Unequal treaty is the name given by the Chinese to a series of treaties signed between the Qing dynasty and various Western powers, Russia, and the Empire of Japan during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The agreements, often reached after a military defeat, contained one-sided terms requiring China to cede land, pay reparations, open treaty ports, or grant extraterritorial privileges to foreign citizens.
With the rise of Chinese nationalism and anti-imperialism in the 1920s, both the Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China used this concept to characterize the Chinese experience of losing sovereignty between roughly 1840 to 1950. The term "unequal treaty" became associated with the concept of China's "century of humiliation", especially the concessions to foreign powers and the loss of tariff autonomy through treaty ports.
Japanese and Koreans also often use this term to refer to several treaties that resulted in the loss of their sovereignty to varying degrees.
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 and Russia 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 financial reparations, open up ports for trade, cede or lease territories (such as Outer Manchuria and Outer Northwest China (including Zhetysu) to the Russian Empire, Hong Kong and Weihaiwei to the United Kingdom, Guangzhouwan to France, Kwantung Leased Territory and Taiwan to the Empire of Japan, the Jiaozhou Bay concession to the German Empire and concession territory in Tientsin, Shamian, Hankou, Shanghai etc.), and make various other concessions of sovereignty to foreign "spheres of influence", following military threats. The earliest treaty later referred to as "unequal" was the 1841 Convention of Chuenpi negotiations during the First Opium War. The first treaty between China and the United Kingdom termed "unequal" was 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.
Many of the treaties China considers unequal were repealed 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 did outlast World War II: treaties regarding Hong Kong remained in place until Hong Kong's 1997 handover, and in 1969, to improve Sino-Soviet relations in the wake of military skirmishes along their border, the People's Republic of China reconfirmed the 1858 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 instead with Japan. On 1875, Ganghwa Island incident happened which led Japan to send Captain Inoue Yoshika and the warship Un'y? displaying military might over Korea. 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||?||1842||British Empire||Qing Empire|
|Treaty of the Bogue||?||1843||British Empire|
|Treaty of Wanghia||1844||United States|
|Treaty of Whampoa||?||1844||French colonial empire|
|Treaty of Canton||1847||United Kingdoms of Sweden and Norway|
|Treaty of Kulja||?||1851||Russian Empire|
|Treaty of Aigun||?||1858||Russian Empire|
|Treaty of Tientsin (1858)||?||1858||French colonial empire|
|Convention of Peking||?||1860||British Empire|
|French colonial empire|
|Chefoo Convention||?||1876||British Empire|
|Treaty of Saint Petersburg||?||1881||Russian Empire|
|Treaty of Tientsin (1885)||?||1885||French colonial empire|
|Sino-Portuguese Treaty of Peking||1887||Kingdom of Portugal|
|Treaty of Shimonoseki (Treaty of Maguan)||?||1895||Empire of Japan|
|Li-Lobanov Treaty||?||1896||Russian Empire|
|Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory||1898||British Empire|
|Treaty of Kwangchow Wan||?||1899||French colonial empire|
|Boxer Protocol||?||1901||British Empire|
|Empire of Japan|
|French colonial empire|
|Kingdom of Italy|
|Kingdom of Belgium|
|Kingdom of Spain|
|Kingdom of the Netherlands|
|Simla Accord||1914||British Empire||Republic of China|
|Twenty-One Demands||?||1915||Empire of Japan|
|Tanggu Truce||?||1933||Empire of Japan|
|English name||Japanese name|
|Convention of Kanagawa||1854||United States||Tokugawa shogunate|
|Anglo-Japanese Friendship Treaty||1854||British Empire|
|Ansei Treaties||?||1858||United States|
|Kingdom of the Netherlands|
|French colonial empire|
|Treaty of Amity and Commerce (Harris Treaty)||1858||United States|
|Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Amity and Commerce||1858||British Empire|
|Prussian-Japanese Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation||1861||Kingdom of Prussia|
|Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation between Austria and Japan||?||1868||Austro-Hungarian Empire||Empire of Japan|
|Spanish-Japanese Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation||?||1868||Kingdom of Spain|
|English name||Korean name|
|Japan-Korea Treaty of 1876
(Treaty of Ganghwa)
|()||1876||Empire of Japan||Joseon|
|United States-Korea Treaty of 1882||()||1882||United States|
|Japan-Korea Treaty of 1882
(Treaty of Chemulpo)
|()||1882||Empire of Japan|
|China-Korea Treaty of 1882
(Joseon-Qing Communication and Commerce Rules)
|? (?)||1882||Qing Empire|
|Germany-Korea Treaty of 1883||()||1883||German Empire|
|United Kingdom-Korea Treaty of 1883||()||1883||British Empire|
|Russia-Korea Treaty of 1884||()||1884||Russian Empire|
|Italy-Korea Treaty of 1884||()||1884||Kingdom of Italy|
|Japan-Korea Treaty of 1885
(Treaty of Hanseong)
|? (?)||1885||Empire of Japan|
|France-Korea Treaty of 1886||()||1886||French colonial empire|
|Austria-Korea Treaty of 1892||()||1892||Austro-Hungarian Empire|
|Belgium-Korea Treaty of 1901||()||1901||Kingdom of Belgium||Korean Empire|
|Denmark-Korea Treaty of 1902||()||1902||Kingdom of Denmark|
|Japan-Korea Treaty of 1904||()||1904||Empire of Japan|
|Japan-Korea Protocol of August 1904||?1? ? (?)||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
||?2? ? (?)
|1905||Empire of Japan|
|Japan-Korea Treaty of 1907||?3? ? (?)
|1907||Empire of Japan|
|Japan-Korea Treaty of 1910||()||1910||Empire of Japan|