Spheres of Influence in China

Spheres of Influence in China
Spheres of Influence in China

China’s military and economic weakness and heightened Western imperialism worldwide during the 1890s resulted in the division of China into Western spheres of influence that threatened its eventual partition. The downward spiral began with the Sino-Japanese War, caused by Japan’s quest to control Korea, a Chinese vassal state.

China’s resounding defeat was reflected in the Treaty of Shimonoseki (1895), whereby it gave up protectorship over Korea, ceded Taiwan and the Liaodong (Liaotung) Peninsula to Japan, and paid a huge indemnity.

Fearing that Japanese control of the Liaodong Peninsula would give it undue influence over the Chinese capital at nearby Beijing (Peking), Germany, France, and Russia sent identical notes to Japan in April 1898 that forced Japan to return Liaodong to China in exchange for a larger indemnity. This action was called the Far Eastern Triplice, and, for helping China, the three powers obtained several economic concessions.

Germany began the move to divide China into spheres of influence in 1898 with a number of demands: that the Chinese government lease Jiaozhou (Kiaochow) on the Shandong (Shantung) coast to Germany as a naval base for 99 years; grant Germany the right to build railways, including one to link Jiaozhou with Jinan (Chinan), capital of Shandong province; grant German banks and companies exclusive rights to loan money for development projects in Shandong; and other concessions.

China bowed to Germany’s demands and other imperialist nations followed Germany’s lead. Russia added to its existing privileges in northeastern China. They included building the Chinese Eastern and South Manchurian Railways, branch lines of the Trans-Siberian Railway across Manchuria to Port Arthur and Dairen (which it leased from China for 25 years) on the Gulf of Peichili, and extensive economic rights in Manchuria.

Great Britain followed by leasing Weihaiwei (near Jiaochou) as a naval base for 25 years and the Kowloon New Territory for 99 years. It also secured China’s promise to protect the Yangzi (Yangtze) River Valley, which became a British sphere of influence.

France leased Guangzhouwan (Kwangchow-wan) for 99 years and acquired a sphere of influence in Guangdong (Kwangtung), Guangxi (Kwangsi), and Yunnan, three provinces that adjoined French Indochina.

Japan exacted a promise that China would not adjoin Fujian (Fukien) province to any other power. Only Italy was rebuffed when it asked China for a sphere of influence in Zhejiang (Chekiang) Province.

In the phrase current in 1898, China was being cut up like a melon. It seemed on the verge of partition among the imperialist powers. Domestically, the perilous state precipitated a reform movement. Among the great powers, only the United States did not acquire a sphere of influence and attempted to reverse the course of events by the declaration of an Open Door policy.