Chinese 'Signed and Sealed'

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Fine Art Lithographs by Pat Elliott Shircore
created from the original documents
marking the beginning and end of Hong Kong's colonial history.

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Convention of Peking

Icefloe Contours

Map showing extension of territory.

Original preliminary map outlining the area to be extended to Britain by lease agreement. 

Fifty years after the signing of the Treaty of Nanking, or Nanjing, when Hong Kong was ceded to Britain, the need for more land became pressing. Russia, Germany and France had all established a strong presence in China and the Japanese had begun hostilities, so Britain was anxious to protect the colony but, with very little coastal access, this was impossible. China found herself fending off foreign incursion in all directions and so, when the British petitioned for a lease on the territory extending beyond Kowloon in an approximate twenty mile radius, they were too preoccupied to argue their position. The area of land requested by the British was greater than expected, including many islands of which the largest, Lantau, was considerably bigger than Hong Kong Island itself. But Germany had recently won an extension of territory of a similar acreage, and France was pressing for the same. The agreement, the second Convention of Peking, was eventually ratified in August 1898.

Foreign Office Cover

Since the early days of Britain's negotiations with the Chinese, diplomacy had matured a little. China never had a particular department of government for 'foreign affairs', but with foreign presence growing so rapidly by 1860, the Tsungli Yamen, or Chinese Foreign Office, was created to deal with the problem. Unfortunately it was not a body with great influence, either at home or abroad, since the main interest of the Imperial Court was itself. Looked at dispassionately however, the two countries had something in common; both empires had a government made up largely of aristocrats.

Lord Salisbury was both British Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, with forty five years of parliamentary service, and sent Sir Claude Macdonald, the British Minister in Peking, to negotiate. Macdonald was from a military background and it was in that mode that he approached the Tsungli Yamen. Largely due to force of circumstance, a successful conclusion was effected and signed by Macdonald, Hsu Ting-Kuei and Li Hung-Chang in Peking, and Lord Salisbury and Lofenghih in London. At this time Hong Kong, under the interim guidance of Major-General Black, was awaiting the arrival of its new Governor, Sir Henry Blake, and China was on the brink of a major political upheaval.

Li Hung-Chang, a charismatic nobleman and seasoned politician, the Chung Tong, or Grand Secretary of the Tsungli Yamen, was soon to be ousted from office in a coup that was masterminded by the Anti-Reformist group who spearheaded their thrust to power by bringing the venomous Dowager Empress out of retirement. Emperor Kwang Hsu supported the proposed reforms and for it was imprisoned in September for the rest of his life. This was one of the last documents to be ratified with the Emperor's chop by him personally, before the Dowager Empress resumed control of the country.

The Convention of Peking is an extraordinary document because it represents old-guard China at the precise moment before China's history was set on an entirely different course, just before the coup which sparked the Boxer Rebellion. This in turn ultimately led to the downfall of the Ch'ing dynasty and imperial rule, when Sun Yat-Sen led his revolutionary party, the T'ung-meng Hui, to victory in 1911. And the T'ung-meng Hui became, in its turn, the Kuomintang.

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(go to next page - The People, 1898)

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