11. The Far East

China and the islands of Japan were fabulous lands with virtually no European contacts through many hundreds of years of their early history. Their production of luxury products attracted European traders. By the early nineteenth century the East India Company and other British companies were China’s main customer for tea, fine china etc. China would officially only accept payment in silver. Being short of that commodity the East India Company, supported by the British government sold opium grown in India in return for payment in silver by Chinese internal dealers. Eventually, the Qing dynasty, being in terminal decline, was forced to allow British and other western powers to assume quasi-colonial status in parts of China.

Japan took a different route, maintaining isolation for many years, but quickly adapting, with British help, to western industrial and military methods at the end of the nineteenth century.

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1635 The East India Company sends ships to Macao but finds Portuguese competition and Chinese trade rules difficult.

1669 The East India Company imports 143 lbs of China tea through its factory at Bantam in Java. The beginnings of a highly important and very remunerative trade.

1713 The East India Company has secured trading rights in Canton (Guangzhao), where it purchases tea, silks and porcelain paid for in silver. Bengali cotton textiles were also accepted.

1762 The Company gains permission from the Qing dynasty to open a permanent factory at Canton. The company finds difficulty earning enough silver to pay for its purchases and resorts to sales of opium in order to balance the terms of trade.

1800 China bans imports of opium, which originally served a medical purpose but is increasingly used as a recreational drug. Private British merchants (or smugglers) supply the drug to corrupt imperial officials and Chinese traders, paid for in silver which the East India Company buys with bills of exchange paid in Calcutta or London.

1832 The partnership of Jardine Matheson is founded in Canton and begins trading opium into China.

1834 the East India Company loses its monopoly on trade with China. Jardine Matheson expands rapidly.

1839 The First Opium War. Chinese officials destroy British opium stocks in Canton. The Royal Navy destroys China’s naval defences and British forces occupy Canton and capture the regional capital of Nanking (Nanjing).

1842 The treaty of Nanking ends the First Opium War with China. Five treaty ports (including Shanghai) are opened for free trade in all goods, including opium, and Hong Kong becomes a British colony with trading rights on the mainland.

1856 The Arrow incident leads to the outbreak of the Second Opium War. Canton is bombarded when a British ship is impounded.

1857 An Anglo-French expedition takes Canton.

1858 Treaty of Tientsin (Tianjin). Foreign envoys are accepted in Peking (Beijing), new ports are opened to foreign trade and residents, foreigners including Christian missionaries are allowed to travel in China’s interior. A little later the opium trade is legalised.

1859 An Anglo-French party en route to complete the Treaty of Tientsin at Peking is refused the right to take its chosen route via the Dagu Forts, but continues and is attacked with loss of life.

1860 Anglo-French force attacks Peking and burns the Emperor’s Summer Palace. China cedes mainland Kowloon, opposite Hong Kong, to Britain in the Peking Convention.

1894-5 Sino-Japanese War. Japan takes Korea.

1898 The Second Convention of Peking grants Britain an additional 99 years of rule over Hong Kong and the New Territories.

1899 Start of the Boxer Uprising in northern China in opposition to foreign influence and privilege.

1900 Westerners are besieged in the Foreign Legation quarter of Peking. An eight nation military expedition invades and relieves the siege. A huge indemnity is imposed on China to pay for the expedition.

Russia takes all Manchuria (held in part since 1860), which is partly the cause of the Russo-Japan war 1904-6).

1911 The Chinese Revolution. The Qing dynasty is overthrown and a republic is declared.

1931 Japan invades Manchuria and creates a puppet state.

1934 Mao Tse Tung, now in conflict with Chang Kai Shek’s Nationalists, leads his followers on the Long March.

1941-45 Japan occupies Hong Kong until 1945.

1947 Refugees from the Chinese Civil War increase Hong Kong’s population.

1949 The Yangtze Incident. The Royal Navy sloop Amethyst attempts to relieve the British legation at Nanking (Nanjing) but is attacked by guns of the communist Chinese Liberation Army and runs aground. Re-floated, she runs down the Yangtze under CLA gunfire to safety in Shanghai.

1984 The Joint Declaration with China agrees Hong Kong and associated territories will be returned to China in 1997.

1997 Hong Kong becomes ‘one country two systems’, a special administrative part of China. The end of the British Empire.


1611 The eighth voyage by East India Company ships led by Captain John Saris arrives in Japan.

1613 The East India Company, aided by Will Adams, an honourable samurai who had been in residence 13 years and is a close companion of the Shogun, establishes a factory at Hirado. It is unprofitable and closes 1623.

1635 Japan is closed to foreign contacts for 200 years.

1858 Lord Elgin agrees a commercial treaty with Japan. One of several unfavourable agreements disliked by young Meiji nationalists.

1859 Thomas Glover, a tea buyer for Jardine Matheson of Hong Kong, moves to Nagasaki.

1865 Glover provides armaments to the Meiji Restoration movement and introduces Japan to the steam age with a locomotive which causes a sensation in Nagasaki.

1869 Glover commissions warships built in Scotland on behalf of the Japanese navy and becomes a key figure in the industrialisation of Japan.

1894-5 Sino-Japanese War. Japan takes Korea.

1902 Anglo-Japanese Alliance Treaty aims to restrict growing Russian power in the region.

1906 Japan defeats Russia in a war which begins over their competing interests in Manchuria.

1911 Thomas Glover, who introduced Japan to modern industrial processes, dies in Tokyo and is buried at Nagasaki.

The Anglo-Japanese Treaty is renewed.

1923 Britain does not renew the Anglo-Japanese alliance due to American and Canadian opposition.

1931 Japan invades Manchuria and, being censured, quits the League of Nations.

1941 Japan attacks and occupies British possessions in the Far East.

1944 The Japanese attempt to invade India is defeated at Imphal and Kohima.

1945 the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the USA end WWII and the Japanese military dictatorship.


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