Imperial feeding frenzy

Open season on China, 1895-1945

By William Wetherall

First posted 15 July 2007
Last updated 30 October 2012

Sino-Japanese War Triple Intervention | Jiaozhouwan | Liaodong | Guangzhouwan | Weihaiwei
Boxer Rebellion Rape of Peking | Legacy of Uprising | Yellow Peril
Russo-Japanese War Intentions | Yellow Peril
World War Japan gains German territories | Fates of leaseholds and mandates | Russian Revolution | Siberian Intervention
Second Sino-Japanese War | |

Sino-Japanese War

Japan's victory in the Sino-Japanese war of 1894-1895 came at a time when Japan was still under a few unequal treaties it had concluded between 1854 and 1873. On 16 July 1894, two weeks before the war was declared, though already it had begun, Japan signed a treaty that would end British extratoriality in Japan from 17 July 1899.

Other countries, including the United States, fell in line behind Britain. So by July 1899, Japan would finally be free of the stigma of inferior treatment it had borne for nearly half a century. But recognition as a fully competent state would not come for another four years after signing the Treaty of Shimonoseki on 17 April 1895.

The treaty -- which was supposed to settle the war, not start another -- ceded to Japan of not only Taiwan and the Pescadores, but also the Liaotung peninsula with Port Arthur. However, Japan was immediately pressed by Russia, backed by Germany and France, to return the Liaodong peninsula, which it had occupied during the war, or face eviction by force.

With the Sino-Japanese War in mind, Kaiser II, in 1895, warned about "Die gelbe Gefahr!" In The Yellow Wave, published the same year, Kenneth Mackay spun a yarn about an invasion of Australia by Chinese under Russian command -- while British troops were defending India against a Russian invasion.

The Sino-Japanese War and its aftermath spawned numerous other fictional stories that took up the theme of "yellow" peril, danger, terror, and scourge -- usually in reaction to European imperialism, raw in tooth and claw. These include the "yellow" triology penned by M. P. Shiel in 1899, 1905, and 1913 -- all based on events that occurred within two decades after this war.

The history of what happened in -- and to -- China during the late 19th and early 20th centuries is extremely complicated and convoluted. No single incident can really be said to have caused everything that came after it. However, the Sino-Japanese War did, in some sense, start a chain reaction that didn't finally explode until the implosion of the Japanese Empire in 1945.


Triple Intervention

What is usually called the "Triple Intervention" has some Japanese reports as "the Russian intervention supported by Germany and France" in recognition of the fact that Russia was the principle instigator.

Great Britain and the United States watched the confrontation from the sidelines as Japan accepted the demands. Then Japan watched Russia gain control of Port Arthur and the rest of the Liaotung peninsula. And it watched Germany, France, and even Great Britain force China to lease them coastal towns for development as naval and commercial ports.

If 1898 was a bad year for China -- helpless before such exploitation of its growing weakness -- for Japan it was hard but instructive lession in colonial politics. Japan was not about to accept what was happening -- never mind how it had been treating China.

The effect of the Triple Intervention was to extend the longevity of the Sino-Japanese War. The conditions in Korea and Manchuria which had triggered it still existed. The desire of Japanese imperialists to impose order on neighboring countries in the name of rescue and self-defense was stronger than ever. And the tension was now exacerbated by the arrival of more imperialists at the feeding trough.


6 March 1898 -- Germany leases Kiaochow / Tsingtao

In 1897, German naval infantry occupied parts of the Shantung (ŽR“Œ Shandong) peninsula after two German missionaries were murdered in the province on 1 November. By 6 March 1898, a convention had been signed in Peking, in which China agreed to lease Germany land and islands associated with the Bay of Kiaochou (äPB˜p Jiaozhouwan, E. Kiaochow, G. Kiautschou) in the Yellow Sea.

The leasehold became a German naval base and protectorate. Germany also developed nearby Tsingtao (Ā“‡ Qingdao, G. Tsingtau) as a trading post, and gained permission to build a railroad linking these locales with the rest of the province.


27 March 1898 -- Russia leases Liaotung / Port Arthur

Also in 1898, China agreed to lease Russia the Liaotung peninsula (27 March 1898), which included Port Arthur (—·‡` C. Lŭshùnkŏu, J. Ryojunkō). This is origin of what is better known as the Kwantung Leased Territory.

Russia fortified Port Arthur as a naval port, and developed nearby Dalny (‘å˜A C. Dalian, J. Dairen, ) as a commercial port. It also began to build a railway through South Manchuria to connect Harbin (™ūŽ¢ą_ ™ūŽ¢•l, C. Ha'erbin, J. Harubin) in Manchuria with Dalny, with a branch line to Port Arthur.

