Convention of Chuenpi
|Convention of Chuenpi|
Page one of the convention
|Signatories||Qishan ( China)
Charles Elliot ( UK)
|Convention of Chuenpi|
|This article is part of a series on the|
|History of Hong Kong|
The Convention of Chuenpi (also spelt Chuanbi) was an agreement between British Plenipotentiary Charles Elliot and Chinese Imperial Commissioner Qishan during the First Opium War between the United Kingdom and the Qing dynasty of China. It was drafted in 1841, but not formally ratified due to disapproval by the British and Chinese governments. Finding the terms unacceptable, both governments dismissed Elliot and Qishan, respectively, from their positions. British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston stated that Elliot acquired too little while the Daoguang Emperor believed Qishan conceded too much. Palmerston appointed Henry Pottinger to replace Elliot, and the emperor appointed Yishan to replace Qishan, with the assistance of Lungwan and Yang Fang.
On 20 February 1840, Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston instructed the joint plenipotentiaries Captain Charles Elliot and his cousin Admiral George Elliot to acquire the cession of at least one island for trade on the Chinese coast, amongst other terms. In November 1840, during the First Opium War, George returned to Britain due to ill health, leaving Charles as sole plenipotentiary. Elliot and Imperial Commissioner Qishan underwent negotiations but to no agreement. To force Chinese concessions, the British captured the forts at the entrance of the Bocca Tigris (Bogue) in the Second Battle of Chuenpi on 7 January 1841, after which Qishan agreed to consider Elliot's demands. Negotiations ensued at the Bogue near Chuenpi. Qishan wrote to Elliot on 15 January, offering either Hong Kong Island or Kowloon but not both. Elliot replied the next day, accepting Hong Kong. On 15 January, trader James Matheson wrote to his business partner William Jardine that Elliot arrived in Macao the night before: "I learn from him very confidentially that Ki Shen [Qishan] has agreed to the British having a possession of their own outside, but objects to ceding Chuenpee; in lieu of which Captain Elliot has proposed Hong Kong".
On 20 January, Elliot issued a circular announcing "the conclusion of preliminary arrangements" between Qishan and himself involving the following conditions:
- The cession of the island and harbour of Hong Kong to the British crown. All just charges and duties to the empire [of China] upon the commerce carried on there to be paid as if the trade were conducted at Whampoa.
- An indemnity to the British government of six millions of dollars, one million payable at once, and the remainder in equal annual instalments ending in 1846.
- Direct official intercourse between the countries upon equal footing.
- The trade of the port of Canton to be opened within ten days after the Chinese new-year, and to be carried on at Whampoa till further arrangements are practicable at the new settlement.
Other terms that were agreed upon were the restoration of the islands of Chuenpi and Taikoktow to the Chinese, and the evacuation of Chusan (Zhoushan), which the British had captured and occupied since July 1840. Chusan was returned in exchange for the release of British prisoners in Ningpo who became shipwrecked on 15 September 1840 after the brig Kite struck quicksand en route to Chusan. The convention allowed the Qing government to continue collecting tax at Hong Kong, which was the main sticking point that led to the disagreement according to Lord Palmerston.
The forts were restored to the Chinese on 21 January in a ceremony on Chuenpi, which had been held by Captain James Scott as pro tempore governor of the fort. Commodore James Bremer, commander-in-chief of British forces in China, sent an officer to Anunghoy (north of Chuenpi) with a letter for Chinese Admiral Guan Tianpei, informing him of their intention to return the forts. About an hour later, Guan sent a mandarin to receive them. The British colours were hauled down and the Chinese colours were hoisted in their place, under a salute fired from HMS Wellesley, and returned by the Chinese with a salute fired from the Anunghoy batteries. The ceremony was repeated at Taikoktow. Military secretary Keith Mackenzie observed: "I never saw a [Chinese] man in such an ecstasy of chin chin [a gesture of greeting or farewell], as he was, when our colours were lowered—he absolutely jumped for joy." Two days later, Elliot dispatched the brig Columbine to Chusan, with instructions to evacuate it for Hong Kong. Duplicates of these dispatches were also forwarded overland by the imperial express. At the same time, Qishan directed Yilibu, the viceroy of Liangjiang, to release the British prisoners at Ningpo. News of the terms was sent to England aboard the East India Company steamer Enterprise, which left China on 23 January. On the same day, the Canton Free Press published the opinion of British residents in China regarding the cession of Hong Kong:
We consider that, for an independent British settlement, no situation can possibly be more favourably chosen than that of Hong-Kong. The island itself is of little extent ... but it forms, with the neighbouring lands, one of the finest ports existing ... Hong Kong would, we doubt not, in a very short time, become a place of very considerable trade, were its possession by the British not clogged with the condition that the same duties at Whampoa are to be paid there; which, in our estimation, destroys at once all the benefits that might be expected to trade there.
