Weihaiwei under British rule
|Leased territory of Great Britain|
Location of the Weihaiwei leased territory in 1921 (in blue)
|Political structure||Leased territory|
|Historical era||New Imperialism|
|-||Convention for the Lease of Weihaiwei||1 July 1898|
|-||Convention for the Rendition of Weihaiwei||30 September 1930|
Hong Kong dollar
Weihaiwei, in the north-east of China, was a leased territory of the United Kingdom from 1898 until 1930. The capital was Port Edward. The leased territory covered 288 square miles (750 km2) and included the walled city of Port Edward, bay of Wei-hai-wei, Liu-kung Tao Island and a mainland area of 72 miles (116 km) of coastline running to a depth of 10 miles (16 km) inland. Together with Lüshunkou (Port Arthur) it controlled the entrance to the Gulf of Zhili and thus the seaward approaches to Beijing
Background to the British Lease
The port of Weihaiwei was the base for the Beiyang Fleet (Northern Seas Fleet) during the Qing Dynasty. In 1895, the Japanese captured it in the Battle of Weihaiwei, the last major battle of the First Sino-Japanese War. The Japanese withdrew in 1898.
After the Russian Empire leased Port Arthur from China for 25 years in March 1898, the United Kingdom pressured the Chinese government into leasing Weihaiwei, with the terms of the treaty stating that it would remain in force for as long as the Russians were allowed to occupy Port Arthur. The port was primarily used as a summer anchorage for the Royal Navy’s China Station and it was also used as a health resort. It served as a port of call for ships of the Royal Navy in the Far East (well behind Hong Kong in the south). Certain aspects of the administration not directly pertaining to military matters were left under Chinese control, and the port itself remained a free port until 1923.
At the start of the Russo-Japanese War, the commander of China Station was ordered to withdraw his ships from Weihaiwei to avoid the possibility that Britain would be drawn into the war. However, fearing that Weihaiwei would be used as a safe haven by the Imperial Russian Navy, the Japanese government pressured the British to return their fleet. The port was of importance as a telegraph and radio transmission station for war correspondents covering the conflict, and was also a source of contraband shipping by blockade runners bringing supplies into Port Arthur.
In 1905, the Japanese defeated the Russia and took over Port Arthur. The British lease was extended to last for as long as the Japanese occupied Port Arthur.
British Rule in Weihaiwei
At the beginning of the lease, the territory was administered by a Senior Naval Officer of the Royal Navy, Sir Edward Hobart Seymour. In 1899, administration was transferred to a military and civil commissioner, firstly Arthur Robert Ford Dorward (1899–1901), then John Dodson Daintree (1901–1902), appointed by the War Office in London. The territorial garrison consisted of 200 British troops and a specially constituted Weihaiwei Regiment, officially the 1st Chinese Regiment, with British officers. In 1901, it was decided that this base should not be fortified and administration was transferred to the Colonial Office.
A Civil Commissioner was appointed in February 1902 to administer the territory. The post was held by Sir James Haldane Stewart Lockhart until 1921. After Lockhart, Arthur Powlett Blunt (1921–1923) and Walter Russell Brown (1923–1927) were appointed Commissioners in Weihaiwei. The last Commissioner was the outstanding sinologist Reginald Fleming Johnston (previously tutor to the last Chinese emperor) who served from 1927 to 1930.
In 1909, the Hong Kong governor Sir Frederick Lugard, proposed that Britain return Weihaiwei to Chinese rule in return for perpetual rule of the New Territories of Hong Kong which had also been leased in 1898. This proposal was never adopted.
Weihaiwei was not developed in the way that Hong Kong and other British colonies in the region were. This was because Shandong Province, of which Weihaiwei was part, was inside Germany's (and after World War I Japan's) sphere of influence. It was normal practice for British colonies to be administered under the provisions of the British Settlements Act 1887. However, Weihaiwei was actually administered under the Foreign Jurisdiction Act 1890 which was the law which granted extraterritorial powers over British subjects in China and other countries where Britain had extraterritorial rights. The reason for this was that as a leased territory, subject to rendition at any time, it was not considered appropriate to treat Weihaiwei as a full colony.
No special postage stamps were ever issued for Weihaiwei. Just as in the treaty ports, Hong Kong stamps were used. From 1917, these were overprinted with the word “CHINA”. Revenue stamps of Weihaiwei were issued from 1921. There were never any special coins or banknotes issued for circulation in Weihaiwei. The various currencies in circulation in China at the time were used; the Hong Kong dollar was also used.
The nickname British sailors gave to this port was "Way High"; it was also referred to as Port Edward in English.
During British rule, residences, hospital, churches, tea houses, sports ground, post office, and naval cemetery were constructed.
Army and Police
The regiment was formed in 1898 with Lt. Colonel Hamilton Bower as its first commanding officer and served in the Boxer Rebellion. The regiment was ordered to be totally disbanded in 1906 by Army Order No.127 of 1906
Some of the soldiers were retained as a permanent police force with three British Colour Sergeants commissioned as police inspectors. In 1910 the police force comprised three European Inspectors and 55 Chinese Constables. Previously the force had comprised one Chinese sergeant and seven constables under a District Officer.
When sailors went on a massive strike in Hong Kong in 1922, the colonial government sent two European police officers to Wei Hai Wei in September that year to recruit the first batch of about 50 Wei Hai Wei men as Royal Hong Kong Police constables. After completing six months' training in Wei Hai Wei, the recruits were posted to Hong Kong to maintain law and order in March 1923. The Wei Hai Wei policemen were known as the D Contingent in the HKP and their service numbers were pre-fixed with letter "D" to differentiate them from the European "A", Indian "B" and Cantonese "C".
At the end of 1927 the Chinese police were replaced by Indians.
In 1903, the British established a High Court of Weihaiwei. The judges of the court were chosen from individuals serving as a judge or Crown Advocate of the British Supreme Court for China in Shanghai. The three judges of the court from 1903 to 1930 were:
- Frederick Samuel Augustus Bourne (1903–1916), Assistant Judge of HBM Supreme Court for China
- Hiram Parkes Wilkinson (1916–1925), Crown Advocate of HBM Supreme Court for China
- Peter Grain (1925–1930), Assistant Judge, and from 1927, Judge of HBM Supreme Court for China
The Commissioner could also exercise judicial powers if the judges of the court were not available.
Rendition of Weihaiwei
Weihaiwei was returned to Chinese rule on 1 October 1930, however the Chinese government leased the island of Liu Kung Tao (Liugong Island) to the Royal Navy for ten years coming to an end on 11 November 1940 following a Japanese landing on 1 October 1940.
- pp.462-463 Hutchings, Graham Modern China: A Guide to a Century of Change Harvard University Press, 1 Sep 2003
- Kowner, Rotem (2006). Historical Dictionary of the Russo-Japanese War. ISBN 0-8108-4927-5: The Scarecrow Press., p. 417-418.
- The London Gazette: . 4 February 1902.
- Vines, Stephen (30 June 1997). "How Britain lost chance to keep its last major colony". The Independent.
- p. 56 Airlie, Shiona Scottish Mandarin: The Life and Times of Sir Reginald Johnston Hong Kong University Press, 1 Oct 2012
- p.83 Johnson
- See Tan, Carol G.S. (2008) British Rule in China: Law and Justice in Weihaiwei 1898–1930. London: Wildy, Simmonds & Hill for a comprehensive history of British justice in the Weihaiwei leased territory.
- pp. 32-33 Schwankert, Steven R. Poseidon: China’s Secret Salvage of Britain’s Lost Submarine Hong Kong University Press, 1 Oct 2013