Date   Some sources say the Liaotung lease convention was signed on 15 March. The English version says it was done in duplicate "this 15th day of March (March 27), 1898, and by the Chinese calendar the 6th day of the 3rd moon of the 24th year of the reign of Kwang-Hsu" (Report on Progress in Manchuria, 1907-1928, page 193). Lunar Kwang Hsu (Guangxu) 24-3-6 corresponds to Solar 1898-3-27.


27 May 1898 -- France leases Kuangchau

France was not to be outdone. On 27 May 1898, it signed a convention with China, negotiated from about 10 April, giving it a ninety-nine-year lease of the Bay of Kuangchau (œABąs LB˜p Guangzhouwan, J. Kōshūwan, E. Kwangchowan, F. Kouang-Tchéou-Wan), on the southern coast of China, under terms, and with concessions, similar to those of the German agreement. In August 1899, China ceded to France a small group of islands at the entrance to the bay.

The bay is near the Hainan strait south of Hong Kong. Its strategic location gave France effective control over several prefectures around the bay in Kuangtung (Guangdong, E. Canton) province. The 1898 convention also gave France permission to build a railway from Tonkin, the northern part of Indochina centering on Hanoi (the Chinese name of which had once been “Œ‹ž, Dong Kinh, Tongkin, Tongking), to Yunnan.


1 July 1898 -- Britain leases Weihaiwei / Liukungtau

In 1898, Great Britain, which had tacitly supported the Triple Intervention, signed a lease with China at Peking, giving it the right control the Weihai Garrison (ˆŠŠC‰q Weihaiwei), which Britain also called Prince Edward Island (Liu Kung Tau, PY Liugongdao), now the city of Weihai. According to the convention, China leased the port "to provide Great Britain with a suitable naval harbour in North China and for the better protection of British commerce in the neighbouring seas" (1 July 1898).

Britain leased the garrison under the same terms as Russia had leased Port Arthur -- after threatening China that it would seize Port Arthur from Russia if China didn't agree to its demands. The same year, China renewed its lease on Hong Kong for ninety-nine years, and persuaded China to include the New Territories in the lease.

Britain was very much concerned with achieving a balance of power in this part of China with Russia and Japan, as well as with Germany. Weihai is north of Qingdao on the tip of a small peninsula that juts out from Shantung -- toward the tip of the Liaotung peninsula and Port Arthur -- across the Pohai (ŸŻŠC Bohai) straits at the mouth of the Gulf of Pohai -- the gateway, by sea, to Peking.

Pohai and Peking

Pohai is the one of the most important bays on China's coast because of its proximity to Peking. Several rivers, including the Yellow River (‰©‰Ķ Huanghe), empty into the bay. The bay, a gulf entered from the Yellow Sea through the strait between Shantung and Liaotung, embraces Tientsin (“V’Ć Tianjin), from which it is just a short march to Peking (–k‹ž Beijing). Now the gulf -- and the Yellow Sea -- was controlled by European powers that wanted keep Japan at bay.

The gulf and strait are marked on some contemporay maps, including a few published by the Japanese government as late as the 1930s, as Pechihli. The name of the province now called Hebei (‰Ķ–k WG Hopei), which included Peking and Tientsin, was called Chihli (’¼čÆ Zhili), renamed from Pechihli (–k’¼čÆ Beizhili), among other romanizations.


Boxer Rebellion

The rush of leases and concessions that took place in 1898 provoked the rise of an anti-foreign, anti-Christian, and anti-dynastic movement known as the "Boxers". The movement began on the Shantung peninsula, and -- to keep a complex story short -- was eventually sanctioned by the Ching (Qing) court and continued by the court's own armies.

The rebellion against the presence of foreigners and their governments in China broke out in earnest in November 1899 with Boxer and imperial army attacks on foreign legations in Tientsin and Peking. It was not fully suppressed, by counter attacks mounted by foreign regiments mostly from Pohai, until September 1901.

An eight-nation coalition amassed over 50 warships and 50,000 soldiers against China. Japan, Russia, and Great Britain led the list, with Japan contributing as many ships and men as Russia and Britain combined. France, the United States, Germany, Italy, and Austria also provided ships and men to the mission to quell the rebellion.

The suppression of the rebellion resulted in untold destruction of life and property. Some foreign soldiers plundered and looted private homes. Others ransacked palaces and pillaged art treasures. A few committed more heinous crimes.