On 26 January, Bremer took formal possession of Hong Kong with the naval officers of the squadron at Possession Point, where the Union Jack was raised, under a feu de joie from the Royal Marines and a royal salute from the warships.
On the same day as the Hong Kong ceremony, Elliot left Macao on board the steamer Nemesis to meet Qishan at Lotus Flower Hill near the Second Bar pagoda, about 26 miles (42 km) downstream from Canton, to settle the convention. 100 marines from the Wellesley, Druid, and Calliope were embarked on board the steamer Madagascar to be Elliot's guard of honour. He was accompanied by several officers, including Lieutenant Anthony Stransham, Captain Thomas Herbert, and Captain Thomas Maitland, and the military band of the Wellesley. As the steamers passed through the Bogue, they were saluted with three guns by the forts on both sides. The steamer returned the salute while the band played "God Save the Queen". The ships arrived too late in the evening to land, but Qishan sent a few staff who said he would be ready to receive them in the morning.
At 9 am, after boarding the steamers' boats and Chinese boats provided by Qishan, they sailed to the landing place about 0.25 miles (400 m) up a creek. The marine guard was drawn up for Elliot, accompanied by Captain Herbert and Captain Richard Dundas, and preceded by the band before Qishan received the party at his main tent. This was the first time in Sino-British relations that a Chinese high official received a British representative, with a carefully selected suite, not as a "barbarian vassal" but as a plenipotentiary of standing. A series of dishes were served at the luncheon for over 20 people, including the shark's fin and bird's nest soups. Elliot and interpreter John Morrison later had a private meeting with Qishan, who did not sign the convention but agreed to put matters on hold until Chusan was evacuated. In the evening, the Nemesis launched a display of rockets and fireworks "for the amusement" of Qishan on shore.
- The forts – Located on small islands and having channels in the rear, foreign ships could easily blockade them and starve out the defenders. Canton can also be reached from other channels, not just the same route followed during peace time.
- The guns – Inadequate in number, with many obsolete and not in working order. They are placed at the front of the forts, leaving the sides undefended.
- The troops – The soldiers being used as marines are unused to ships and those normally employed for patrol duty are sometimes of poor quality.
- The Cantonese people – Even putting aside those considered "traitors", they have generally become so used to the foreigners that they no longer regard them as vastly different people and often get along with them. A small present such as a mechanical contrivance is enough to win over most of the people.
One of the convention's terms was that the port of Canton was to be opened for trade within ten days after the Chinese New Year. However, no announcement for the opening appeared by 2 February, leading Elliot and Qishan to meet again on 11 February. Elliot agreed to a further delay (not to exceed 10 days) to fully prepare the treaty. Bremer reported that after this point, his "faith in the sincerity" of Qishan was destroyed, and that Chinese troops and cannons were being collected around the Bogue. The Nemesis was dispatched to Canton to receive written ratification of the convention. On 19 February, the ship returned without any reply and came under fire from North Wangtong Island. This led to renewed hostilities with the British capturing the rest of the Bogue forts in the Battle of the Bogue (23–26 February), which allowed them to proceed towards Canton to force the opening of trade. As the fleet advanced up the Pearl River towards the city, they captured more forts in the Battle of First Bar (27 February) and Battle of Whampoa (2 March). After capturing Canton on 18 March, the resumption of trade was announced.
When news of the convention reached the emperor, he dismissed Qishan from his position and ordered him to stand trial at the Board of Punishments. He appointed Yishan to replace Qishan, with the assistance of Lungwan and Yang Fang. Qishan left Canton on 12 March. He faced several charges, including giving "the barbarians Hongkong as a dwelling place", to which he claimed, "I pretended to do so from the mere force of circumstances, and to put them off for a time, but had no such serious intention." The court denounced him as a traitor and sentenced him to death. But after being imprisoned for several months, he was allowed to deal with the British without official rank. On 21 April, Lord Palmerston dismissed Elliot, considering the concessions to be inadequate. He felt that Elliot treated his instructions as "waste paper" and dismissed Hong Kong as "a barren island with hardly a house upon it". In May 1841, Major-General Henry Pottinger of the Bombay Army was appointed to replace Elliot. Pottinger was given reinforcements that enlarged the expedition to 25 warships and 12,000 men. Many of the convention's terms, such as the cession of Hong Kong, were included in the Treaty of Nanking in 1842.
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