강화도 조약 (江華島條約)||1876||Empire of Japan|
|United States-Korea Treaty of 1882||조미수호통상조약 (朝美修好通商條約)||1882||United States|
|Japan-Korea Treaty of 1882
(Treaty of Chemulpo)
|제물포 조약 (濟物浦條約)||1882||Empire of Japan|
|China–Korea Treaty of 1882
(Joseon-Qing Communication and Commerce Rules)
|조청상민수륙무역장정 (朝淸商民水陸貿易章程)||1882||Qing Empire|
|Germany-Korea Treaty of 1883||조독수호통상조약 (朝獨修好通商條約)||1883||German Empire|
|United Kingdom-Korea Treaty of 1883||조영수호통상조약 (朝英修好通商條約)||1883||British Empire|
|Russia-Korea Treaty of 1884||조로수호통상조약 (朝露修好通商條約)||1884||Russian Empire|
|Italy-Korea Treaty of 1884||조이수호통상조약 (朝伊修好通商條約)||1884||Kingdom of Italy|
|Japan-Korea Treaty of 1885
(Treaty of Hanseong)
|한성조약 (漢城條約)||1885||Empire of Japan|
|France-Korea Treaty of 1886||조불수호통상조약 (朝佛修好通商條約)||1886||French colonial empire|
|Austria-Korea Treaty of 1892||조오수호통상조약 (朝奧修好通商條約)||1892||Austro-Hungarian Empire|
|Belgium-Korea Treaty of 1901||조벨수호통상조약 (朝白修好通商條約)||1901||Kingdom of Belgium|
|Denmark-Korea Treaty of 1902||조덴수호통상조약 (朝丁修好通商條約)||1902||Kingdom of Denmark|
|Japan-Korea Treaty of 1904||한일의정서 (韓日議定書)||1904||Empire of Japan|
|Japan-Korea Protocol of August 1904||제1차 한일협약 (第一次韓日協約)||1904||Empire of Japan|
|Japan-Korea Protocol of April 1905||1905||Empire of Japan|
|Japan-Korea Protocol of August 1905||1905||Empire of Japan|
|Japan-Korea Treaty of 1905
||제2차 한일협약 (第二次韓日協約)
|1905||Empire of Japan|
|Japan-Korea Treaty of 1907||제3차 한일협약 (第三次韓日協約)
|1907||Empire of Japan|
|Japan-Korea Treaty of 1910||한일병합조약 (韓日倂合條約)||1910||Empire of Japan|