The victorious coalition then forced the Ching court to pay reparations and make more concessions. The scope and extent of extraterritoriality increased. Foreign troops would remain in Peking and Twherever needed to protect legations. Extraterritoriality


The rape of Peking

"The Siege and Sack of Peking" is most strickingly described in Chapter 23 of J. Martin Miller, China / The Yellow Peril (copyright 1900). This very contemporary book remarked that Japan attempted to gain control of the Imperial Palace and protect it against destruction before contingents of other nations could attack and destroy it. It also cited a "writer from the scene of the conflict" who observed that "Only the Japanese stand aloof, see it all, but take no part in it, and say it is all wrong" (page 386).

For Miller's account of the Boxer Rebellion, see
China / The Yellow Peril: At War With the World.


Legacy of Boxer Rebellion

The history of 19th century China troubles Chinese nationalists because they are compelled to account for the social and political disorganization and corruption of their own country, as well as critique the hypocritical intrusion of foreign powers into China's affairs. If the Boxer Rebellion was triggered by decades of mounting frustration, the outcome was certain to engender even more anger.

The new rage, though, was chanelled into movements that sought to overthrow the Ching court and replace it with a republican government -- rather than rebell against aliens. The time had come for the Mandate of Heaven to pass from Manchu emperors to a soverighty of the people, led by Han Chinese.

In 1911 -- ten years after the Boxer Rebellion, which had culminated with the signing of the humiliating "Boxer Protocol" or "Final Protocol for the Settlement of the Disturbances of 1900" -- the Ching Dynasty passed the baton to nationalists inspired by Sun Yat-sen. The Republic of China, founded in 1912, floundered but came back in 1928 under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek -- in time to confront a Japanese empire suffering from delusions of grandeur.


Note on "Yellow Peril"

During the final days of the Boxer Rebellion, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany is said to have exhorted German troops in China to "make the name German remembered in China for a thousand years so that no Chinaman will ever again dare to even squint at a German" (7 September 1901). In the speech, he referred to the 5th century Huns which had overrun parts of Europe -- and used the term " ", which was translated "yellow peril".

John Toland, in a footnote in The Rising Sun (1970), made this observation about the origin of "the yellow peril" (page 62, Bantum Books edition, 14th printing, 1988).

The phrase originated with Kaiser Wilhelm in 1895. He had a revelation of Oriental hordes overwhelming Europe and made a sketch of his vision: a Buddha riding upon a dragon above ruined cities. The caption read: "Die gelbe Gefahr!" -- "The Yellow Peril." Several copies were made and presented to royal relatives all over Europe as well as every embassy in Berlin.

This is supposed to have happened in September 1895 -- a few months after the end of the Sino-Japanese War and the Triple Intervention by Russia, France, and Germany.

Kenneth Mackay (1859-1935) used the expression "yellow wave" in his fictional story The Yellow Wave, published in 1895. Britain's forces in Australia are sent to India to deal with a Russian invasion, leaving Australia open to an attack by Chinese troops under Russian command.

For a review of Mackay's novel, see The Yellow Wave.

M. P. Shiel's The Yellow Danger, a novel first published in 1899 after serialization in 1898, bears this subtitle.

Or, what might happen if the division of the Chinese Empire should estrange all European countries" anticipates the Boxer Rebellion

The novel is a sweeping saga of conflict in China and the Asiatic Pacific, fictionally stemming from the the real-life murders of the two German missionaries in Kiau-Tschou 1897 to spread his anti-Chinese feelings.citation needed In later editions the serial was named The Yellow Peril.

The novel opens with a very dramatic appraisal of British concern about the implications of the Triple Intervention on Britain's position in China. It virtually sets Britian against a coaltion of "Continental Powers" that are bent on combining their forces against England -- the lone, isolated outsider. It could just as well have been a description of how patriotic Japanese felt about the moves that all the European powers -- including Britain -- were making on the Asian continent from which they felt Japan should not remain isolated.

For a review of this and related novels by Shiel, see
M. P. Shiel's "yellow" trilogy:
Shantung crisis, Russo-Japanese War, and China's revolution


Russo-Japanese War



Japan takes Liaotung peninsula and more

The rivalry between Russia and Japan in Manchuria -- and continuing conflict between Japan and China in Korea -- set the stage for the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, which Japan won. Under the terms of the Treaty of Portsmouth, Japan took over the lease of the Liaodong peninsula, and the Railway Zone from Port Arthur to Changchun.

In 1906, Japan set up its Government-General of Kwantung Leased Territory in Dairen, which it developed into its principle port on the peninsula. The authority of the Government-General extended to the Railway Zone.

