Scramble for Chinese Concessions Begins Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In the aftermath of Germany’s seizure of the Chinese port of Kiaochow, Great Britain, France, and Russia claimed additional concessions from China’s Qing Dynasty. The weakened Chinese Empire seemed to be on the brink of partition, but the open door policy of the United States helped maintain the nation’s territorial integrity—although it could not save the Qing government from overthrow in 1911.

Summary of Event

In 1897, two German Roman Catholic missionaries Missionaries;in China[China] were murdered in Kiaochow (now Jiaoxian), a port in the Jiao Xian region of China’s Shandong Province. Eagerly seizing the opportunity provided by the incident, German emperor William II ordered the occupation of the port and then forced China’s Qing government to grant Germany a ninety-nine-year lease on it, followed by other commercial and religious privileges in the province. Other European powers immediately made their own demands for concessions from China, and soon much of coastal China was divided up into colonial spheres of influence belonging to Germany, Russia, Great Britain, and France. By the end of the 1890’s, both Chinese and foreigners were predicting that Imperial China would be partitioned by several European powers and Japan. China;scramble for concessions China;Qing Dynasty Qing Dynasty;concessions of Germany;and China[China] China;and Germany[Germany] Cixi [p]Cixi;and concessions[Concessions] Guangxu [kw]Scramble for Chinese Concessions Begins (Nov. 14, 1897) [kw]Chinese Concessions Begins, Scramble for (Nov. 14, 1897) [kw]Concessions Begins, Scramble for Chinese (Nov. 14, 1897) [kw]Begins, Scramble for Chinese Concessions (Nov. 14, 1897) China;scramble for concessions China;Qing Dynasty Qing Dynasty;concessions of Germany;and China[China] China;and Germany[Germany] Cixi [p]Cixi;and concessions[Concessions] Guangxu [g]China;Nov. 14, 1897: Scramble for Chinese Concessions Begins[6280] [g]Russia;Nov. 14, 1897: Scramble for Chinese Concessions Begins[6280] [g]Great Britain;Nov. 14, 1897: Scramble for Chinese Concessions Begins[6280] [g]France;Nov. 14, 1897: Scramble for Chinese Concessions Begins[6280] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Nov. 14, 1897: Scramble for Chinese Concessions Begins[6280] [c]Expansion and land acquisition;Nov. 14, 1897: Scramble for Chinese Concessions Begins[6280] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Nov. 14, 1897: Scramble for Chinese Concessions Begins[6280] William II (emperor of Germany) [p]William II (emperor of Germany)[William 02 (emperor of Germany)];and China[China]

Under the Qing Dynasty, Imperial China had reached the apex of its international influence in the late eighteenth century. What followed was an era of decline, beginning with a conflict with Great Britain known as the First Opium War (1839-1842) Opium War, First (1839-1842) and ending in the Revolution of 1911, China;Revolution of 1911 which brought about the collapse of Imperial China. In the aftermath of the First Opium War, many of the Chinese concessions made to the British, such as extraterritoriality, were claimed by other foreign nations, including France, the United States, and later Germany, Russia, and a rapidly modernizing Japan. Foreign interest and involvement in China were the result of several factors, including trade and commerce, the desire for national prestige, international rivalries, social Darwinian competition, and the desire of missionaries Missionaries;in China[China] —both Protestant and Catholic—to Christianize the Chinese. During the 1860’s, a self-strengthening movement began developing in the upper reaches of the Chinese government and in intellectual circles. The movement represented an attempt to adopt Western technology but retain traditional Chinese Confucian values, but it failed fundamentally to transform China, as the results of the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895)[Sino Japanese War (1894-1895)] Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895 revealed.





In the Treaty of Shimonoseki (1895) Shimonoseki, Treaty of (1895) ending that war, which was easily won by Japan, China was forced to cede Taiwan to Japan. China was also required to abandon its paramount influence in Korea, as well as granting Japan rights in Manchuria’s Manchuria Liaodong Peninsula. Several Chinese officials predicted the partition of China, with Russia and Japan seizing the north, Germany gaining the Shandong Peninsula, Britain dominating the Yangtze region, and France—which had recently staked out an empire in Indochina Indochina —occupying China’s southern provinces.

Russians forcing Chinese laborers to work in Manchuria.

(Francis R. Niglutsch)

However, the foreigners were not united in their imperial ambitions in China. China in the 1895 treaty had given up the Liaodong Peninsula with its port of Dalian and its fortifications at Lüshun (Port Arthur) to Japan, but France, Germany, and Russia, in the so-called Triple Intervention, forced Japan to relinquish that territory. The Triple Intervention resulted in Imperial Japan harboring considerable animosity toward those Western powers, particularly toward Germany, because the German minister to China appeared to threaten Japan. The primary instigator of the intervention, however, was Imperial Russia, whose trans-Siberian railroad Siberia;railroads required a direct route across Chinese Manchuria Manchuria to Vladivostok. Russia hoped to gain concessions in Manchuria from the Qing government as a reward for keeping the Liaodong Peninsula out of Japanese hands, and in September, 1896, a secret agreement was signed between China and Russia, allowing Russia to construct a railroad across Manchuria.

Germany, which was unified only in 1871, was a late arrival in the quest for overseas empire. China was a tempting economic market, but in order to protect Germany’s prospective Chinese trade, it was believed necessary to establish a German colony in China that could act as a home base for Germany’s East Asian fleet. William William II (emperor of Germany) [p]William II (emperor of Germany)[William 02 (emperor of Germany)];and China[China] II was the major influence on Germany’s China policy, but his actions and motives were inconsistent. He believed initially that he was defending Japan against British machinations and hoped that in gratitude Japan would turn over Taiwan to Germany. He then turned against Japan over the issue of the Liaodong Peninsula’s dispensation after the Sino-Japanese War. If there was any consistency in William’s policy, it was a distrust of Britain’s imperial ambitions.

