Weihaiwei under British rule

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Flag of Weihaiwei
Location of the Weihaiwei leased territory in 1921 (in blue)
Location of the Weihaiwei leased territory in 1921 (in blue)
StatusLeased territory of the United Kingdom
CapitalPort Edward
Common languages
Historical eraNew Imperialism
• Convention for the Lease of Weihaiwei
1 July 1898
• Convention for the Rendition of Weihaiwei
30 September 1930
CurrencyChinese yuan
Hong Kong dollar
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Qing Dynasty
Republic of China (1912–49)

Weihaiwei[needs IPA] 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)[1] 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.[2]

Background to the British lease[edit]

Waterfront, Seymour Street in Weihaiwei, circa 1905-1910

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 as a health resort. It also served as an occasional port of call for Royal Navy vessels in the Far East, well behind Hong Kong in the south. Other than for military matters, local administration was 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 the Royal Navy's China Station was initially ordered to withdraw his ships from Weihaiwei to avoid Britain being drawn into the conflict. However, fearing that Weihaiwei would be used as a safe haven by the Imperial Russian Navy, the Japanese government successfully pressured the British to return their fleet. During the War, the port was of importance as a telegraph and radio transmission station for correspondents covering the conflict, and was also a source of contraband shipping by blockade runners bringing supplies into Port Arthur.[2]

After the Japanese victory over Russia in 1905, Japan took possession of Port Arthur. Britain extended its lease over Weihaiwei for as long as the Japanese occupied Port Arthur.

British rule in Weihaiwei[edit]

Sir James Stewart Lockhart, Commissioner of Weihaiwei, 1902-1921
Commissioner staff and headmen of the territory in 1908

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 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.[3] The post was held by Sir James 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.[4]

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.

In exchange for recognising British Weihaiwei, Germany demanded and received assurance from Great Britain through Arthur Balfour that Great Britain would recognise German rule in Shantung and not build a railway from Weihaiwei into Shantung province[5].

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.[6]

Postage and currency[edit]

One of the revenue stamps of Weihaiwei issued in 1921

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 as well.

Army and police[edit]

The Weihaiwei 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[7] by Army Order No. 127 of 1906.[8]

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.[9] Previously the force had comprised one Chinese sergeant and seven constables under a District Officer.

During World War I the British recruited the Chinese Labour Corps in Weihaiwei to assist the war effort.

During the seamen's strike of 1922 in Hong Kong, the colonial government sent two European police officers to Weihaiwei in September of that year to recruit the first of about 50 Weihaiwei men as Royal Hong Kong Police constables. After completing six months' training in Weihaiwei, the recruits were posted to Hong Kong to maintain law and order in March 1923. The Weihaiwei 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".[10]

At the end of 1927, the Chinese police were replaced by Indians.[11]

High Court[edit]

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:

The Commissioner could also exercise judicial powers if the judges of the court were not available.

Appeals from the High Court for Weihaiwei could be made to the Hong Kong Supreme Court. It appears that no appeal was ever heard in Hong Kong.[12]

Initially, the Crown Advocate for China, Hiram Parkes Wilkinson served as the Crown Advocate for Weihaiwei. When Wilkinson was appointed judge in 1916, Allan Mossop took over as Crown Advocate for Weihaiwei. Mossop later became Crown Advocate for China in 1926.

Return of Weihaiwei[edit]

Weihaiwei was returned to Chinese rule on 1 October 1930 under the aegis of the final Commissioner of Weihaiwei Sir Reginald Johnston who previously had been a District Officer and a Magistrate in Weihaiwei. However, the Chinese government leased the island of Liu-kung Tao (Liugong Island) to the Royal Navy for ten years,[13] coming to an end on 11 November 1940 following a Japanese military landing on 1 October 1940.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ pp.462-463 Hutchings, Graham Modern China: A Guide to a Century of Change Harvard University Press, 1 Sep 2003
  2. ^ a b Kowner, Rotem (2006). Historical Dictionary of the Russo-Japanese War. The Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-4927-5. p. 417-418.
  3. ^ "No. 27403". The London Gazette. 4 February 1902. p. 709.
  4. ^ Vines, Stephen (30 June 1997). "How Britain lost chance to keep its last major colony". The Independent.
  5. ^ p. 9 Otte, T. E. "Wei-Ah-Wee?"?: Britain at Weihaiwei, 1898-1930 in British Naval Strategy East of Suez, 1900-2000: Influences and Actions edited by Greg Kennedy Routledge, 25 Aug. 2014
  6. ^ http://www.city-discovery.com/weihai/tour.php?id=10927
  7. ^ p. 56 Airlie, Shiona Scottish Mandarin: The Life and Times of Sir Reginald Johnston Hong Kong University Press, 1 Oct 2012
  8. ^ http://www.abandonedbritish-chinesesoldiers.org.uk/the-forgotten-history/
  9. ^ p.83 Johnson
  10. ^ "News". www.police.gov.hk. Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  11. ^ http://www.legco.gov.hk/1926/h261228.pdf
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ pp. 32-33 Schwankert, Steven R. Poseidon: China’s Secret Salvage of Britain’s Lost Submarine Hong Kong University Press, 1 Oct 2013
  14. ^ "Weihaiwai Withdrawal". nlb.gov.sg. Retrieved 9 April 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Airlie, Shiona (2010). Thistle and Bamboo: The Life and Times of Sir James Stewart Lockhart. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. ISBN 9789888028924.
  • Atwell, Pamela (1985). British Mandarins and Chinese Reformers. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press.

External links[edit]