Also in 1906, Japan chartered the South Manchuria Railway Company with headquarters in Dairen (Dalian). Its first president was Gotō Shinpei (Œć“”V•½ 1857-1929), who had been the first head of civilian affairs in Taiwan.

The Kwantung Garrison, which defended the territory, became the Kwantung Army in 1919.


World War



Japan gains German territories

Japan seized and occupied Tsingtao and Germany's Pacific islands in 1914 at the start of the World War (1914-1917).

Japan took advantage of the timing to make Twenty-One Demands on China -- by then the Republic of China -- beginning with articles concerning Germany's concessions on Shantung peninsula. These demands were addressed in the Treaty of Peking of 25 May 1915.

China, which had declared war on Germany in 1917, refused to sign the the Versailles Treaty of 1919, because it transferred Germany's Shantung concessions to Japan. This precipitated the May Fourth Movement that year.


Fates of leaseholds and mandates


Fate Shangtung leaseholds

As a result of the Washington Naval Conference of 1921-1922 -- which mainly concerned the ratios of capital-warships in the navies of some of the participating parties -- Japan allowed its Shantung concessions to revert to the Republic of China in 1922. Britain returned Weihai to China in 1930.

Japan reoccupied the Shantung peninsula in 1938. From 1945 until 1949, when ROC fell to the communists, Tsingtao was homeport for the US Navy's Western Pacific Fleet, which helped demobilize and repatriate Japanese troops in China.

Fate Kuangchou leaseholds

France was supposed to give up its leasehold on Kuangchou Bay but stayed. In September 1940, after the fall of France to Germany in June 1940, Japan forced the Vichy French government in to give it access to Tonkin and some other parts of French Indochina, to facilitate both its prosecution of the war with China, and its plans for the rest of Southeast Asia and the Pacific. The Kuangchou leasehold, though, remained under the jurisdiction of the Free French government, until 1943.

In February 1943, Japan occupied the leasehold and got the Vichy French government to release it to Wang Jingwei's Chinese National Government in Nanking (Nanjing), which Japan had set up to replace Chiang Kai-shek's Republic of China government in Chungking (Chongqing). In 1946 -- after the war, with the prewar French and Chinese governments back in control -- France returned the leasehold to ROC, in return for ROC's withdrawl of the Chinese troops that had occupied Tonkin in order to accept Japan's surrender and demobilize Japanese forces in northern Indochina.

Fate of Pacific mandate islands

The League of Nations mandated Germany's Pacific islands to Japan in 1920. Japan continued to administser the islands after it left the League of Nations in 1933 over its actions in Manchoukuo.

The United States took most of the islands during the Pacific War and occupied the others after the war. From 1947, the US administered Micronesia as the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands for the United Nations. All trusteeships were terminated by 1994.

Fate of Kwantung Leased Territory

The Treaty of Peking of 25 May 1915 extended the original Russian lease of Kwantung peninsula from 25 to 99 years from the original date in 1898 -- hence 1997. Leases on railways and the Railway Zone were also extended to 2002 and 2007.

After setting it up as a state in 1932, Japan regarded Mancuoukuo as the leasor, but continued to administer Kwantung Leased Territory and the Railway Zone as part of Japan. Statistics for all of Manchuria, however, sometimes included the leased territory and zone.

At the time Manchoukuo was established, Kwantung was administered by a four heads -- the Kwantung Government in the leasted territory, the South Manchuria Railway Company in the Railway Zone, the Consulates in various consular districts, and the Kwantung Army (6th Manchuria report, page 4).

In 1932, shortly after Manchoukuo was established, a single military officer served as Commander of the Kwantung Army, the Governor of the Kwantung Leased Territory, and the Ambassador to Manchoukuo. Then in 1934, the Commander of the Kwantung Army simultaneously held the post of Ambassador to Manchoukuo, and the governor's office was replaced by the Kwantung Bureau under. Both the director of the bureau, and the councillor of the embassy, were under the Ambassador -- as was the South Manchuria Railway Company.

Despite the facade that the "Commander" was not to be regarded as a military person when speaking as the "Ambassador" or overseeing the civil and economic affairs of the territory, it was under military control.

In the final days of World War II, the Soviet Union occupied Manchuria -- as part of its military zone. The Republic of China permitted the USSR to use Dalian as a military base. The Soviets withdrew from the city in 1955, leaving it, finally, to China -- by then the People's Republic.


Russian Revolution



Japan gains German territories



Second Sino-Japanese War