Germany seized its opportunity in 1897. The Russian government had raised no objections to Germany’s desire to obtain at least a coaling station in China, and some German missionaries Missionaries;in China[China] had traveled to the country. Two such Roman Catholic missionaries from the Society of the Divine Word were murdered in Shandong Province on November 1, 1897, by a group of Chinese. William William II (emperor of Germany) [p]William II (emperor of Germany)[William 02 (emperor of Germany)];and China[China] reacted immediately. On November 14, German troops were landed and successfully occupied Kiaochow. The Qing government urged the Germans to withdraw, but on March 6, 1898, the Chinese were forced to grant Germany a ninety-nine-year lease on Kiaochow, which was to be used as a German naval base. A grant followed of railroad and mining privileges in the province. In addition, the Chinese government was required to give further privileges to Christian missionaries, as well as to construct Christian churches.

Other powers immediately made their own demands on China. Russia obtained a twenty-five-year lease on the Liaodong Peninsula and the construction of a branch railroad line from Harbin to Lüshun, which Japan had been forced to relinquish two years earlier. To counterbalance the Russian gains, France gained Kwangchowan Bay (now Zhanjiang Gang), in Guangdong Province, in May, 1898, and Britain demanded the port of Weihai in northeastern Shandong, which became a base for the British Far East Fleet. Britain also obtained Kowloon on a ninety-nine-year lease, adding to the Hong Kong Hong Kong;British occupation of territory it had gained in the Treaty of Nanjing Nanjing, Treaty of (1842) at the end of the First Opium Opium War, First (1839-1842) War. Although most of the concessions were formal lease arrangements, usually for ninety-nine years, it was doubtful that any of the foreign powers expected that their nominally leased territories would ever revert to Chinese control.

These developments were met with dismay by Dowager Empress Cixi, who had dominated the Chinese government since 1861. The reigning emperor, Guangxu, was Cixi’s nephew, but Cixi allowed him only a modicum of independent authority. Aware of China’s weaknesses, as exemplified in the Sino-Japanese Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895)[Sino Japanese War (1894-1895)] War and the subsequent foreign concessions, Guangxu launched a series of reforms in 1898, including modernizing China’s administrative, educational, military, economic, and police systems. Cixi, backed by conservatives at court who feared the emperor’s modernization and Westernization policies, aborted the so-called Hundred Days of Reform, imprisoning Guangxu and either executing other reformers or driving them into exile.

If the Hundred Days of Reform was one reaction to China’s weaknesses, the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 Boxer Rebellion (1900) China;Boxer Rebellion was another. The murder of the Christian missionaries Missionaries;in China[China] in Kiaochow in 1897 was only one of many antimissionary incidents, which culminated in the appearance of the Yihechuan (Wade-Giles, I-ho ch’üan; the Association of Righteousness and Harmony, most commonly known as the Righteous and Harmonious Fists). This secret society, nicknamed the Boxers by Westerners, practiced a combination of martial arts and spirit possession, in which the initiates believed they were rendered invulnerable to bullets and other weapons. It campaigned under the slogan of “fu-Qing, mie-yang” (support the Qing, exterminate the foreigners). After some vacillation, Cixi gave her support to the Boxers, who in the summer of 1900 seized control of much of Beijing, with the exception of the foreign legation quarter. That quarter was eventually liberated by international army. In the aftermath, China was saddled with an indemnity of $333 million.


The scramble for concessions begun by Germany’s seizure of Kiaochow in 1897 seemed to many to portend the permanent dismemberment of Imperial China. However, U.S. secretary of state John Hay helped prevent such a dismemberment when he issued two “Open Door Notes.” Open door policy In 1899, he requested that the foreign powers allow equality of commerce in their respective spheres of influence, and in 1900, he stated that the American policy was to preserve China’s territorial and administrative integrity, policies also backed by the British. Because of the second note, the consequences of the Boxer Rebellion were relatively limited, whereas it might have been predicted that the West and Japan would have used the rebellion as a justification for making even greater inroads against China’s sovereignty.

Cixi and her advisers initiated a program of reform, including abolishing the traditional Confucian educational system and promising constitutional government, but it was too little, too late. Both Cixi and Guangxu died in 1908, and three years later, in the Revolution of 1911 China;Revolution of 1911 , the Qing Dynasty was overthrown, and Imperial China became a republic.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Edwards, E. W. British Diplomacy and Finance in China, 1895-1914. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1987. An incisive analysis of Britain’s relations with China from the Treaty of Shimonoseki to World War I.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fairbank, John King, and Merle Goldman. China: A New History. Enlarged ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998. One of the best histories of China, including a description of the late nineteenth century concessions.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lee, Robert. France and the Exploitation of China, 1895-1901. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1989. A comprehensive discussion of French involvement in China in the years after the Sino-Japanese War.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Paludan, Ann. Chronicles of the Chinese Emperors. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1998. A history of China’s emperors, including Cixi and Guangxu, and the era of concessions.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schrecker, John E. Imperialism and Chinese Nationalism: Germany in Shantung. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971. An excellent analysis of Germany’s role in China’s Shantung Province.

First Opium War

China’s Taiping Rebellion

Qing Dynasty Confronts the Nian Rebellion

Muslim Rebellions in China

Second Opium War

China’s Self-Strengthening Movement Arises

Sino-Japanese War

Hay Articulates “Open Door” Policy Toward China

Boxer Rebellion

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Categories: History